After scoring two against Duke, the senior guard scores 28 and makes a key block in the Jayhawks' 78-75 win.
March 30, 2003
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Nick Collison did it one game, Kirk Hinrich the next.
That's how it works at Kansas, and the payoff is a return trip to the Final Four.
Hinrich went from his least productive performance of the season to one of his best, scoring 28 and blocking a potential tying 3-point attempt by Jason Gardner in the final seconds Saturday as the second-seeded Jayhawks beat top-seeded Arizona 78-75 to win the West Region.
"He struggled three or four games this season and the next game, he was sensational," Kansas coach Roy Williams said. "He was sensational today."
The victory was the 1,800th for Kansas -- third-most in NCAA history. The Jayhawks will play in their 12th Final Four, the fourth in Williams' 15 years as coach.
Williams has a 417-100 career record and his .807 winning percentage is the best among active coaches, but he's never won a national championship.
This team appears poised and ready.
"I feel awfully good right now," Williams said with a big smile.
So much for the anticipated Arizona-Kentucky matchup in the national semifinals Saturday in New Orleans.
Instead, the Jayhawks (29-7) will face Marquette.
Kansas blew leads of 16 points in the first half and 14 in the second, but did enough in the end to win.
"It's starting to sink in," said Luke Walton, one of the Wildcats' three senior starters. "I know it's going to be the last time in the locker room with the coaches, the players. That's the hardest part, knowing it's all over and we're not going to have another shot at it."
Hinrich was 1-of-9 for two points in Kansas' 69-65 victory over Duke in the region semifinal.
So Collison took over, scoring a career-high 33 and grabbing 19 rebounds in a performance Williams called the best he's ever had by one of his players in a big game.
Arizona made life difficult for Collison in this game, holding him to eight points and nine rebounds.
So Hinrich took over.
"I think I just knew how big a game this was," the 6-foot-4 senior said. "I don't remember ever being so anxious and giddy before a game. I knew against Duke, I wasn't the aggressor. I got frustrated early and forced some shots.
"Today, I just wanted to come out strong. If I was going to go down, I was going to go down firing."
Hinrich fell one point shy of his career high. He shot 10-of-23, including 6-of-17 from 3-point range, and added five rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks.
The second block won't soon be forgotten in Kansas.
After the Jayhawks committed a shot-clock violation, the Wildcats took possession with 7.1 seconds remaining. Gardner took a shot about 25 feet from the basket, but Hinrich slapped the ball away.
Walton grabbed it and passed back to Gardner, but his second attempt to tie the score missed as time expired, setting off a wild Kansas celebration.
"I knew he was going to shoot it, I was able to get my hand up and get a piece of it," Hinrich said. "I think my height helped."
Gardner said he had a good look at the second attempt, but it just missed.
Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson remained stuck at 499 wins in 20 seasons with the Wildcats.
Jeff Graves had 13 points and 15 rebounds, and Keith Langford also scored 13 for Kansas.
Collison sat out key minutes down the stretch with four fouls, but his second basket with 1:27 left gave Kansas a 76-73 lead.
Langford made a free throw with 4:31 remaining to snap a 69-all tie and put the Jayhawks ahead for good, and his runner with 50.6 seconds left completed the scoring. Langford then drew a charging foul on Walton with 43.4 seconds left. "I'm going to have to live with it," Walton said. "I probably should have shot the 3."