ROSEMONT, Ill. -- In the Midwest Regional second round last year, Kansas made the mistake of thinking about playing in the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 the following week. Instead, the Jayhawks lost to Texas-El Paso and went back to Lawrence.
"It was a difficult time," coach Roy Williams said yesterday. "Tonight, I might live through the night. Last year I wasn't too sure."
The No. 2 seed Jayhawks are heading to St. Louis for Thursday's regional semifinal, the result of a 90-76 win yesterday over seventh-seed Brigham Young.
Kansas (27-6) will meet sixth seed California, which upset two-time defending champion Duke, 82-77.
While Kansas' final margin was indicative of a blowout, the game was not. After leading by 10 points at halftime, the Jayhawks fell behind by narrow margins twice in the second half, the second time at 68-67 with 4:58 to go.
"When it was a one-point game, we made a couple of big threes at the five-minute mark and we really got on a roll," said Williams.
The roll started with back-to-back threes by Kansas guards Adonis Jordan and Steve Woodberry. The Jayhawks ran off 10 straight points. But it was the defense that both confused and defused the Cougars, who ran out of fresh bodies.
Most affected was senior guard Nick Sanderson, who had a torrid shooting battle with Kansas guard Rex Walters. While Walters finished strong in a 28-point performance, Sanderson tailed off after scoring 24 points.
"I got a little tired at the end, but that's no excuse for poor shooting," said Sanderson, who missed his last five shots in a 7-for-18 afternoon. "My legs were a little dead. After getting pushed and leaned on and grabbed for 40 minutes, you get worn out."
For Kansas, the win erased the memory of last year's disappointment.
"It feels a lot better," said senior center Eric Pauley, who had 12 points and seven rebounds.
Said Williams: "That's called a classic understatement."