ST. LOUIS -- Kansas coach Roy Williams always has been a superstitious sort, dating to his days as an assistant at North Carolina when he followed someone's advice and spit into the Mississippi River for good luck. That was before the Tar Heels won the 1982 NCAA championship over Georgetown in New Orleans.
"We had Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Sam Perkins and Dean Smith, so I did my part," Williams recalled yesterday.
Following that tradition, Williams took his second-seeded Jayhawks down to the Mississippi River before Thursday night's 93-76 victory over sixth-seeded Cal in the NCAA Midwest Regional semifinals. They weren't there to measure the level of dioxins.
"If Coach said it's going to give us good luck, then it'll give us good luck," said senior guard Adonis Jordan.
Williams, whose ritual includes rubbing the tombstones of Kansas coaching legends James Naismith -- the game's inventor -- and Phog Allen near the school's campus in Lawrence, plans to take the Jayhawks on a similar detour before they play top-ranked, top-seeded Indiana (31-3) in tonight's Midwest final at the St. Louis Arena.
With a chance to go to next week's Final Four in New Orleans, Kansas (28-6) and its superstitious coach hope to fulfill those expectorations. What are the keys to beating the Hoosiers and negating a crowd of more than 19,000 that is expected to be predominantly pro-Indiana?
"Spitting in the Mississippi, patting the graves of Dr. Naismith and Dr. Allen, Rex Walters hitting jump shots, all those things work for us," said Williams.
Superstitions aside, the Jayhawks need their senior guard to keep sticking jump shots if they want to beat the Hoosiers. Walters hit eight of nine in a 24-point performance against Cal, making him 24 of 33 in this year's tournament and 12 of 17 from three-point range.
Indiana knows all about Walters. He spent two unhappy seasons in the Big Ten at Northwestern before transferring to Kansas. Earlier this season, Walters hit a key drive with 27 seconds left in a 74-69 Jayhawks victory at the Hoosier Dome.
"It's not just Rex Walters, it's their whole backcourt," said Indiana guard Damon Bailey. "I think the difference in the first game was the guard play."
But neither Williams nor Indiana coach Bob Knight is putting much emphasis on the outcome of their early December matchup. It was a game that barely got any attention back then, coming only hours before the rematch of last year's NCAA championship game between Duke and Michigan in Durham, N.C.
Both teams are different now, especially the Hoosiers since losing forward Alan Henderson with a knee injury. Though Henderson has tried to come back -- Knight said he would undergo surgery after the season -- Indiana will go mostly without the 6-foot-9 sophomore, the team's best post player.
"Human nature is to remember [the first game]," said Williams, whose 1991 team also beat Indiana in the Southeast Regional semifinals at Charlotte, N.C., en route to the Final Four in Indianapolis. "He [Knight] might want to remember that game more than I do."
Said Knight, whose team is looking to go to its second straight Final Four: "I'm not interested in that game. I don't think it has any bearing on this one."
Williams' players know how well the Hoosiers usually do when facing a team late in the season after losing to it early on. Walters went as far as to look up some trivia.
The last time Indiana won the national championship -- in New Orleans in 1987 -- the Hoosiers beat Syracuse in the final after being demolished by the Orangemen in the preseason NIT. Last year, Indiana lost to UCLA early in the season, only to beat the Bruins handily in the West Regional final.
"We're not Syracuse, we're not UCLA, we're a different team," said Walters.
But the importance is obvious.
Certainly, going to the Final Four is nothing to spit at.