ST. LOUIS -- Environmentalists, beware. The Kansas Jayhawks are headed back to another city on the banks of the Mississippi, full of spit and more than a little polish.
Kansas followed through on the strange pre-game ritual of its coach, Roy Williams, who took his team down to the river yesterday before its NCAA Midwest Regional final against Indiana.
The second-seeded Jayhawks were not only more superstitious
than the top-ranked, top-seeded Hoosiers. They were also superior, at least during an 83-77 victory at the Arena.
The victory enabled Kansas (29-6), a second-round loser last year, to advance to next week's Final Four in New Orleans. It marks the second trip in the past three years for the Jayhawks and the second in Williams' five years as coach.
The defeat prevented Indiana (31-4) from returning to the Final Four for the second straight year and denied Bob Knight a chance at a fourth national championship.
After seeing its nine-point lead cut to 76-73 with 1:25 to go, Kansas regained its composure with the help of its three seniors. First, Adonis Jordan beat Indiana's defense for a layup. Then, Eric Pauley blocked Calbert Cheaney's rebound follow with a little more than a minute left.
And finally came two free throws by Rex Walters with 51.3 seconds to go. After struggling for most of the game, Walters showed up down the stretch with a key pass to Jordan and the game-clinching free throws. The notion of senior leadership was just one of many things Williams brought with him from North Carolina.
While Cheaney finished his marvelous college career with 22 points, he missed several big shots down the stretch. And while senior guard Greg Graham scored 23 to lead the Hoosiers, it was his fourth foul that turned the game in Kansas' favor. The Jayhawks had more balance,with five players in double figures.
Williams might get another chance to meet -- and beat -- his mentor, Dean Smith. Kansas will play the winner of today's East Regional final between North Carolina and Cincinnati on Saturday at the Superdome. The Jayhawks beat the Tar Heels in the 1991 semifinals at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis before losing to Duke.
Kansas continued its hot shooting from the first thre tournament games, making seven of its first eight shots and eight of its first 10 to build leads of 15-7 and 17-10 in the opening eight minutes.
Conversely, the Hoosiers got off slowly, especially Cheaney. Th All-American forward was limited to one shot in the first 10 minutes and didn't score his first basket until 9:51 was left in the first half.
When Cheaney quickly scored his second, 32 seconds later, t pull Indiana to 19-16, it appeared that the Hoosiers were back on track. But after a three-point shot by Graham cut the Kansas lead to 21-19, the Jayhawks went on a 7-1 run to move back ahead by eight.
All seven points were scored by Jordan. The 6-foot senior hit a three-point shot with Chris Reynolds fouling him. Jordan made the free throw, forced a turnover by Reynolds and then nailed another three-pointer with 6:33 to play to give Kansas a 28-20 lead.
This time, it was Indiana's -- and Cheaney's -- turn to make a run. The Hoosiers scored five straight and 11 of the next 13 to reclaim the lead. Six straight points by Cheaney finished the run, and his drive with 3:08 left gave the Hoosiers a 31-30 lead.
With the score tied at 32, Kansas got another four-point possession. After forward Richard Scott posted up for a drive and was fouled, his missed free throw was retrieved by the Jayhawks and forward Darrin Hancock hit a 16-footer.
After a drive by Graham over 7-foot-1 Kansas center Gre Ostertag, Hancock hit another mid-range jumper with 22 seconds left in the half to give the Jayhawks a 38-34 lead. It stayed there after Graham missed with three seconds left for Indiana.
Except for the final flurry, Kansas had cooled off considerably from its hot start, finishing the half 16-for-30 to 12-for-27 for the Hoosiers. Indiana did a nice job holding down the red-hot Walters, limiting him to six points.
Scott led the Jayhawks with eight, and Cheaney and Graham each had 12 for the Hoosiers.
Leading by four at halftime, the Jayhawks matched their biggeslead of the game -- eight points -- by scoring on two of their first three possessions while the Hoosiers committed two turnovers and Cheaney took a poor shot.
But as happened in the first half, Indiana stormed back to take a 48-46 lead on a rebound follow by Damon Bailey with 14:13 to go. Trailing 50-48, Kansas scored 10 straight points, including back-to-back three-pointers by guards Steve Woodberry and Walters.
Walters stopped the run with a foul -- hitting Graham as he took a three-point shot that appeared to be short. Graham made all three free throws to cut the deficit to five with 11:02 to go. It was one of several questionable decisions by Walters that seemed to keep the Hoosiers within reach.
But the play that might have sealed Indiana's fate came a little
less than a minute later. Graham, the only other scorer the Hoosiers had aside from Cheaney, was called for charging with 10:03 left and Kansas up, 62-55.