To bring his team good luck, Kansas coach Roy Williams likes to spit in the Mississippi River whenever the Jayhawks play in St. Louis. He did it nine years ago, when his team made it through the Midwest Regional to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament.
It was the last time Kansas reached college basketball's promised land.
Williams might consider spending today on the bridge nearest to the Edward Jones Dome. After what happened to the Jayhawks last night, luck alone might not carry them to Atlanta.
Against Holy Cross, a 16th seed that barely made it out of the Patriot Conference final last week against American, the top seed in this year's Midwest Regional survived an opening-round scare before pulling away to a 70-59 victory.
But the victory was costly for the Jayhawks, with junior guard Kirk Hinrich suffering a severely sprained left ankle late in the first half. His status for tomorrow's game is questionable; he left the arena on crutches.
"To say that we were very fortunate would be an understatement," Williams said. "We didn't play very well, to say the least. ... Yet I'm very proud of what we did. Everything looked bad, but the kids did not panic."
Fortunately for the Jayhawks, Big 12 Player of the Year Drew Gooden pulled himself and his team together late in the game. Gooden score 14 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, to go along with 13 rebounds.
Gooden helped Kansas overcome a 44-39 deficit early in the second half and a 49-48 deficit after three free throws by Holy Cross forward Tim Szatko (13 points, nine rebounds) with a little under nine minutes left.
But even with the victory, this was clearly not the Kansas team that often dominated the competition during the regular season. In fact, the Jayhawks looked more like the team that lost to Oklahoma on Sunday in the Big 12 tournament final.
Asked if his team's most recent performances were a wake-up call or a sign of vulnerability, Gooden said, "We're 1-1 in the last two games. You might say the loss to Oklahoma was a wake-up call, but it's a whole new situation."
For Holy Cross, last night's defeat was painfully reminiscent of last year's four-point loss to Kentucky as a No. 15 seed in the opening round of the tournament.
"It feels like someone ripped our hearts out," said senior guard Ryan Serravale. "We're not settling for a moral victory."
Before Serravale picked up his fourth personal foul, with a little under 11 minutes left, it appeared as if the Crusaders might pull off what would have been the first victory by a No. 16 seed since the field was expanded in 1985.
But without Serravale, a 46-45 lead quickly turned into a 56-50 deficit. Holy Cross (18-15) got as close as 60-57 with 4:12 to go, but the Jayhawks eventually took control.
"I'm very proud of this team," said Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard. "I thought we wore down in the second half. But they [the Jayhawks] did some things they're very good at doing."
Said Williams: "I know it's no consolation to Ralph and his team, but I told them they outplayed us, outhustled us and outcoached us. Whether it's ugly or not, we're still playing."
Wake Forest 83, Pepperdine 74: The seventh-seeded Demon Deacons (21-12) defeated the 10th-seeded Waves (22-9) in Sacramento, Calif., for their first tournament victory since Tim Duncan starred for the team in 1997.
"We had a great start, a less-than-scintillating middle and a very gratifying finish," said first-year coach Skip Prosser.
Senior Craig Dawson led the Deacons with 19 points, including five three-pointers, in his first and last NCAA tournament.
Dawson has waited four years to play in the tournament. Last season, he sat out with a shoulder injury from the week before in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, and watched from the bench as the Deacons were upset by Butler in the first round of the NCAAs.
"Not being able to play last year was very tough," he said. "When I got out there, all the emotions I expected to have were there."
Dawson hit two big three-pointers early in the second half to put the Deacons back in front when Pepperdine twice held one-point leads. He punctuated the scoring on a dunk with 14.9 seconds remaining.
The Waves, who twice trailed by 13 early in the game, kept it close most of the second half, but never took more than a two-point lead.
Stanford 84, Western Kentucky 68: The Cardinal (21-9) shrugged off a pre-game technical for turning in the lineup card late, getting 19 points and 12 rebounds from Curtis Borchardt to beat the Hilltoppers (28-4) in St. Louis.
Western Kentucky got the early jump when Patrick Sparks, who had 20 points and nine assists, made one of two free throws on the technical. But the last lead was 3-2 as the Hilltoppers' 18-game winning streak came to an end with their first loss since Dec. 30 at South Alabama.
The Pac-10 Conference champions weren't terribly impressive, with streaky shooting and spells of indifferent defense that had coach Ernie Kent shaking his head. But the Ducks pulled away from the Grizzlies with two prolonged runs in the second half.
Wire services contributed to this article.