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From Bourbon Street to Mass Street, Jayhawk fans thrilled as KU advances in the Final Four

Students filling up Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence after the win.
Dylan Lysen
/
Kansas News Service
Fans filling up Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence after the win.

Kansas ripped away from Villanova from the jump. Jayhawk fans reveled in the chance to play North Carolina on Monday for the NCAA men's basketball championship.

The school of Naismith — of Wilt, of Danny and the Miracles, of so many trophies weighed against all those early-tourney knockouts — got what blue bloods expect.

The University of Kansas Jayhawks won a chance Saturday to play in the biggest game possible.

That made the blue-and-red Rock Chalk crowd happy from the Superdome stands in New Orleans to the Bourbon Street-like vibe that took over downtown Lawrence. An NCAA Final Four appearance went the way they wanted.

“I teared up a little bit,” said David Paul of Lawrence. “It was a very good moment.”

Saturday’s 81-65 win means the team plays North Carolina in the finals Monday night in one of the biggest annual events in U.S. sports.

Fans celebrating in a theater
Dylan Lysen
/
Kansas News Service
Jayhawk fans celebrating KU's win Saturday night at the Granada in downtown Lawrence.

Throughout the least socially isolated NCAA tournament since the pandemic, KU’s blue-chip players showed why the oddsmakers favored them. And fans could celebrate in a way they hadn’t for two years.

On a court in a football stadium Saturday night, the Jayhawks’ 10-0 start had the Philadelphia-area team trying to claw back all game and never inched closer than six points.

Members of the team spoke after the game about how playing for a storied program like KU’s comes with expectations.

“When we win the Final Four game, we say that we don’t come to Kansas to win the Final Four,” said Christian Braun, the junior guard from Burlington, Kansas. “We come to Kansas to win a national championship.”

It helped to have the broad shoulders and inside footwork of David McCormack. He weathered early foul trouble to lead KU with 25 points. Ochai Agbaji, the senior from Oak Park High School in Kansas City, launched the team’s quick start with two early three-point shots.

After that, KU was off. Jayhawk fans had mild reason to get nervous at points in the game, but not much.

In 2018, Kansas lost to Villanova’s Wildcats in a semifinal game.

“It was kind of the reversal from ‘18,” said KU coach Bill Self.

The game was the third between Villanova and Kansas in the tournament’s history. And the first time KU came out on top.

“This is our time,” said Virgil Smith. He came to the game from Kansas City, Kansas, with his wife son and their grandson — it was his birthday — Caleb Jordan High.

Shortly after the final buzzer sounded, thousands of Jayhawk fans flooded downtown Lawrence in celebration. A sea of red, white and blue filled several blocks of Massachusetts Street.

Fans paraded down the street, sharing high-fives and “rock chalk” chants. Others watched from outdoor bar patios and horns honked across town.

“I don’t want to jinx it,” said Annie Calvert of Kansas City, “but this might be the time.”

Gabbi and Eddie Taylor in New Orleans before Kansas played Villanova.
Greg Echlin
/
KCUR 89.3
Gabbie and Eddie Taylor, daughter and father Kansas fans, in New Orleans before the Jayhawks win.

It was hopes of a KU win that brought Gabbi Taylor, a KU freshman from Olathe, and her father, Eddie Taylor to New Orleans. They stood in line 30 minutes for beignet before the game, but hoops drew them to the Big Easy.

“Villanova just lost one of their star players (starting guard Justin Moore), so I’m really hoping that KU can step up and Ochai (Agbaji) can play better than he’s been playing,” she said.

She got her wish.

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
As a Kansas political reporter, I want to inform our audience about statewide government and elected officials so they can make educated decisions at the ballot box. Sometimes that means I follow developments in the Legislature and explain how lawmakers alter laws and services of the state government. Other times, it means questioning those lawmakers and candidates for office about those changes and what they plan for the future of the state. And most importantly, it includes making sure the voices of everyday Kansans are heard.
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