Kansas and Western Kentucky appeared to be evenly matched teams for 38 minutes Friday night, with the Jayhawks pulling away late for an ugly 64-57 victory at the Sprint Center.
No. 1 seed Kansas avoided the notoriously horrendous reputation of becoming the first top-ranked seed to fall to a No. 16 seed but did so in a concerning fashion.
The feisty Hilltoppers managed to remain within six points for most of the second half, despite 31.8 percent shooting on the night, including 3-for-20 from three-point range.
Western Kentucky head coach Ray Harper was pleased with the way his team battled, saying (via ESPN.com) "I think the entire country got a glimpse of what they're made of, a lot of character, a lot of heart."
Those missed perimeter opportunities and foul trouble ultimately led to WKU's demise, with George Fant and Caden Dickerson both fouling out as the team committed 24 fouls.
"They controlled the game for the most part," Bill Self said. "We're happy to advance but certainly not pleased with how we played."
The Jayhawks' All-American candidate center Jeff Withey led the way, sort of, with 17 points as Kansas surprisingly hit over 47 percent of its shots.
Withey later admitted Western Kentucky was taken lightly, saying (via KansasCity.com) "They kind of surprised us how good they were. We definitely took them lightly, being a No. 1 seed (and) they came out and fought us real hard."
Why did they flirt with disaster when shooting 47 percent?
Bill Self's veteran team committed 17 turnovers, did not make a three-point bucket, had only four offensive rebounds and were out-rebounded by a grossly undersized Western Kentucky team.
It was KU's first game without a made three-pointer since 2008.
"We made one shot for the game from outside two feet," Self said.
The KU point guard duo of Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe led, or failed to lead, their offense in combining for five assists and one made field goal. They adequately created ball movement, but it was unproductive ball movement resulting in repeated empty possessions.
Luckily for the Jayhawks, they hit 24-of-30 free-throw attempts. Their season was saved at the charity stripe, especially by an otherwise lost Ben McLemore, who went 7-for-8 from the line down the stretch.
Kansas faces the No. 8 seed North Carolina Sunday at the Sprint Center in the round of 32, with the victor facing Michigan in the Sweet 16 next week in Arlington.
"A North Carolina-Kansas game, everybody comes to play," said Eljiah Johnson. "Roy is coming back. There's going to be a lot of fans pumped up, and we'll be pumped up."
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