North Carolina looked for a half like it had what it took to knock off a No. 1 seed Sunday afternoon, breaking out to an early 12-2 lead and taking a 30-21 lead into halftime against Kansas.
But then the Jayhawks went on a 33-10 run over the first 12 and and half minutes of the second half that rapidly erased Carolina's lead and propelled top-seeded KU to a 70-58 victory that ends UNC's year at 25-11.
"We congratulate Kansas. They were phenomenal in the second half today," said UNC head coach Roy Williams after the game. "I thought we were both ugly on the offensive end in the first half, but we were swarming so much defensively we were able to get some fast‑break opportunities, had a nine‑point lead at halftime."
Carolina didn't shoot well the whole game but Kansas was particularly off early on, struggling over the first 10 minutes to put anything in the basket.
The Jayhawks missed its first six three-pointers and as a team shot just 25 percent in the first half, keeping the partisan-KU crowd in the seats of Kansas City's Sprint Center off its feet.
UNC also took advantage of an uncharacteristically large amount of Kansas turnovers as it led by as much as 11 points early on.
After Kansas pushed within single digits UNC again rallied, making use of more Jayhawk mistakes and some shots from the perimeter to take its nine-point halftime edge.
But then UNC started out the second half making just five of its 18 shots, as they succumbed to the pressure of Kansas's top-ranked field goal percentage defense.
Over that same stretch KU made 15 of 25 attempts, dominating the paint and getting most anything they wanted in terms of shots through its veteran-laden lineup featuring four senior starters.
"The second half we didn't quite have the same energy level and they (KU) perhaps had a little bit more," said Coach Williams. "They got into rhythm, started making shots. We couldn't stop them. I think their defense even fed off of that. When the ball started going in the basket, I thought their defense got even stronger."
"Everyone on our team got great looks from the outside perimeter. We just weren't able to knock those down," added sophomore James Michael McAdoo.
"They (Kansas) did a great job towards the end of the game. The crowd didn't really necessarily rattle us. I think we just made mistakes that they turned into baskets."
The Jayhawks enjoyed a 36-20 advantage in points in the paint, overwhelming UNC in the post, and their defense proved to be a handcuff for Carolina's smaller lineup.
For the game the Tar Heels shot just 30.1 percent.
P.J. Hairston made a couple of late three-pointers, including one at the 2:31 mark that briefly got UNC within 11 points (63-52), but they weren't able to make a legitimate rally that would get them close enough at the end to make a game of it.
Senior Travis Releford scored 22 points on nine-of-13 shooting, leading four Jayhawks in double figures in scoring. Center Jeff Withey tallied 16 points and 16 rebounds, crushing Carolina with his play in the paint.
Releford and Withey were also dominant on defense in the final 20 minutes, helping hold the Tar Heels to just 28 second half points.
"I think they just crowded the shooters," said freshman Marcus Paige of Kansas's defensive effort.
"Releford did a good job on Reggie. He would play him high, try to make him change his cut. Also, you know, they tried to pressure us knowing they had a great shot‑blocker underneath to help them as a second line of defense."
"We did get some good looks and didn't knock 'em down. One time P.J. had a wide‑open shot and kind of fumbled the ball. That's kind of how it went for us in terms of outside shooting tonight," Paige added.
Hairston led UNC with 15 points, while McAdoo added 11 points, though he shot just five-of-19 from the floor.
"Again, congratulations to Kansas. They're a No.1 seed for a reason," said Williams. "I really enjoyed coaching my team. I really did. We had some tough, tough losses early. They kept coming to practice every single day and tried to do what we wanted them to do. Our locker room's not as happy right now, but I loved coaching my team."
It was the final game at UNC for Dexter Strickland, the only senior on this year's squad, and possibly for a couple of the underclassmen such as McAdoo.
Kansas (31-5) moves to on play fourth-seeded Michigan in next week's South Regional semifinal in Arlington (Tex.).