Omaha, Neb. — Silvio De Sousa sat at his locker with a bandage on his left knee, a bloodstain on the fabric over his thigh and a single piece of red confetti stuck to his shoulder.
It was a “heavyweight bout,” coach Bill Self would later say, and De Sousa looked the part of the champion. He was bruised, battered and bloody, but smiling. His Jayhawks, trailing and without their most indispensable big man for the final 119 seconds of regulation and overtime, did what the two Kansas teams before them couldn’t.
“Oh, this is crazy,” said De Sousa after KU's 85-81 overtime win. “I never felt so good in my life.”
Blood, sweat, whatever — De Sousa, a should-be high school senior, gave it all.
After scrapping for a rebound, diving back on the court for a loose ball and again to nearly force a tie-up, his left knee was split open.
It wasn’t until the next timeout that De Sousa actually noticed the blood. The freshman was unfazed.
“I was just diving on the floor on every single loose ball, 50-50 ball,” De Sousa said. “I just said, ‘I’m already bleeding, why not give 100 percent?’ And I went for it.”
View a gallery of images from Sunday's Elite Eight game between the Jayhawks and Blue Devils in Omaha.
Just like his battle wounds, the freshman wore his emotions on his sleeve throughout the performance.
When he returned to the bench for the final time before Udoka Azubuike fouled out, De Sousa smacked his hands together in frustration. Earlier in the game, after forcing back-to-back stops against an explosive Duke offense, De Sousa let out a roar toward the KU bench.
He was greeted by both Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot, who didn’t play a minute in the game but was constantly chatting with De Sousa each time he returned to the sideline.
“Stuff happens, they’re going to score,” Lightfoot told De Sousa at one point. “I mean they’re lottery picks. It’s kind of what they do.”
De Sousa was well aware.
Long before his bloody leg inspired his increased intensity, De Sousa looked at the upcoming matchup against future NBA lottery picks — Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. He told himself, “I have to play harder than them.”
“Tonight we just were tougher than them,” De Sousa later confirmed.
Physically? Perhaps. But the toughest moment of De Sousa’s game occurred between his ears.
With Azubuike no longer available and the game hanging in the balance, De Sousa hauled in a loose ball and chucked it out to Svi Mykhailuk. He overshot his mark, a scene resembling one of the first times he checked into a game in Allen Fieldhouse.
“That was a bad play, that was a bad play,” Self said, “but certainly he deserves a few bad plays.”
The ball sailed out of bounds. De Sousa went up to Mykhailiuk and told him, “My bad.”
He more than made up for it shortly after.
The Kansas basketball team greeted fans at Allen Fieldhouse after the team's 85-81 victory over Duke in Omaha, Neb. earlier in the day on Sunday, March 25, 2018. Approximately 4,000 fans were in attendance.
De Sousa grabbed three rebounds in the final two minutes of regulation and overtime. He hauled in the Duke miss with 36 seconds left that allowed KU to get back down the court and tie the game.
The freshman fought for possessions over and over, at one point diving for a ball on the baseline and knocking it off Duke’s Javin DeLaurier to steal KU an extra possession.
On perhaps the biggest defensive play of the game, Mykhailiuk’s block on Gary Trent Jr. in overtime, De Sousa secured the defensive rebound. Later, he secured another on what would’ve been a game-tying shot by Duke’s Trevon Duval. He quickly passed the ball to Malik Newman, who knocked down two free throws to give KU some separation.
“He’s been like that since day one,” said KU assistant Norm Roberts. “All he cares about is winning.”
De Sousa finished the game with 10 rebounds, tying with Mykhailiuk and Bagley for the game-lead. He scored four points and added an assist and a block in his 26 minutes.
Roberts called his game “terrific.” Self said if De Sousa hadn't joined the team midseason, "we'd be home right now." Azubuike never doubted that De Sousa could step up.
“They think, ‘He’s a freshman, they’re going to try and take advantage of him,’” Azubuike said. “I just told him, ‘Just go out there and play ball.’”
“Bro, I got you,” De Sousa responded. “Anything I can do for you, I’ll do it.”
As the final seconds ticked off the clock and the ensuing celebration got underway, De Sousa broke out in a wide grin. He rapped along to the lyrics of “All I Do is Win” and then again to the stylings of Chris Brown in the locker room along with teammate Sam Cunliffe.
De Sousa and the Jayhawks punched their ticket to San Antonio, a fact that served as yet another reminder of how “crazy,” to use De Sousa’s word, his whole experience has been.
Asked about returning to the site of KU’s last championship, De Sousa smiled and responded: “I didn’t know that, but thank you for letting me know.”
Then he finally owned up to his mistake — the one thing he failed to accomplish on Sunday, one of the most pivotal days in his basketball career.
“I have a lot of homework to do,” De Sousa said of his postgame plans. “So I’ll be in my room.”