The 8 most memorable NCAA Tournament moments of KU's run to the 2018 Final Four
Saturday's 95-79 loss to Villanova in the Final Four in San Antonio marked the official end of an impressive and somewhat improbable run through the 2018 NCAA Tournament by the Kansas Jayhawks.
When this year's bracket was unveiled back in mid-March, all eyes went directly to No. 2 seed Duke and No. 3 seed Michigan State as the favorites to emerge from the Midwest region despite Kansas entering postseason play on a hot streak and as the region's No. 1 seed.
Very few college basketball analysts and/or fans outside of the state of Kansas picked the Jayhawks to get through that region to the Final Four, but the Jayhawks, as they had done a few times already this season proved people wrong by making it happen with four tough wins over No. 16 Penn, No. 8 Seton Hall, No. 5 Clemson and No. 2 Duke.
That stretch — which played out in Wichita and Omaha — put Kansas back in the Final Four for the first time since 2012, the third time under Bill Self and the 15th time in school history.
Although the run ended there, in somewhat unceremonious fashion against Villanova on the sport's biggest stage, it's still worth noting what an incredible accomplishment it was for this team to even get there in the first place.
It's also worth noting that the Jayhawks are now officially off the hook in 2028. Had KU won this year and added to the run of big finishes in years ending with 8 — 1988 national championship, 2008 national championship — that group of future Jayhawks that are currently in third and fourth grade would have had an enormous amount of pressure on them a decade from now.
With that in mind, let's quickly recap KU's Top 8 moments of the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
1 – Svi Mykhailiuk's huge 3-pointer to tie Duke
Forget marking this down as just one of the best moments of the 2018 tournament. This shot, the biggest of Mykhailiuk's four-year career, will go down as an all-timer for Kansas and be remembered for years to come. After missing two wide open looks in the couple of minutes before this, and with Kansas trailing No. 2 seed Duke by 3 with inside a minute remaining, Mykhailiuk, as he had done 235 times before in his stellar four-year career, stepped up without hesitating and buried a 3-pointer from the wing in front of the Kansas bench that helped send the game to overtime and KU to the Final Four. Svi's stare after the bucket and Self's words in the locker room, “biggest shot you've ever made,” told you all you needed to know about the big moment.
2 – Udoka Azubuike's mother arrives at the Final Four
Thanks to the Jayhawks' return San Antonio and the Final Four for the first time since 2012 and a new NCAA program that provided financial assistance for families of players, KU sophomore Udoka Azubuike was able to see his mother, Florence Azuonuwu, for the first time in six years. It was not easy to make it happen, and Azuonuwu had to rush through an emergency travel visa hearing in Nigeria and battle flight and airline issues all the way to the United States. But, a little more than 20 hours before her son tipped off in the Final Four, Azuonuwu made it to San Antonio and was able to take her seat behind the Kansas bench to watch Azubuike play basketball for the first time in her life. What a special moment for both the player and his mother.
3 – Malik Newman dominates overtime vs. Duke
Svi's shot might have been the biggest single play of that Elite Eight game, but Malik Newman delivered a dozen different daggers. Whether you're talking clutch free throws down the stretch or silky 3-point jumpers from the corner, Newman was absolutely unstoppable in this game and his teammates — particularly Devonte' Graham, Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick — did a fabulous job of getting him open and getting him shots in rhythm. After a six-point first half, Newman scored 13 in the second half and all 13 of KU's points in overtime to move the Jayhawks past Duke and into the Final Four. Nevermind his superb D on Grayson Allen in the waning seconds of regulation with the game on the line.
4 – 13,000+ fans pack Wichita's Intrust Bank Arena for KU practice
Kansas fans turning out to open practices at NCAA Tournament sites is certainly nothing new. But this was. Nearly 14,000 KU fans packed — 13,695 to be exact — packed the Wichita venue one day before the top-seeded Jayhawks opened play in the NCAA Tournament against No. 16 seed Penn. The most fans I can remember seeing at an open practice like this was four or five thousand and even that was wildly impressive. But this was unreal. Fans filled the upper deck, roared along with the band and KU fight song and screamed and yelled for everything the Jayhawks did for about 40 minutes. The wall of sound that filled the arena when the Jayhawks first took the floor for that practice is something I'll remember for a long time. Impressive stuff.
5 – Devonte' Graham takes over vs. Penn
No one ever doubted that this was Devonte' Graham's team. And no one Kansas player in decade had been looked to more during a single season to make a play or provide some inspiration than Graham. So it was only fitting then that, with the Jayhawks down 10 points in the first half of their first-round game against a team that many were saying could become the first 16 seed to ever knock off a No. 1, Graham absolutely took over and led the Jayhawks to victory. His steal and tip-in, followed by four quick points on drives to the rim, helped Kansas erase the deficit and take a seven-point lead into the locker room. From there, he merely kept going, finishing with 29 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals in 39 minutes. It was as signature a Devonte' Graham as there ever has been and it came when this team needed it most.
6 – Udoka Azubuike checks into KU's Rd. 1 game vs. Penn
Speaking of that Round 1 game vs. Penn, there was another big moment in that first half and it had nothing to do with putting points on the board or the flow of the game. Instead, it featured a rather large man walking to the scorer's table to check in. After missing the entire Big 12 tournament because of a sprained MCL in his left knee two days before that tourney began, KU center Udoka Azubuike was back in uniform and ready to check back into a game for the Jayhawks. Azubuike played just three minutes in that game, — a move made by design so that he would be fresh and ready for Round 2 vs. Seton Hall — but the ovation he got when he got up off the bench to go check in and the impact he had, on pure size alone, when he was in the game, was enormous. Getting back on the floor gave Azubuike the confidence in that knee that he needed to deliver a big game against Seton Hall two nights later.
7 – KU clicking on all cylinders vs. Clemson
After a strong first half of KU's Sweet 16 clash with Clemson left the Jayhawks with a 14-point lead, Kansas merely kept rolling from there, ripping off a 9-2 run, with 3-pointers from Vick, Newman and Graham, that pushed KU's lead to 20 and forced a Clemson timeout. It looked, at that point, like Kansas might win by 50. And even though the Jayhawks got sloppy down the stretch and allowed Clemson to make this one closer than it needed to be, that trio combined for nine 3-pointers and proved to be too much for the Tigers to handle.
8 – Devonte' Graham checks out vs. Villanova
Unless you're the last team standing, not all memorable moments of an NCAA Tournament run are good. And there's no doubt that the Jayhawks' 95-79 loss to Villanova at last Saturday's Final Four will be remembered as a major disappointment for a long time. But there was one moment in this game, that transcended the final score and was more important than the outcome of any game or play ever could be. That was the moment when Devonte' Graham checked out of the game for the final time in his KU career. With tears in his eyes and his head resting on his head coach's shoulder, Graham's walk to the bench, one last time, will be something KU fans remember forever, just like the player taking the steps. Sure to have his No. 4 jersey retired in the Allen Fieldhouse rafters sometime in the near future, Graham finished his KU career ranked 13th in Kansas history in scoring (1,750 points), second in 3-pointers (296), fifth in assists (632) and seventh in steals (197). He also set single-season school records during the 2017-18 campaign for minutes (1,474) and played every minute in 17 of 39 games.