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Kansas eventually got its spark, and it came from Taylor, the senior guard whose streaky shooting has been a sore spot for fans throughout his career.

He knocked down a 3-pointer to get things going, and added a three-point play moments later, before two free throws by Robinson trimmed the Kentucky lead to 59-52.

“They’d been in that situation before,” Davis said. “They just kept fighting.”

Johnson added a 3-pointer as Kansas climbed further out of the deficit, and Robinson made two more foul shots as Kentucky coach John Calipari began to look nervous for the first time all night.

“You have to give Kansas credit,” he said. “They didn’t stop.”

Self never stopped, either, marching up and down in front of Kansas’ bench. He exhorted his team to play defense and convert on offense. At one point, he reminded his team that there are no “13-point plays,” the same message he drilled home two nights earlier against Ohio State.

The veteran Jayhawks chipped away until Taylor missed a shot with about a minute left.

Robinson squandered an opportunity to make it a one-possession game when he lost a loose ball along the baseline, and perhaps his team’s best chance slipped away with it.

“We were right there,” Taylor said. “We were right there.”

Instead, Kentucky managed to coax the final few minutes off the clock, making the free throws down the stretch that Calipari’s Memphis team missed against Kansas in the 2008 title game.

As fireworks blasted and streamers rained from the rafters, Kansas slowly trudged off the elevated floor inside the Superdome. A team that once rallied from 19 points down to beat Missouri and that had survived so many nip-and-tuck battles in the NCAA tournament was left to wonder how things had gone so sour so early when it mattered most.

And what might have been had they kept it close the entire way.

“We just came up empty,” Self said, “but there’s no team I’ve been around that’s been able to take whatever situation is dealt it and responded favorably, and there’s no team I’ve been around that’s represented a university and themselves and their families as well as this one.”