- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

In just his third season as Jayhawks coach in 1991, Roy Williams guided Kansas to an NCAA tournament final, when his team lost to Duke.

Little did he know that would be the closest he and Kansas would come to winning a national championship for the next 10 years.

Since then, the good-natured Williams has built one of the proudest and most successful programs in the country, leading Kansas to 13 straight NCAA tournaments, winning better than 80 percent of his games and reaching his third Final Four this season. Still, he has had to fend off questions regarding his teams' shortcomings in the NCAA tournament.

Since 1992, Kansas entered the NCAA tournament as one of the four No.1 seeds four times under Williams. Four times, not only did they not make the Final Four, but they lost before the round of eight. The stumbles earned Williams some sympathy because his record spoke for itself he now stands as the winningest active coach in Division I.

The top-seeded Jayhawks have returned to the Final Four for the first time since 1993, where they will face Maryland on Saturday at the Georgia Dome. Kansas, which went undefeated in the Big 12 regular season and was ranked No.1 for four weeks, has nearly fulfilled expectations, but the question remains whether it can take Williams to his first national title and remove the "best coach never to have won a national championship" label that has been attached to his name.

This season's team is prepared to end the questions.

"This group here, they're a lot more relaxed and I think they've been that way the whole year and yet when they go out there and lace 'em up, they get after it pretty doggone well," Williams said. "Things don't frustrate them very often during games."

This season's Kansas squad, the highest-scoring team in Division I, has looked unbeatable at times, save for a season-opening loss to Ball State, one at UCLA in January and one to fellow Final Four participant and Big 12 member Oklahoma in the conference championship game. The Jayhawks (33-3) ran the table in the Big 12 regular season and after a serious scare against No.16 seed Holy Cross in the first round of the NCAAs, beat three teams ranked in the top 25 before the tournament (Stanford, Illinois, Oregon) to reach the Final Four.

"We have guys that can make plays. We have a lot of scorers on the team," Kansas forward Drew Gooden said, but "it is really not about scoring averages at this point, it is about winning games."

Kansas' top seven players though three are freshmen, including the point guard are as good as any in the nation. The group is led by All-American Gooden, who averages 20.0 points and 11.5 rebounds and shoots 76 percent from the free-throw line, and forward Nick Collison, who posts 15.4 points and 8.3 rebounds.

Guards Kirk Hinrich and Jeff Boschee are the Jayhawks' main 3-point threats, while freshman Aaron Miles (6.7 assists) starts at point guard and freshmen Keith Langford and Wayne Simien are the top two reserves.

The Jayhawks can score, but they can also rebound. Against Oregon, they racked up an astounding 63-34 advantage on the boards, with Gooden collecting 20 and Collison 15. Kansas' dominance on the glass should not come as a big surprise entering this season, Kansas held four of the top 11 largest rebounding margins ever in an NCAA tournament game, with all coming in the last five tournaments. Kansas has been outrebounded three times all season.

After their dismantling of Oregon on Sunday, Kansas players, most prominently Gooden, said there should be no more questions about Williams' coaching record. They are ready to win the program's first national title since the Danny Manning-led Jayhawks won the 1988 crown under coach Larry Brown.

"There is a feeling of seriousness now between everybody because we know what we want to go accomplish," Langford said. "We celebrated the day we won the game and the day after and all of that, but now we still have two more games that we have to go win."


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