KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Landen Lucas buried his head in a towel as time ran out. Devonte’ Graham, on the verge of tears, walked off the court with his jersey pulled up over his face. Coach Bill Self fiddled with his tie a bit and stared blankly into the crowd as his players headed toward the locker room.
Kansas came up short — again — as a No. 1 seed in the Elite Eight. The Jayhawks and their faithful never get used to the disappointment of losing in regional finals, but this 74-60 loss to No. 3 Oregon on Saturday night was excruciating.
It happened at the Sprint Center, the Jayhawks’ home away from home 40 miles from campus. There were 18,643 fans here to see it, almost all of them in blue.
The Jayhawks had blown out their first three tournament opponents by an average of 30 points. Two nights after knocking out Purdue 98-66 in the Midwest Regional semifinal, they looked like an unstoppable force.
Oregon, however, was irresistible, with Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks combining for 44 points and Jordan Bell just missing a triple-double with 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight shot blocks.
This was the second straight year Kansas has lost in regional finals, and the Jayhawks have dropped five of their last seven in this round since 2004. Four of those losses happened when they were No. 1 seeds.
“They all stick with me, and they’ll stick with the players who’ve been part of it,” Self said. “I’m disappointed more for them than I am for me. They put us in a situation to play for the highest stakes, and today we came up short. The one thing that did happen, and it’s hard to admit, the best team did win today. Today. I didn’t think we put our best foot forward like we have all season long.”
Frank Mason III, a front-runner for national player of the year, scored 17 points in the first half and single-handedly kept the game from becoming a rout. The dazzling freshman Josh Jackson picked up two quick fouls and wasn’t a factor until the second half. Graham, who scored 26 points against Purdue, was 0 for 7 from the field and finished with three points.
“I think we started the game really tight,” Mason said. “We didn’t take good shots to where we should have just moved the ball and draw the ball downhill and create easy shots for each other.”
Kansas did pull within 6 with 2:50 left on Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk’s 3-pointer. Then the Ducks caught a break. With the shot clock running down, Tyler Dorsey flipped up a desperation 3. The rebound went by two Jayhawks and right to Bell, who passed the ball back to Dorsey. This time Dorsey didn’t miss, and the Ducks pulled away.
“That,” Mason said, “was a critical possession.”
Jackson, who had all 10 of his points and 10 of his 12 rebounds in the second half, said it would take him a while to get over this one. Expected to be a one-and-done player and high NBA draft pick, he wasn’t ready to say whether this would be his last game at KU.
“I’ve never been in such a tough position like this and lose such an important game,” he said. “It really hurts. It hurts more to see guys around me. Just seeing the seniors. We really wanted to send them out the right way. It just hurts that we couldn’t do that.”
Last year the Jayhawks were the No. 1 overall seed and lost in the regional finals to eventual national champion Villanova in Louisville. As a No. 1 in 2011, the Jayhawks were upset by No. 11 VCU in San Antonio. In 2007, it was a second-seeded UCLA that beat them in San Jose.
The Jayhawks missed out on going to the Final Four for the first time since 2012, when they were a No. 2 seed and advanced to the title game, where they lost to Kentucky.
“I can’t believe how hard our guys tried,” Self said. “We just couldn’t really get out of our own way today.”