Thomas Robinson missed 10 shots and failed to record a double-double for the first time in four NCAA Tournament games.
But there was little doubt when it came time to award the Midwest Regional’s most outstanding player award after the Jayhawks put away North Carolina 80-67 for the championship.
“You can look at him, and he’s our presence,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “When he’s on the court, he’s our presence.”
Against a Tar Heels team that starts one of the largest frontlines in college basketball, Robinson had 18 points and nine rebounds, and his play in the first half was perhaps the clearest indication that the Jayhawks were ready to play.
Among his six first-half field goals were a banked-in three-pointer from the top of the key and a spin move that resulted in a left-handed layup.
Robinson entered the game averaging 15 points and 13.7 rebounds, but, like most of his teammates, hadn’t been shooting well. His NCAA Tournament marksmanship was 38.1 percent entering the game.
But as North Carolina was shooting remarkably well in the first half — the Tar Heels made nine straight at one point and hit 63.6 percent for the half — Robinson took it upon himself to make sure the Jayhawks kept up.
He finished the half with 14 points.
“This game meant a lot to us and for the people who support this program,” Robinson said. “I wanted to let them now that I was on the court and I wanted to be aggressive.”
The Tar Heels noticed.
“Thomas Robinson is a fantastic player,” North Carolina center Tyler Zeller said. “Somebody that can drive the ball, shoot the ball, and he can score from inside. There’s a reason he’s up for (national) player of the year.”
Robinson’s frontline teammate Jeff Withey had his second big game in St. Louis with 15 points and three blocks, including two in the game’s final 3 minutes while Withey was playing with four fouls.
“Jeff was a load for us inside,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “A lot of times a guy with four fouls won’t guard you because he wants to stay in the game. Those were two big defensive plays.”
The reserve big men also pitched in. Kevin Young had eight rebounds, four of them on offense, and Justin Wesley, in his brief 2 minutes, tipped in a Robinson miss.
For the game, the Jayhawks outrebounded North Carolina 41-35. Two days earlier, the Tar Heels had pulled down 63 rebounds against Ohio.
“We did a good job,” Robinson said. “Definitely Jeff coming down there and blocking those shots. And I just tried to be aggressive tonight.”
“Coach Self said last night when going over the report that we wanted to throw the first punch,” Robinson said. “We wanted to make them feel us every play.”