CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Kansas and Arkansas played a game on a tightrope, not to mention on a basketball court, yesterday at the Charlotte Coliseum. Twice, the Jayhawks were pushed off and twice they got up.
But when it was time for the Razorbacks to topple, midway through the second half of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Southeast Regional final, they went down -- and out -- for good.
After overcoming as much as a 14-point deficit, and trailing by 12 at halftime, Kansas roared back to beat top-seeded, second-ranked Arkansas, 93-81, to advance to this week's Final Four in Indianapolis.
The surprising Jayhawks, who had demolished No. 2 seed and third-ranked Indiana by 18 points in Thursday's semifinals, used a 30-9 run -- including 12 straight free throws in one stretch -- to open an 87-73 lead.
"I thought the first half was a game we won, and the second half was a game they won," said Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, whose team blew an early 11-point lead and came back to lead at halftime, 47-35. "And that is the one you're supposed to win."
Kansas (26-7) won even though its two leading scorers, seniors Terry Brown and Mark Randall, went to the bench in foul trouble within 14 seconds of each other. At the time, with a little over nine minutes left, the Jayhawks were on the verge of taking the lead for good.
"To be honest, I didn't worry about it," Kansas coach Roy Williams said of his team's foul troubles. "It doesn't say Randall or Brown on our uniforms. It says Kansas. At that point, both guys weren't playing their best games."
But Alonzo Jamison was. The junior forward dominated inside, scoring 16 of a career-high 26 points in the second half, to go with nine rebounds. And the worst free-throw shooting team in this year's NCAA tournament made 25 of 30 from the line after halftime, 27 of 33 for the game.
The victory gave Kansas, ranked 12th in the country and the third seed here, a chance at its second national championship in the last four years. The Jayhawks will meet the winner of today's East Regional final between North Carolina and Temple in East ** Rutherford, N.J. Saturday at the Hoosier Dome.
"There are a lot of similarities between 1988 and this year," Randall said. "Everyone talked about 1988 being Danny [Manning] and the Miracles. That was a lot of bull. It wasn't five-on-one. He was a great player, but that was a team and so is this."
In truth, Kansas' bench made a huge contribution yesterday. Freshman guard Steve Woodberry grabbed a couple of big rebounds, made a crucial steal and hit all four of his free throws. Junior guard Sean Tunstall had all of his 11 points in the second half.
The difference in the half was that while Jamison and the Jayhawks heated up, Todd Day and the rest of the Arkansas players cooled off. Day, who hit six of eight shots in a 21-point first half, missed nine of 11 in the second half and also finished with 26.
Seemingly in control at halftime, the Razorbacks found themselves tied at 51 less than four minutes into the second half. Though they would later lead by five, 62-57, their collective foul problems and poor shooting gave Kansas all it needed.
"The first five minutes of the second half was the worst we played this year," said Richardson, whose team went over the seven-foul limit with more than 16 minutes left and reached the 10-foul limit four minutes later. "We didn't come out with a lot of intensity and we never got into our rhythm."
Said Day, "They didn't do anything different in the second half. Our shots weren't falling like in the first half."
But Kansas did something differently. After committing 10 turnovers in the first half, the Jayhawks took better care of the ball. They got the ball to Jamison, who at 6-6 and 225 pounds, challenged Oliver Miller, Arkansas' 6-9, 275-pound center.
Starting with a layup to give Kansas a 67-64 lead, Jamison scored seven of his team's next nine points. A three-point shot -- his third in as many attempts this season -- gave the Jayhawks a 75-68 lead with 4:31 remaining. The lead would double in a little more than two minutes, and grow to as many as 17.
"More or less, they were letting me go inside," said Jamison, who was named the regional's Most Valuable Player. "I figured that they were going to foul me and send me to the line because I don't shoot too well. But they went for my head fakes and cooperated."
The defeat denied Arkansas (34-4) a chance at a second straight appearance in the national semifinals, where it lost to Duke a year ago in Denver. And the victory for the Jayhawks set up a possible first-ever meeting between Williams and his mentor, North Carolina coach Dean Smith.
"I know I'd never be the coach at Kansas if it wasn't for Coach Smith," said Williams, a longtime assistant under Smith, who played on Kansas' 1952 NCAA championship team. "But if I'm competing with him on the golf course and I'm on the first tee, that doesn't mean I'm going to knock that sucker into the woods."