KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — North Carolina coach Roy Williams has plenty of stories about his days at Kansas, and he pulled out one of the more poignant ones Saturday afternoon, as the two historic programs were preparing to meet in the third round of NCAA tournament.
It had to do with James Naismith and Phog Allen — the founder of the game and one of its greatest coaches — and it went something like this:
"Every game day at Kansas," Williams said, "I went up to the graves in the cemetery, and patted the tombstones of Dr. Naismith and Dr. Allen. I would always ask them for intervention. Now, I don't know if they gave me any, but it always made me feel better."
It's been nine years since Williams came down from leafy Kansas campus on Mount Oread and settled in idyllic Chapel Hill — nearly a full decade since he left Kansas for North Carolina.
The Tar Heels have won a national title. So have the Jayhawks.
Yet to this day, the silver-haired coach with the accent dripping of southern charm can't help but wax poetic about his days in Lawrence — the iconic figures, his own former players, the aura of Allen Fieldhouse and the school that fashions itself as the cradle of hoops.
"I love the passion of the Kansas fans. It's just off the charts," he said. "People would see you and say, 'Coach, I've got a 700-mile drive back to Dodge City, but what a great game.' It was something that they really took a great deal of pride in."
That passion is something that closely ties North Carolina to Kansas.
Another is winning.
Top-seeded Kansas won its 2,100th game by beating Western Kentucky on Friday night, while the eighth-seeded Tar Heels remained 10 games back after their win over Villanova — both of them trail Kentucky. Of their 11 meetings all-time, seven of them will have come in the NCAA tournament.
There was the 54-53 triple-overtime victory by the Tar Heels in the 1957 national title game, played a few blocks from the Sprint Center at Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium, and two semifinal matchups in the early '90s, when Williams was still sporting a Jayhawk on his mock turtleneck.
More recently, Kansas beat the Tar Heels in the 2008 semifinals, when it captured its fifth national championship, and again last season, when it beat North Carolina to reach the Final Four.
"It's the kind of game you always dream about as a kid to play in," the Tar Heels' Jackson Simmons said. "It's Kansas. It's North Carolina. It's two great programs that have won national championships. It's going to be a lot of fun to play in Kansas City on Sunday."
Fun would be one way to describe it. Intimidating might be another.
The Jayhawks will be playing about 40 miles from campus, and there should be a decidedly darker hue of blue than what the Tar Heels (25-10) are accustomed to seeing in the stands.
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