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Williams May Have Found No-More-Tears Formula

In 1997, after Arizona stunned his team in a Southeast Regional semifinal game at Birmingham, Ala., Kansas Coach Roy Williams cried enough tears to drive up stock in Visine.

You felt his pain.

That was his Kansas team of destiny, ranked No. 1 and stocked with Jacque Vaughn, Scot Pollard and Raef LaFrentz.

To see those Jayhawks go down to the fifth-place team from the Pacific 10 Conference, and then watch that fifth-place team go on to win the national title -- what, was that a joke?

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You thought then that it might never happen for Williams, that his impeccable career was destined to become an annual four-hanky sob story.

How many times would he drag us through this?

Duke bedeviled Kansas in the 1991 title game.

In 1993, North Carolina knocked out Roy’s boys in the national semifinals.

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Kansas had a No. 1 seeding in 1995 before going out to Virginia, was No. 2 in 1996 before losing to Syracuse, was a No. 1 in 1998 before losing to Rhode Island.

Illinois bounced Kansas out in 2001 and, of course, last year Kansas made it back to the Final Four.

A Williams ended up winning the national title, but it was Maryland’s Gary and not Kansas’ Roy.

But 1997 was the real killer, a loss to Arizona that ached for months.

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“I thought we had the best team and played the best the whole season,” Williams said.

Williams rationalized then that everything must happen for a reason.

Maybe this is the reason and the season.

Maybe it took until Saturday, when Kansas won the West Regional title at the Pond and advanced to next weekend’s Final Four in New Orleans by outlasting Arizona, 78-75.

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Could this be the win that pushes Williams over the top?

Is this how it works in the circle of coaching life -- one colleague turning tables on another?

In 1997, Olson knocked Williams out and capped the tournament with his first national title.

Saturday, Kansas took down Arizona, which spent most of this season ranked No. 1.

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“I don’t think he’s been given the credit he deserves,” Olson said of Williams.

Olson, like Williams, had been churning out close calls for years before winning his first national title.

Olson speaks from knowledge when he says, “It’s probably a case with his team feeling the pressure because they love Coach Williams and they want him to get that so-called monkey off his back. I’ll tell you what, no one in this country has done a better job than Roy Williams has.”

Saturday’s win at the Pond had the feeling of a coronation for Williams, even though his team is still two games short of that elusive first title.

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There’s a sense this could be the year it all comes together -- the year it wasn’t really supposed to.

After all, Kansas started out 3-3 this season.

“I still have the [newspaper] clipping on my desk,” Williams said. “ ‘Most Disappointing Season: Kansas.’ ”

But suddenly Kansas is catching the breaks. Next week, it gets to play Marquette in a national semifinal instead of Kentucky.

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If the Jayhawks can pull that one out, and they should, Williams would be one game removed from the title, perhaps against a team (Oklahoma or Texas) from the same Big 12 Conference that Kansas won during the regular season.

Do his players want to win for him?

Probably too much, year in and year out.

“Do we want to win the national title?” forward Nick Collison answered incredulously to a reporter’s question about winning a title for his coach.

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“I think that’s an obvious question. Coach has taken a lot of criticism for not winning one, but it’s hard to do.”

Jayhawk forward Jeff Graves added: “We want to win this big-time for coach. He’s been there so many times.”

Williams came up big Saturday, coaching a brilliant game in which he had to hold off Arizona with a thin bench and some of his top players in foul trouble.

Williams doesn’t really rank his performances

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“I don’t sit back and say, ‘Boy, you coached your tail off today,’ ” Williams said, but he did say it was a “satisfying” day.

Some scenarios appear scripted for certain coaches, the way Oscars are for certain actors.

Next week in New Orleans will be Roy Williams, all the time. He’ll be the buzz on Bourbon Street.

He’s already fending off rumors he’ll return to rescue North Carolina if current Coach Matt Doherty does not survive.

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Three years ago, North Carolina made a run at Williams and he agonized for a week before declining the chance to return to his alma mater, where he had mentored under Dean Smith.

No one can say which way that rumor will blow.

Maybe, this isn’t about you controlling your fate; maybe it’s about it controlling you.

Olson has a long-held view about the difficulty of a college coach winning sudden-death games in the NCAA tournament: “You have to be very, very good, and you have to be very, very lucky.”

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Maybe this is finally the lucky part for Kansas Coach Roy Williams.

In 1997, Kansas had the best team from November to February but lost to Arizona in March.

Who knows better than Williams what fickle things these tournaments can be?

“I told them what happened to Marquette beating Kentucky and everybody had thought Kentucky had been one of the best teams,” Williams said

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Williams explained to his players: “We didn’t have to be the best team in the country for the whole season, we had to be the best for the next 2 1/2 hours.”


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