SAN ANTONIO (AP) -With five minutes to go in the first half, the score was even.
Brandon Rush 12, North Carolina 12.
Kansas needed Rush to come out hot against the mighty Tar Heels, the top-seeded team in the NCAA tournament, and did he ever. Rush's fast start helped the Jayhawks build an early 28-point lead, and they hung on for an 84-66 victory in the national semifinals on Saturday night.
Rush finished with 25 points, three fewer than his career high. No other Jayhawk had more than 12.
This was exactly what Rush, a junior from Kansas City, envisioned when he made the long recovery from knee surgery last summer.
Kansas will go for its third NCAA title and first since 1988 against Memphis on Monday night. The Jayhawks have a shot if Rush plays the way he did early on against the Tar Heels.
He hit five of his first six shots from the floor, including a pair of 3-pointers. Rush isn't the most vocal leader, but with each bucket he seemed to be telling his teammates, ``We can do this.''
There's been heavy speculation that Rush will declare himself eligible for the NBA draft after the season. In recent days, though, it almost seemed as if he didn't want his college career to end. He even chewed out teammates in practice, a sure sign that his competitive juices were flowing.
``Brandon has been showing a lot of emotion the last couple days,'' teammate Darnell Jackson said this week. ``I've never known Brandon to do that, but one day he snapped at practice on a couple of guys. It shocked me because he's one of the guys who's always calm and collected.
``He wants it,'' Jackson said. ``He wants it more than everybody.''
Rush had declared himself eligible for the draft last year. But those plans changed abruptly when he tore his right anterior cruciate ligament, and he returned to the Jayhawks.
His recovery from June surgery was difficult at times, but Rush said he felt ``100 percent'' as he entered the postseason.
He looked it on Saturday, though he wasn't nearly as dominant down the stretch as he was in the first half. As Carolina edged within 10 points midway through the second half, Rush badly missed on a pair of 3-pointers.
The player who had vowed one day earlier to attack the basket was suddenly content to launch jumpers - exactly what coach Bill Self didn't want Rush to do.
``For the most part, he's getting the ball to the paint better and forcing contact and getting to the free throw line a little bit more,'' Self said last week.
Rush did that again to help the Jayhawks recovered from a midgame swoon and put the Tar Heels away.
With Kansas clinging to a 67-61 lead with about 5 minutes remaining, Rush dribbled past a defender and sliced into the lane for a left-handed lay-up, and Kansas never looked back.

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