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Morris twins help KU exorcise demons of 2010 shocker

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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TULSA, Okla. -- Tears in their eyes, twin towers Markieff and Marcus Morris lingered last year in Kansas' losing locker room.

The raw emotion of a second-round upset loss to ninth-seeded Northern Iowa on their faces, the identical twins made a pact with themselves: this would not happen again.

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"This" was what everyone associated with KU basketball has tried for 12 months to forget: The Jayhawks were the No. 1 overall seed in the 2010 NCAA Tournament when they were stunned in Oklahoma City.

On Sunday night at the BOK Center -- some 100 miles from where that devastating loss took place -- the Morris twins combined for 41 points and 24 rebounds as the Jayhawks punched their ticket to the Sweet 16 in San Antonio with a 73-59 victory against Illinois, another No. 9 seed.

Markieff Morris led all scorers with 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, nearly mirroring the effort of Marcus, who had 17 points and 12 boards.

"It's not fair that we've got two of 'em," KU point guard Tyshawn Taylor said. "Two of 'em, man, that can do the same things. And Markieff was a beast today. Just a beast."

The Jayhawks will face 12th-seeded Richmond at the Southwest Regional at the Alamodome, the same arena where Kansas won a national championship three years ago. It's part of a Texas two-step that KU hopes ends in Houston, cutting down the nets at the Final Four.

"It feels like we've got a lot of pressure off our shoulders," Markieff said. "I just feel like now we've gotten past this weekend, we got over the hump."

While KU fans have tried hard to put the NIU loss behind them, the Morris twins did not want to forget. They ripped open the emotional scars with each offseason workout, often reciting the final score as they huffed and puffed up the stadium steps at Allen Fieldhouse. Up and down every aisle, all summer long.

"When we got back in the gym after that loss, we knew who our leaders were going to be," Taylor explained. "They were in the gym, they were working. They've been our leaders from day one and we're going to go as far as they can take us."

You could see the pain of 2010 melt away late in the second half Sunday.

After the Illini had closed the gap to seven with 4½ minutes left, Markieff Morris threw down the first of three rim-rattling dunks that sealed the deal. An alley-oop slam on the next possession gave the Jayhawks an 11-point lead at 62-51. Markieff's final dunk, at the 2½-minute mark, put KU up 15 and sent the Jayhawks' fans into delirium.

"It definitely energized the team," Marcus said of his brother's dunks. "To me, 'Kieff is the best thing that we have on the team. He's our leader."

Just for good measure, Markieff also buried a 3-pointer early in the game, his 23rd of the season.

During the 2008 title run, the Jayhawks beat a 16, 8, 12 and 10 seed to get to the Final Four. This year, KU has beaten No. 16 Boston, No. 9 Illinois, will face No. 12 Richmond on Friday, and would face a 10 (Florida State) or an 11 seed (Virginia Commonwealth) in the regional final.

"There was a little extra pressure today," KU coach Bill Self said. "This year's team had an opportunity to do what last year's team didn't do. ... It was good to get that monkey off our back, so to speak, but there are bigger fish to fry."

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