By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
SAN ANTONIO, April 7 -- Kansas Coach Bill Self locked his assistants in a tight embrace, and Jayhawks players pranced around the Alamodome court amid a confetti celebration that vanquished two decades of NCAA basketball tournament frustration and national championship near-misses.
But Kansas's thrilling 75-68 overtime victory against Memphis on Monday will be remembered as much for the Jayhawks' first national championship since 1988 as it will be for Memphis squandering a nine-point lead with 2 minutes 12 seconds remaining. An NCAA tournament filled with blowouts and mismatches featured a classic finale that included clutch shots by Kansas and gut-wrenching missed foul shots by Memphis, a team that had been plagued by inept free throw shooting all season.
"I am still kind of numb," Memphis Coach John Calipari said. "It will probably hit me like a ton of bricks tomorrow. We had it in our grasp. You have the kind of lead we have, you are supposed to win the game."
Kansas (37-3) outscored Memphis 24-8 over the final 7:12 of the game, including the overtime period. Kansas guard Mario Chalmers, who made the three-pointer that tied the score with 2.1 seconds remaining in regulation, was named the Final Four's most outstanding player.
"I thought it was going in when it left my hand," Chalmers said. "It felt good when I released it."
Said Self: "It was probably the biggest shot ever made in Kansas history."
All season, Memphis ranked among the nation's worst free throw shooting teams, making less than 60 percent of its shots from the line. And all season Calipari told everyone that his team would make them when it counted.
Memphis (38-2) had made 70.2 of its free throws through five NCAA tournament games, but the Tigers two best players, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose, saw great performances in the title game overshadowed by missing a combined three free throws in the final 16 seconds of regulation.
After Rose made only 1 of 2 free throws to make the score 63-60 with 10.8 seconds remaining, Kansas raced the ball upcourt, and Sherron Collins dribbled toward the three-point arc against Rose. With a three-point lead, Calipari had instructed his players to foul.
"We pushed the guy to the floor," Calipari said, "but we didn't foul hard enough."
Collins flipped a pass to Chalmers, who released a high-arcing three-pointer over the hands of Rose to tie the score. Memphis's Joey Dorsey, who had fouled out on an ill-advised play 1:23 to play, put his hands on his knees and bowed his head.
Kansas had all the momentum entering overtime, and Memphis was forced to play without its best interior player.
"What happened in overtime?" Calipari said. "We didn't have Joey Dorsey in overtime."
It should never have gotten to that point for Memphis. Douglas-Roberts, who scored 22 points, carried Memphis in the first half, and Rose, who scored 18 points, helped Memphis seemingly take control of the game in the second half.
After Darrell Arthur (team-high 20 points) made a jumper to cut the deficit to seven points, Collins stole the ball and made a three-pointer 10 seconds later. Chalmers made two free throws and Arthur made another jumper to cut the deficit to two points with one minute remaining.
Douglas-Roberts was in position to put away the game with 16 seconds remaining, but he missed two free throws. Six second later, Rose also had a chance to seal the victory but missed the first of two free throws.
In the first half, Kansas assigned Brandon Rush to guard Douglas-Roberts, who sliced through the defense early for a layup. Soon after, Rose sank a baseline jumper, drew a foul and made the free throw to put Memphis ahead 9-3, giving Kansas its largest deficit of the tournament.
But Memphis soon faced its largest deficit of the tournament after Kansas went on a 19-6 run to take a 22-15 advantage when Rush hooked up with Arthur for an alley-oop dunk.
For the most part, Kansas neutralized Rose in the first half, holding him to 1-of-4 shooting from the floor and forcing three turnovers. Dorsey made a steal and a breakaway dunk, but the Baltimore native seemed a step slow in the first half.
Memphis leaned heavily on Douglas-Roberts, who scored 13 of its first 28 points. Calipari likes when Douglas-Roberts perpetually moves without the ball like Richard Hamilton of the Detroit Pistons. In the first half Monday, Douglas-Roberts hardly stopped moving, creating matchup problems for Kansas throughout.
Kansas had made four other Final Four appearances since 1991, and the Jayhawks also endured disappointing first-round losses to Bradley and Bucknell this decade. Much like 1988, it took a near miracle.
"I'm a little overwhelmed now," Self said.