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Chalmers's Effort on Both Ends Keys Jayhawks' Win

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 8, 2008

SAN ANTONIO, April 7 -- The shot that Kansas junior guard Mario Chalmers made to send the NCAA championship game into overtime is a play that will linger in the memories of the Jayhawks, who beat Memphis, 75-68, for their first national title since 1988.

Chalmers, the Final Four's most outstanding player, made some of his best plays at the other end of the court, and was part of a stellar defensive effort against the Tigers, whose offense had been close to unstoppable in the tournament.

Chalmers had four steals and helped hound the Tigers' talented back court of Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts. Memphis, which shot 40.3 percent, scored just five points and was 1 for 8 in overtime.

"Kansas is an outstanding basketball team. Great size and quickness," Memphis Coach John Calipari said. "Defensively, they guarded us as well as anybody all year."

Kansas (37-3), with its length and athleticism -- plus a trio of super-quick guards in Chalmers, Russell Robinson and Sherron Collins -- was one of the country's top defensive teams, holding opponents to 37.9 percent shooting (third-best in Division I). Chalmers is an especially effective defender away from the ball; on Sunday, Kansas Coach Bill Self said that he "has the best hands of anybody I've ever coached and has as good of anticipation off the ball of anybody I've ever been around."

The Jayhawks were terrific defensively in the tournament, and especially so in the last three games. In their 59-57 victory over Davidson in the Midwest Region final, they held the Wildcats' high-scoring sophomore, Stephen Curry, to five points over the final 18 minutes, and with the game on the line, they didn't allow Curry to get the potential tying or winning shot off.

On Saturday night against North Carolina, Kansas held the high-scoring Tar Heels to season lows in points (66) and field goal percentage (35.8). During one nine-minute stretch in the first half, the Tar Heels failed to make a shot. Said North Carolina guard Wayne Ellington: "They pressured us. They got us on our heels. They just kept attacking us."

The Jayhawks did the same thing to Memphis, becoming only the fifth team to hold the Tigers to fewer than 65 points in regulation this season. Kansas limited Memphis's transition attack (four fast break points), and slowed Rose (18 points, 5 turnovers) for much of the game.

Robinson and Collins took turns guarding Rose, and junior Brandon Rush shadowed Douglas-Roberts (22 points). During one second-half stretch, the Jayhawks used a box-and-one, with Chalmers chasing the taller Douglas-Roberts, who scored only nine points after halftime.

"In the second half, I tried to buckle down and sit on his left hand," Rush said of Douglas-Roberts. "I think my team did a good job helping me out."

Said Douglas-Roberts: "They were helping a lot. So wherever I drove, you know, it was a man there. It made it real difficult to drive. And they pretty much played like that the whole game."

Kansas trailed by seven points with 1 minute 54 seconds left in regulation, when Collins stole a pass in the corner coming out of a timeout -- one of his three steals -- and hit a three-pointer to spark the Jayhawks. On the first play of overtime, Collins stripped Douglas-Roberts.

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