by Hayden Alfano*
Special to iVoryTowerz
I can’t speak for other sportswriters, but when I have a column to write about a game, I often start to compose it in my head before the contest is over. I mentally parse through the storylines, choosing the one I think best explains the outcome.
Looking on as Memphis led Kansas by nine points with just over two minutes remaining in last night’s NCAA men’s basketball championship, then, I had it all planned out. The lead for my column would be something like, “In basketball, sometimes you have to leave well enough alone.” The focus would be on how Kansas head coach Bill Self, in switching to a box-and-one defense – four defenders playing zone while one Jayhawk chased Chris Douglas-Roberts man-to-man – had allowed Tiger freshman Derrick Rose to achieve the rhythm he had struggled to find under Kansas’ smothering man defense. In those few possessions, Kansas went from up three points to down seven, and apparently had let their dream of a national championship slip away.
That all changed in a frantic final two minutes, as the Jayhawks mounted a comeback for the ages, tying the score on an improbable three-pointer by Final Four Most Outstanding Player Mario Chalmers with two seconds left in regulation. Kansas pulled away in overtime, ultimately prevailing 75-68 for the school’s first title since 1988.
As I contemplated this astounding turn of events, my thoughts turned to the storyline that would certainly dominate Tuesday’s headlines: Memphis’ inability to salt the game away. As I tried to mentally frame a column around that topic, however, I felt unsatisfied. That wouldn’t accurately tell the story.
Neither would anything negative about either team. In the final analysis, last night’s championship was played at an extremely high level at both ends of the court. Both coaches instructed their squads to play pro-style offenses designed to exploit the individual talents of highly-skilled players. It wasn’t always pretty – and because of that, this may be lost on the casual observer – but I’d even go as far as to say that college basketball hasn’t seen two teams of this quality play each other since the 1991 national semifinals, when Duke upset Nevada-Las Vegas in a rematch of the 1990 title game.
As good as Chalmers was, his 18 points weren’t a team-high; those honors went to Darrell Arthur, who scored 20. Sherron Collins – whose late steal and subsequent three-pointer that cut a seven-point deficit to four was the biggest play of the game before Chalmer’s buzzer-beater – had 11 big points, and Brandon Rush was the fourth Jayhawk in double figures, with 12.
For Memphis’ part, Douglas-Roberts and Rose did most of the damage, but the Tigers also got big contributions from Robert Dozier and Antonio Anderson.
There will be plenty written and said about the things Memphis could have done differently, and how Kansas was lucky to even have the opportunity to win in overtime. I’ll join the ranks of those pundits soon enough. But for now, I’m focusing on two special basketball teams and a game that lived up to its considerable pregame hype.
The NCAA Tournament is dubbed March Madness, but it’s not until the first Monday night in April that college basketball holds the attention of the entire sports nation. Kansas and Memphis gave us a show worthy of the stage.
*Hayden Alfano is the author of the blog 19'9" which is mostly about basketball.
National Collegiate Athletic Association
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by Hayden Alfano*