Kudos to Kansas for their furious comeback in last night’s NCAA Championship Game. They needed a three and Mario Chalmers stepped up and drained a high pressure shot that will rank right behind Keith Smart’s in 1987 and Michael Jordan’s in 1982. Both Smart and Jordan made shots with their teams down one point and the makes gave Indiana and North Carolina one point victories. Chalmers’ three was simply scintillating, and even though it merely forced overtime, it, in essence took all the air out of the Memphis balloon. The Jayhawks played the overtime possessed, while the Tigers seemed to play it in shock, disbelieving that the game had gotten to this point.
It was one of those games where both teams were likeable and both had what I term “rootability.” This Kansas team reminded me a lot of the 1988 championship squad. That team was dubbed “Danny and the Miracles,” because they had the big stud in Danny Manning and seven other role players. This team didn’t have that one true star, but their balance and unselfishness is what you love about college basketball. Chalmers snagged the Most Outstanding Player award, but Darrell Arthur led the Hawks with 20 points and certainly made his presence felt in the overtime.
As good as one can feel about Kansas, I do feel sick for those Memphis kids. All year long people talked about the Tigers woes at the free throw line. They came into the tournament shooting just under 59 percent for the season. During the tournament, they actually improved that percentage to just under 62 percent and leading 60-51 with 2:12 left, all they had to do was can the free shots and Memphis would have celebrated a first NCAA title. Now, these kids will have to hear about “choking” at the line in the biggest game of the year—how unfair.
As we know, star guards Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose combined to miss four of their last five from the line, setting the stage for Chalmers (the new Alaska Assassin) heroics. For the game, the Tigers shot 63 percent, going 12 of 19. Oh, Kansas was 14 of 15, a robust 93 pecent clip.
You hate to see a game decided by mistakes, but that is the reality here. And, Memphis’s free throw problems are just another reason why the last two minutes of a college basketball can last for an eternity. Nine times out of ten, you’re yelling at the TV to stop fouling, but last night you saw why teams will foul and foul, hoping that they can get a reprieve, and that is what Kansas got.
It was a great game, calling it a classic is perhaps a bit too much, but after a two ho-hum semifinals on Saturday, we got the drama that sports fans crave.
On one hand, a warm feeling, on the other, a sick one. That’s what keeps us coming back to these events.