Chalk knocked out of Heels

April 06, 2008|By DAVID STEELE

SAN ANTONIO — SAN ANTONIO-- --What was the bigger shocker in the Alamodome last night? That the top-seeded, former No. 1-ranked team whose credentials got slighted all year long advanced decisively into the national championship game?

Or that the top-seeded, former No. 1-ranked team who was the odds-on favorite to be here from Day 1 of the regular season got smoked like a holiday ham?

If you did have to choose one unlikely Final Four occurrence over the other, give long consideration to the way Memphis handled UCLA in the opener, but then take the eye-popping developments in the nightcap, when North Carolina fell behind Kansas 40-12 in the first half.

Sip your morning beverage, take a deep breath, and read that again. Just more than 13 minutes into the game, North Carolina was losing, 40-12.

Try to grasp the concept of the Tar Heels being behind anybody, even fellow college basketball bluebloods at the national semifinals, 40-12. Not just by 28 points, which was freaky enough, but which can happen when things get out of hand late and people foul out and the winning team runs it up. No, the game had barely started, fans were just getting settled in after the break from the first game, and the score was 40-12.

Two years ago, George Mason showed up at the Final Four as the underdog of underdogs, with no tournament history to speak of, totally overmatched by eventual national champ Florida, and the Patriots never were behind 40-12. It's a joke score, one you'd tell on a team that doesn't even belong on the court with the other.

This was North ... Carolina. Featuring the consensus National Player of the Year and, in the eyes of too many TV analysts watching the game through baby blue-tinted lenses, the hustlingest, grittiest, hardest-working player ever to tighten a drawstring, Tyler Hansbrough. It's highly likely that if you go down the list of all-time National Players of the Year, few, if any, had his team in a 40-12 hole at any time in their careers, much less in a Final Four game.

It's hard to claim extraordinary intensity and focus if you're on the scene of a wipeout like that.

The Tar Heels staged a wild comeback midway through the second half, started raining threes, harassed Kansas into turnovers by the bunches, got within five points with nine minutes left - and still lost, 84-66.

It seems inconceivable that the Jayhawks, deep and talented and tested as they were, could be that much better than a team as deep and talented as North Carolina. But on this one night, they were.

This game was bursting at the seams with subplots. North Carolina's Roy Williams coaching against the school he led for 15 years. Bill Self coaching in the Final Four for the first time after three near misses at Kansas and two other schools. The Hansbrough phenomenon. Jayhawks senior Rodrick Stewart sitting behind the bench with his right knee on a chair, his career over because he had fractured his kneecap the day before in practice.

Long before halftime, Kansas had made those subplots practically irrelevant, with one of the most inexplicable runs ever in a Final Four. "The guys were in attack mode from the outset," Self said. That was an understatement.

It was such a bizarre development, it all but buried the impact left by Memphis in the first game, when the Tigers cranked up a defense that had put on a show throughout the tournament and ended up smothering UCLA, which had reached a third straight Final Four on the strength of its own defense.

The more significant numbers from the 78-63 win belonged not to Chris Douglas-Roberts (28 points, one momentum-altering dunk with five minutes left) or Derrick Rose (25 points, nine rebounds, four assists, 11-for-12 on free throws), but to Joey Dorsey (zero points, but 15 rebounds and two blocks, one particularly humiliating one on Russell Westbrook a minute after Douglas-Roberts' dunk) and Kevin Love. The player with the best chance to put UCLA over the top after falling short the past two Final Fours, was held to 12 points, just two in the second half.

Memphis was spectacular, might be playing better than anyone, and is going to make this a fantastic final tomorrow.

And there's almost no chance, no matter what Kansas does, that it will fall behind 40-12.david.steele@baltsun.com

Listen to David Steele Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

David Steele -- Points after

Two Steelers charged with assaulting their girlfriends. The Browns' Kenny Wright released from jail after his arrest after an attempt to elude police on foot. Chris Henry let go by the Bengals after yet another arrest. And the Ravens, with a lifetime legal-trouble achievement award. Just call the AFC North the new Black-and-Blue Division.

Longtime Orioles watchers had to flinch every time Stanford's Candice Wiggins threw another dagger into Maryland last week, because if she isn't the spitting image of her late father Alan, nobody on earth is.

The best that can be said about the lousy attendance stories of the O's first two games - the phantom Opening Day sellout and the record-low crowd two nights later - is that maybe one day it will be part of franchise lore when they return to glory.

Now, if the Nationals really wanted to stick a finger in the Orioles' eye and push their own fans closer to public transportation to their new ballpark, they'd build a Metro station right next to the sports museum at Camden Yards.

No insult to the drama and pageantry of the Final Four, but the routine with Gilbert Arenas rejoining the Wizards, every aspect of that night, blew away the college game.

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