A new legend

Jayhawks' stunning win rivals dazzle of 1988 title

On Kansas basketball

April 08, 2008|By DAVID STEELE

SAN ANTONIO -- Sometimes a tie isn't a tie, but a loss. Thus it was at the Alamodome last night, when the first overtime in the national championship game in 11 years tipped off. The score was 63-63. But Memphis had lost.

Kansas had already won, and the only question remaining in the final five minutes was how much the final margin would be. And whether this was as much of a miracle, as much an astoundingly unexpected event for the program than its last national title 20 years earlier.

Maybe Danny Manning, an assistant on the bench last night and the star of the 1988 underdog run to the title, could have answered. Then again, if you wore Kansas red and blue and waved like the grains of wheat and yelled "Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk" until you were hoarse, could you have picked the more stunning victory between the two? Because this game was as close to being over as a championship game could be, and Memphis was halfway home to Beale Street and a victory parade. Cars had probably already been overturned and couches half-burned on campus. With 2 minutes, 12 seconds left, Memphis led by nine points, and the Tigers were hitting their free throws even though Kansas was fouling them.

Derrick Rose could have been forgiven if he had started rehearsing his Most Outstanding Player speech, or making a mental note of good agents for when he capped his championship with his exit to the NBA.

Kansas didn't look dead; they just looked as if they had run out of time. But the Jayhawks suddenly proved they had plenty of time. They had plenty of players ready to perform at the perfect time. They had plenty of guts.

And they had plenty of fouls to throw at Memphis. Poor Memphis. Ridiculed all year for its free-throw shooting but proving it irrelevant all season, then proving everybody wrong throughout the tournament. Until the last two minutes.

By the time Kansas had pulled on Memphis' exposed thread and started making the Tigers unravel, you could have predicted everything that was going to happen. You knew if it needed to go to overtime, it would. The chance came with 10.8 seconds left with Memphis up 62-60, and Rose at the line to put a seal on the game. Hit both free throws and the party could start on the Riverwalk and back home.

He missed the first. It was Memphis's fourth miss from the line in five tries since the 1:15 mark.

Rose had built that big Memphis lead by scoring 13 of its 15 points in a span of eight minutes in the second half. But he needed one more, both in that pair of freebies instead of just one. He didn't get it.

Then, Kansas needed three. Of course they got them. It was just a matter of who would get them, because their own supposed soft spot, the lack of a defined go-to player in situations like this, became a strength.

It ended up being Mario Chalmers, the junior guard from Anchorage, Alaska, cool as a glacier, soon to be the Most Outstanding Player instead of Rose - Chalmers getting a pass, stepping to his left, firing a three from near the top, draining it with 2.1 seconds left.

Tie game. That is, game over. At least once the Tigers bolted up court with the inbound and heaved one from half court - as John Calipari yelled, leaped and signaled for a timeout the entire time. No one saw or heard.

For the record, the final score was Kansas, 75-68. Unofficially, everybody in the building knew it was over at the tip-off of overtime. Brandon Rush essentially made it official 30 seconds in when he finished the break off a Memphis miss on the first possession, taking the feed from Sherron Collins, heroic in the late-game rush to tie the game.

Then, Calipari got his time-out.

With 2:21 left in overtime, Memphis got its free throws, from Chris Douglas-Roberts. That was too little, too late as well. By then Kansas was up by six. Memphis didn't manage a basket in overtime until less than a minute remained. They went more than six-and-a-half minutes in the most important stretch of their season, when a championship was there for the taking, without a basket. And without nearly enough free throws.

It will be a long time before the Memphis folks will be able to let this loss go.

And it will be a long time before they forget in Lawrence, Kan., and throughout the Plains how the Jayhawks won the third national title, their first in 20 years, since Danny and the Miracles.

Now, a new generation has its own miracle to savor.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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

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