Memphis, Texas, and Bob Ryan's Cell Phone
For me, the highest drama of today's Memphis v. Texas matchup came at halftime.
Halftime's second highlight: the costume change to chaps.
I was scarfing down some kind of sausage / hot dog meat-link (undefinable by taste or sight) and eyeing The Boston Globe's Bob Ryan as he worked over some sweets from the dessert spread. For an older fella, Ryan moves with unexpected quickness and impressive alacrity. He's dialing the cell phone, he's forking some potato salad, he's adjusting his tie, splitting a cookie, downing a cup of coffee. His silver-haired, elder-statesman-of-the-sporting-media appearance belies a game-time quickness that's admirable. With the spread duly dealt with, he turned his attention to an incoming call. Something about something or other. Then, splitting a sugar packet over a second of joe, he went to tuck his phone into the breast pocket of his jacket...and air-balled it! The phone clatters to the ground but Ryan doesn't see it! Ryan Doesn't See It! He spins. He gathers up some paper work, he pivots, and before I can finish choking down two cheek-fulls of tightly cased meat medley, he's gone. Ryan is gone! The phone is on the floor. And Ryan is gone.
I look around the room. Surely, I'm not the only one anxiously eyeing The Old Master's motorola? Lying there beneath the low hem of the table cloth? Surely, someone else has watched the old man give up the razor? Of course, what you don't know about media spreads at sporting events: they're obscene. There isn't a man under 250 in the room (and not a single woman). Plates are piled high, mandibles snap and gnash, shoulders and heads hunch over the wreckage of a no-questions-asked buffet. It slowly sinks in: I'm the only one who's seen it. There's only one man in this world who can return Bob Ryan his phone. There's only one man who can keep him from the wild inconvenience of a lost cellie. And I'm that man. I'm Saving Bob Ryan.
Of course, it's never that simple. Bob Ryan's cell phone is kind of like The Ring, or the Zack Morris time-out, or the much-pondered power of invisibility: once you're holding it, moral quandaries suddenly abound. It was only after a long tete-a-tete with Lieutenant General Osterhout and a number of attempts to send inappropriate texts to Ryan's Around The Horn mates (trust me, Mariotti begs to be the target of inappropriate texts) that I finally located The Man Himself and made the save. In the end, it was the picture of an obviously much-loved-and-deservedly-so golden that serves as Mr. Ryan's background picture that did it. You can try to solicit fake tanning advice from BIll Plaschke or send lewd texts to Jay Mariotti...but you should never separate a man on the road from the picture of his dog. We may be heathens. But we've got boundaries. And scruples. Ryan, by the way, revealed himself to be a very friendly and appreciative gentleman. The whole ordeal left me both titillated and warm inside. And Tom Hanks didn't even have to die.
Memphis rolls three deep on the drums. Best school band of the tournament.
I count that as the most exciting moment of the day for two reasons: 1. I saved resident Sweet Old Man and Sports Writing Legend from major headaches and perhaps death (considering what stress can do to you at that age) and 2. Memphis v. Texas didn't quite deliver on the drama factor.
There were two big basketball stories here in Houston this afternoon. First, we found out what happens to Texas when their two big-time guards suffer poor shooting performances. All season long, the Longhorms success has owed much to DJ Augustin and AJ Abrams. Both are small in stature and big in shooting skills. Augustin has the ability to penetrate at will and as good as nearly anyone (we'll get to the 'nearly anyone' part in our discussion of Derrick Rose). But tonight, Texas faced tough match-ups on the perimeter. Outsized by Chris Douglas-Roberts, Antonio Anderson, and Rose, Augustin and Abrams struggled for room to operate all night. Shots were often contested and tended to hit the iron hard, particularly in the first half. For the game, the two Texas studs shot a combined 10 for 33, not nearly enough to get it done. Augustin did his best to get to the rim. And he got close to it on a number of occasions. But with Dorsey, Dozier, and Co. underneath for Memphis, he rarely got anything worth while off.
On the Texas side of the ball, it was a classic case of out-gunned, out-run. Never mind out-sized. Rick Barnes, a coach who we already didn't like much already after he failed to play either of his two seniors on Senior Night back in early March, appeared to come into this game without a whole lot of game plan. From the start, it seemed like Texas had it's mind set on out-Memphising Memphis. Speeding up and down the court, trying to best the Tigers in transition, maybe just hoping for a little of that Tennessee magic. But it was obvious by about ten minutes in (with Memphis already doubling Texas' scoring) that that wasn't going to work. (And to see what a real coach can do in that kind of match-up you only had to watch Bob McKillup's Davidson squad take a far superiorly talented Kansas team to the wire.) No Bueno, Senor Barnes. No Bueno.
13 minutes before tip. About as good as it got for the Longhorns from the field.
The second story, as you might have guessed, was Memphis. Everyone I knew had them getting bounced early, most had them going to Pitt, and even as recently as Thursday morning all the pundits were declaring these Tigers the one vulnerable # 1 seed headed into Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight action. It appears the Memphis squad saw things differently.
Derrick Rose made another case for his status as the best guard in the country. He outplayed DJ Augustin, another candidate for that honor, on both ends of the court. Of particular note was his stifling D in the first frame. By the end of things, Rose registered 21 points and 9 assists on 7 of 10 shooting from the floor. He had at least two "Oh My God" moments, one a lightning quick steal, the other a truly unbelievable double-clutch dunk in traffic, and both of them highlighting his unparalleled quickness and leaping ability. (He and I are the same height. While I struggle to jump out of bed, I'm pretty sure he could leap over me.)
The other big story for Memphis was the inside play. Known perhaps more for his inconsistency and not-always-maximized-potential, Joey Dorsey has been on a tear of late. The senior forward had 11 and 12 this afternoon, 1 massive block, and all without registering a single personal foul (another Dorsey problem area). Dozier was an equal terror on the boards. And Shawn Taggart dropped 12 points in 18 minutes of play. As a threesome, these Tigers suddenly look ferocious on the inside. It will be all Kevin Love can do to keep any one of them in check. In fact, the Dorsey / Love match-up this Saturday may be one of the more interesting big-man contests of the season.
Even the Tiger gets a Final Four shirt. Going to San Antonio!
This one was so apparent that the Texas faithful, who were out in force, started heading for the exits with 3 minutes plus to play. That was right around when, down nearly 20, Rick Barnes put his Longhorns into foul mode. I'm not kidding. Texas fouled for the last three minutes of this game, trying with all their might to stretch it out, take advantage of a much-talked about Memphis weakness, and hope that Abrams or Augustin could catch fire. And here's the crazy part: Abrams did. While Barnes was madly subbing offense-defnese, Abrams hit four threes in the last three minutes of this game. And still, it never got closer.
For today, Memphis was hitting their free throws. Chris Douglas-Roberts went an amazing 14 for 17 from the line. As a team, the Tiger shot 30 for 36, 83 %. That was a lot of opportunity for the Achilles heel to flare up on them. But it never did. With thirty seconds left and Barnes finally giving in (he had his boys fouling into the last minute, down 16), Coach Calipari pointed across the court to his wife who was seated right behind us. Jake nearly fainted.
"Dude," he said. "Coach Cal just pointed at me. We just had a moment!"
Behind us, Mrs. Coach Cal quietly applauded her husband. On the court, the ball was hurled up in the air. The Tigers pulled Final Four t-shirts over their heads. Hugs all around. And the kids who no one believed would make it were headed to the Final Four. Just like they said they would be.