Chalk One Up For These Jayhawks

Kansas wins first national championship in 20 years after Memphis blows commanding lead late


Kansas won its first national championship in 20 years after outlasting Memphis in overtime.

April 8, 2008

By Josh Herwitt

CSTV.com

 

JOSH HERWITT
Josh is CSTV.com's men's basketball editor and writes a weekly national column.
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SAN ANTONIO -- Bill Self doesn't have to wait any longer.

 

He's done what Roy Williams never managed to do in 15 seasons in Lawrence, Kan.

 

He's done what the Rock Chalk Jayhawk nation hasn't seen in 20 years.

 

And now, that burdensome, almost elusive monkey is finally off his back.

 

On a night that was meant to be for Kansas, a team that has been resilient all year came through when things looked doubtful, when its opponent looked to be in control with two minutes left and when a comeback would take a monumental effort to complete.

 

It took a Mario Chalmers' three with two seconds left and an overtime played without Joey Dorsey, but in the end, Monday night was the Jayhawks' night, a night that many all across the Sunflower State will never forget now thanks to a 78-63 victory over Memphis in front of 43, 257 at the Alamodome.

 

"It's one thing to win," Self said after cutting down the nets. "It's another thing to win the way we won. Just no quitting, these guys."

 

With 2:12 remaining in the game and a nine-point deficit in place, the Jayhawks could have folded, they could have let up and lost hope.

 

But that's what their opponents did instead.

 

We had heard from Memphis coach John Calipari all throughout the NCAA Tournament that free throws weren't a factor, that winning the national championship wouldn't come down to a few measly freebies from 15 feet away.

 

Well, it did.

 

The Tigers missed four out of five free throws in the final minute -- points that would have left Kansas no shot at a comeback and secured Memphis' first national title -- and never seemed to be the same afterward.

 

"It came back and bit us," admitted Chris Douglas-Roberts, who missed all three of his free throws in the final minute of the second half. "We missed `em. We missed `em at a crucial time."

 

Now Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose, the two superstars that the Tigers had ridden all year long, will remember those shots for the rest of their lives.

 

They'll remember how close they came and how they had it all right in front of them.

 

After all, this was Memphis' game to win. This was supposed to be Calipari's time, and even more, the city of Memphis' time after putting its heart and soul into its basketball team for the last five months.

 

"Did we have the guys at the line we wanted at the line?" asked Calipari. "Yeah. They don't make every one. They're not machines these kids. They're just not.

 

"I'm still kind of numb. What just happened, you're kind of numb to it. It will probably hit me like a ton of bricks tomorrow that we had it in our grasp."

 

And now Calipari and his players will leave here feeling empty-handed and empty-hearted. They'll head back to Graceland knowing that things should have gone down differently.

 

Because when it comes down to it, Memphis choked. Plain and simple.

 

Not just from the free throw line, but in the closing moments of regulation, when a foul on the final possession would have put Kansas on the free throw line still trailing by three.

 

The Tigers, however, didn't foul, and though Calipari said they tried to, they never got the call they were looking for.

 

Instead, it was Chalmers who rose to the occasion as he's done so many times before and put a dagger in Memphis' heart that was too deep to pull out.

 

"You got a lead like that, you're supposed to win the game," Calipari explained. "The culprit here would not be these players. They did everything."

 

Everything but win a game that was theirs for the taking.

 

"I wish I could have just done one thing to get them over the hump because they're suffering right now," Calipari continued. "They put themselves in a position to win the national title. They did everything they were supposed to do against the odds, and it slips. It's devastating to `em."

 

They let Kansas snatch it right from them and feel the glory of what will be one of the great memories in NCAA Tournament history.

 

Chalmers' shot, though, was only the beginning for Self and his Jayhawks.

 

While Memphis looked worn down and discombobulated on offense, Kansas played confidently and assertively in overtime, taking it to the basket and forcing its opponent to make big-time plays with the pressure on and their shot-blocker out of the game.

 

"There was something different tonight," Self asserted. "Even though it didn't look good, you just felt like, that all we need was a break and we could get right back in it."

 

Whatever they did, it worked. And it worked well.

 

Maybe not because of anything that Self did but what he and his players had been through over the entire season.

 

And maybe, just maybe, it was Self's time to finally absolve the criticism that he's carried around for the last five years from losses to Bucknell and Bradley in the first round.

 

"Losing [in] the first round prepared them to win the national championship because I really believe everything that happens in basketball or coaching, you can spin that to help you," Self said. "I don't know how my emotions are. I know that I'm not a better coach today than I was yesterday. Maybe just got a little luckier today."

 

Yet even luck can be overrated.

 

Especially when you're holding a national championship trophy in your hands.

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