Surreal. That's the word that keeps coming to mind. Kansas trailed by nine points with two minutes left, and yet somehow managed to win. Chalmers's shot. Collins's steal. Roy Williams — "Benedict Williams" to many Jayhawk fans — wearing a Jayhawk sticker. Is it possible that all of that *really* happened? Watch the last few minutes of the game again, and you'll begin to see how many little things went KU's way. There were big things, of course — Calipari's lack of faith in his bench, Joey Dorsey's fouls, CDR's clankers from the line — but there were also those momentary mistakes that add up: a terrible transition decision by Memphis, questionable judgment when Calipari doesn't call timeout after a made free throw to ensure that his team fouls, and the simple bad luck of Derrick Rose's first free throw that hit every part of the rim and then bounced out with 10 seconds left.Still, Kansas needed a miracle to simply pull even.
Photo: Streeter Lecka
Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated really nails the last few seconds in his Tourney Blog: "The ball took what Collins said seemed 'like five seconds' in the air, perfectly rotating, and Brandon Rush, who had positioned himself near the basket in the event of a tip, looked up at the net and 'saw it splash right in there.' … 'It will probably be,' said Self, 'the biggest shot ever made in Kansas history.'"
The bench reacts to Mario's shot. Photo: Jeff Haynes
The Kansas City Star's Jason Whitlock commented on the stories behind the story: "That's how you win it all, exorcise the demons and baptize a new era of greatness. You do it with an unforgettable rally, a stunning three-pointer and with your most famous and infamous coaching alum sitting in the stadium, cheering you on and sporting a Jayhawk sticker."
Photo: Jed Jacobsohn
The Star's Joe Posnanski on Memphis's seemingly insurmountable lead, and Mario's shot: "When you're young, you live in the moment. That's how it's supposed to be. Chalmers was not feeling the pressure of history when he fired the shot. He never could have made it then. Kansas was trailing by nine points with barely 2 minutes left. Memphis had taken all the intensity and will and ferocity that Kansas had to give, and then the Tigers pulled away. Up nine with about 2 minutes left? Over."
Sherron & Bill Self. Photo: Streeter Lecka
Collins's contribution was huge, despite his turnovers. He was in Derrick Rose's face all night, and his pace and fearlessness created the two biggest moments of the game — the steal with just under a minute left, and the pass to Mario with 5 seconds left. Dana O'Neil's article on ESPN really captures it well (title: "Without Collins, there is no Chalmers."). Derrick Rose commented on Sherron's play during Memphis's post-game press conference: "He did what he supposed to do as a point guard — control the team, push the ball up the court and make tough plays at the end. He just controlled the game.â€Self was characteristically modest after the game, "The outside public may view people that win a championship differently, but coaches know you don't get smarter because a hard shot goes in or doesn't go in. I'm proud of our guys, happy for everybody involved, but I don't see it that way.â€I'm not sure what it will take for the talking heads to give him some respect, honestly. In ESPN's pre-game show, the former coaches (Vitale, Digger, and Knight) lavished praise on Memphis coach John Calipari. Vitale threw around all the usual hyperbole ("genius," "innovator," as I recall), and even Knight complimented Cal's inventiveness as a coach. After the game, the mood was funereal around the ESPN desk, as if they themselves had lost the game. Why? There are some compelling conspiracy theories bouncing around the comments on the Lawrence Journal-World site, e.g. "[Supporting] Kansas promotes [KU's] recruiting and keeps Kansas a Cadillac program. In turn, that steers recruits away from schools where the talking heads have loyalties and relationships with coaches that give them the access they require in the major media markets they need to pump up their Q ratings and market share ratings." Hmm.Finally, the NYT's Pete Thamel posted some engaging commentary on The Quad, the NYT's college sports blog. He describes the scene in the Memphis locker room afterward:
There are only two locker rooms I'd ever seen where the players were this devastated. One was the U.S.C. locker room after Matt Leinart and the Trojans lost the national title to Texas in the Rose Bowl. I remember Leinart sitting alone on a bench, eating a turkey sandwich and a chocolate chip cookie and drinking a Gatorade. It was kind of surreal that his whole senior year had come down to that.The other was the Oklahoma locker room after the Sooners lost to Boise State in what many consider the greatest finish to a college football game. That would be the Ian Johnson, Statue of Liberty, hook-and-ladder game. The most bizarre scene from that locker room was Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops just standing by himself, staring off into the ether. It's rare to see a head coach alone anywhere, anytime. But Stoops could have been on Pluto, and no one at that second was going to visit.
Finally, today's Kansas City Star front page. Nice! I had the 1988 version on my bedroom wall for about 10 years, until it basically turned into dust.