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Kansas basketball / A dadgum classic

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.

Mario's shot
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
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."

Baby Jay all the way
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."

Self & Sherron
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.

Kansas City Star front page