Three is a nice number
Well, let me first say that I am surprised that I did not blog more about the NCAA basketball series. I do get into it. I like basketball and besides figure skating (well past figure skating) where do you find a tournament with as much drama?
Like many others, I saw the April 7th Final Game between Memphis and Kansas. Like many others-well most others-I did not see Kansas as winning the game.
Memphis had the hot hand for most of the year and they slayed some giants-including UCLA, who in the last few years have been reborn, made the final game in 2006 (and lost to a University of Florida team that also had the hot hand and slayed some mighy giants along their way) and like both Kansas and Memphis, was a #1 seed.
I like many others, should have known something was up when Kansas not only got past the hugely powerful University of North Carolina (holder of the 2005 championship and a storied program in its own right like Kansas), but beat them decisively. Not a homicide, like some of the games North Carolina and Memphis played in the tournament against some good teams. (My philosophy is when you are down to two minutes in the 2nd half and you are down by at least 15-20 points, it is so time to call it a day. Any effort you are expending there is really just exercise-you are not going to win, much less catch up.)
Kansas started the way that I would have expected anyone not so favoured (and you better believe Memphis was favoured-even at the Final Four level) they came right out a runnin' and a gunnin'. Memphis answered with some gunslingers of their own. The game was close until we reached the half, where Kansas did pull out ahead a bit. As most analysts surmised, while Memphis had its gunslingers, Kansas was keeping them from making those perimeter shots for which they became known. They were also not make better use of just taking it into the basket.
The story turned when Derrick Rose hit a spectacular three between the 6 and 8 minute marks and got Memphis into the lead for the first time. And he kept it up and got some great support from his teammates. During this run, Kansas' coach Bill Self called a timeout that clearly said, " we need to adjust this." Kansas came back and battled back with less than 2 minutes and one basket away from a tie. A foul sent Derrick Rose from Memphis to the line and he hit only one of his two free throws (poor free throw shooting would be one of the nails in the coffin for Memphis. At least twice in the remaining minute of the 2nd half, Memphis could have sealed their win with their free throws, but came up empty).
Then Mario Chalmers, in the remaining 10 seconds of the 2nd half, made a "hail mary-bam baby" 3 pointer that they are still talking about at this moment. It's one thing to see if after the fact and rerun out of context as a part of a news item. It's another thing to see it as it happened. People take about making the game changing shot-the big play that saves the day. Well, "Super Mario" made it. It would say that it even rivals that oft-aired Grant Hill-Christian Laettner lay up of 1991. Kansas exploded and the game went into OT (overtime)-which I hoped they would.
I must say that I could have lived with either team winning. I respect both programs though they took out my perennial favorites (I know you'll do it next year UCLA and Georgetown!). Admittedly, I was pulling a little for Kansas because of the perfect symmetry of their story. It was 20 years ago that "Danny Manning and the Miracles," coached by Larry Brown (when his hair was brown) brought home Kansas' 2nd championship after a 36-year drought (the last one was won by the grand architect of the Kansas program-the coach oft spoken off in reverent overtones, Phog Allen.) Danny Manning is currently an assistant coach for Kansas-perhaps his presence gave them luck. I kinda believe in that kind of lucky karma. I noted that Michigan State's 2000 win might have owed something to the fact that the person that made the 1979 win for Michigan State-Magic Johnson-was there cheering them on. I noted for UCLA's run in 2006 that Bill Walton was there. Bill has two wins for UCLA (1972 and 1973), but was handed his only NCAA Final Game loss in 1974 by NC State, a school that would hand another awesome center, recently inducted Hall of Famer Hakeem Olijuwon, a painful defeat in 1983.I felt that Bill's loss was bad karma and thus UCLA did not win. (Fear not, this is a running joke I have-Bill Walton is not cursed.)
In OT, Kansas did not throwaway their second chance. They pulled out ahead and never looked back. After 5 minutes of OT, it was clear that Kansas, not Memphis would emerge as the champions.
A satisfying game to be sure, where sadly there had to be a "loser." Memphis had a lot to be proud of and I gotta say, don't know what been put in the water in the Cumberland Gap-Bluegrass area, but they have been coming out with some awesome teams-both men and women's teams.
Tonight the Lady Vols defend their title against the Lady Cardinals of Stanford. I may pull a little bit more for the Cardinals. If they win, they will be able bring home the first NCAA basketball championship for Stanford since 1992. (The men's team had to go back to 1942, when a Cardinal team headed by Jim Pollard and Howie Dallmar brought home the bacon.) I look forward to seeing Pat Summitt prove why she is the winningest and best college coach around in Division I-that includes both men and women.