Kansas forward Mario Chalmers had promised that he was going to win a NCAA championship; when the clock struck zero, it was indeed the Jayhawks who stormed the court. The stadium erupted and Head Coach Bill Self was nearly reduced to tears. America watched as Brandon Rush cut down the net, and everyone thought that Chalmers had kept his promise. But in reality, Kansas had not won the national championship; Memphis had lost it.
The lead teetered back and forth between the two title contenders throughout the championship game. Both teams had been written off as the weaker one seeds. Both teams had been the underdogs in the Final Four match-ups, and both teams wanted that last win badly. But with eight minutes to go in the game, Kansas slipped. The Tigers started making shots and Kansas looked lost. Memphis was not only making its big shots, but the Tigers were also making their free throws With 2:12 to go in the game, the Tigers held a nine-point lead.
Kansas’ only hope to stay alive in its’ national title hunt was to foul. All season, basketball analysts had been saying that Memphis’ biggest weakness was free-throw shooting. But in the Elite Eight and the Final Four, Memphis had seemed to find its’ stroke from the line. So when Chris Douglas-Roberts stepped to the line with just under two minutes left in the game, all the fans watching the game were shocked when he missed both free throws.
Yet even after missing the two shots, Memphis was not yet in trouble. Kansas still needed a miracle to keep itself in the game, but that was just what it got. With less than thirty seconds left in the game, freshman phenom Derrick Rose was fouled. The young star stepped to the line and missed his first shot. He hit his second to give Memphis a three-point lead, but the buzzer-beating three at the other end by Chalmers sent the game into overtime in dramatic fashion.
Once Kansas hit that three, the game was over. The Jayhawks had all the momentum going into overtime, and there was no force in heaven or hell that was going to pry the national title from their hands.
After the game, the Tigers knew that the National Championship should have been theirs.
“We let it slip out of our hands.” Head Coach John Calipari admitted.
“We beat ourselves,” senior Joey Dorsey told the media.
The end of the national championship this year, while exciting, was a disgraceful collapse. Memphis knows it, too. The Tigers had been written off all year by the media as a team that did not play the kind of competition they needed to win at a very high level. In the end, they did not pull through in the clutch situation and they have only themselves and their free throw shooting to blame.
Kansas wanted to win badly, and all it needed was for Memphis to let them in the door. Coach John Calipari was not prepared to deal with the breakdown of his highly touted team. He told the media that he had never seen his team break down like this before, and he was not at all prepared for it. While Douglas-Roberts and Rose need to shoulder much of the blame, Calipari is not without a share. The Tigers’ head coach needed to call a timeout after Kansas drew within five points near the end of the second half. There were some key possessions in which Rose should have been able to drive with the ball. However, when a team loses a nine-point lead in the final two minutes of a game, the coach needs to point to himself.
This Sunday, there will be a parade in downtown Lawrence in honor of the Jayhawks’ victory. The Jayhawks will march down Main Street and wave at their adoring fans in celebration of their championship. But they should probably stop at the drug store and pick up a thank you note to send to the Memphis Tigers while they’re out.