SAN ANTONIO: What a game. What a night. And what an incredible collapse.
The specter of 2008 will now join the ghost of Elvis in permanent residence in Memphis. And
Elvis will be looked upon much more fondly there than the ghost of this nutty 2008 national championship game, in which Memphis blew a nine-point lead in the final 2 minutes, 12 seconds of regulation and allowed Kansas to mount a monumental comeback to win in overtime, 75-68.
Memphis was so close to its first national championship that the confetti was practically dropping from the roof. So close that only 15 feet separated the Tigers from their dream, the distance from the free-throw line to the net.
And that’s when Memphis,and there’s no other word for it,choked.
The Tigers’ sensational freshman point guard, Derrick Rose, had risen above the game, scored
10 straight points for his team earlier in the second half and pushed Memphis well in front of
this taut thriller. Memphis led 60-51 with 2:12 to go.
“You have the kind of lead we had, you’re supposed to win the game,” said numb Memphis
coach John Calipari.
And then, before long, it was free-throw time. That had been the Tigers’ bugaboo for much of
the season, the Tigers shoot only 61.3 percent as a team, but they seemed to have slain that dragon in the NCAA tournament.
In fact, the dragon was only resting. It had one last breath of fire ready and waiting, and it
burned the Tigers’ season down.
“It came back and bit us,” said Memphis’ Chris Douglas-Roberts of the team’s free-throw shooting woes.
Kansas played superbly at the end, making steals and scoring. But Memphis lost this game
more than Kansas won it. Mario Chalmers never would have had a chance to hit that gorgeous 3-pointer to send the game into overtime if the Tigers’ final five three throws of regulation hadn’t gone like this:
Douglas-Roberts, the Tigers’ first-team All-America guard, was responsible for those first
three misses. Then Rose went 1-for-2 with 10 seconds left. If Rose had made both, Memphis
would have led 64-60 and Chalmers’ 3-pointer wouldn’t have mattered.
Instead, it meant everything.
“It wasn’t the free throws, it was the plays before the free throws,” Rose insisted.
No, it was the free throws.
Calipari said he had the players at the line that he wanted to be there. Both Rose and Douglas-Roberts shoot 71 percent from the line.
“They’re not machines, these kids,” Calipari said. “They don’t make every one.”
By the time Memphis got into overtime, you knew it was over.
Memphis had as much chance of winning that OT period as North Carolina did of winning its 2007 overtime vs. Georgetown. Memphis was finished. Kansas was the national champion.
And Roy Williams, who stuck around to cheer for Kansas after losing to the Jayhawks Saturday
night, finally had something turn out right at this Final Four.