Monday, April 7, 2008

The one that got away


The funny thing about sports is that when reflecting, people don't care — or remember anything — about the first 38 minutes.

The final 2 minutes is all that's debated about, or in the case of Monday's national title game, the last 7 minutes, which included overtime.

In 10 years, no one will care that Memphis played a great second half of the national title game, stifling the Jayhawks' offensive attack and chasing down every loose ball. No one will remember Derrick Rose's amazing, twisting layup that helped build a commanding nine-point advantage.

No, it'll be all about those final 2 minutes. Unfortunately for the Tigers, that's how sports are viewed.

And now two hours removed from the drama, I can't say I'm that surprised about what transpired.

Here's why. Memphis dominated the competition all season and during the NCAA Tournament. In other words, it won games by a lot of points. The Tigers won just three of their 38 games by five points or less. Their lone regular-season loss was a nail-biter against Tennessee.

They simply were not groomed for the kind of scenarios that played out once Kansas began its hurried comeback. You can practice game situations all you want, but the bottom line is that you can't prepare 19-year-olds for end-game, pressure-packed scenarios unless they experience them.

You also can't shoot free throws for them. Four missed FTs at the end and a costly turnover allowed for this to happen — a contested Mario Chalmers 3-pointer that tied the game and sent it to overtime.

What happened before Chalmers flicked his wrist is something Calipari will undoubtedly think about for the days to come. He said he had told his freshman point guard Rose to foul Kansas' Sherron Collins once he crossed midcourt with less than 10 seconds remaining. Rose, however, fell behind the speedy Collins and didn't get more than a forearm on him — it never appeared that he was blatantly trying to foul.

After Collins stumbled and nearly lost the ball, it ended up in Chalmer's hands, and at that point, all Rose could do was get a hand in his face. Sure enough, he did, but once the shot went in, Kansas had new life.

There was much debate afterward about Memphis coach John Calipari not using a timeout before Collins could bring the ball upcourt. The hard truth is that he should have. The moment was too big not to. There was no reason to leave a timeout in his pocket. There was every reason to make sure everyone knew exactly what they had to do — specifically, the freshman point guard. He might be a top five pick in the NBA draft this summer, but he's still a young kid.

Of course, it's ludicrous for a single play — a mere 8 seconds — to change the outcome of a game, but if you give a talented bunch of Jayhawks a brand-new ballgame, they're going to pounce on it. Memphis, minus its energizer Joey Dorsey who fouled out, was hopeless for most of the overtime.

The Tigers didn't fold, however. Instead, they let more poor decisions prevent them from coming back. Trailing by three with just less than a minute remaining, their junior leader Chris Douglas-Roberts committed an unnecessary foul on Chalmers, who hadn't so much as nicked the rim on a free throw all night.

A good defensive possession could have resulted in a chance to tie the game with plenty of time still left on the clock. Instead, Chalmers' pair of swishes pushed Kansas' lead to five. And on Memphis' next possession, Shawn Taggert attempted to make a pass from his back into traffic instead of calling for time.

Kansas forced a jump ball, had the possession arrow, and the game was sealed.

Give the Jayhawks credit. As much as Memphis lost the game, the Jayhawks won it. Chalmers knocked down one of the most clutch championship-game big shots in the history of the NCAA Tournament. Kansas didn't let down its guard in overtime, quickly snaring the lead and then making free throws at the end.

In a game as tight as Monday's, every possession was crucial, every decision magnified. In the grand scheme of things, some of Kansas' hustle rebounds in the first half that helped the Jayhawks build a 33-28 intermission advantage could be credited for earning K.U. its third national title.

But what will be remembered are Memphis' missed free throws, the foul that didn't happen and Chalmers' shot.

Afterward, Douglas-Roberts had no explanation for his three FTs that clanged off the front rim. It was the right response. Sometimes the ball simply comes off the fingertips differently. He nor Rose — who missed one of two before Chalmers' 3 — should blame themselves for the loss.

Those things happen — just ask Derrick Coleman.

Both players will have successful NBA careers, possibly as soon as next season.

Calipari, rather, will feel the sting from this one for a little longer. He had the opportunity to make sure his players knew exactly what to do and were in position to execute the plan.

But he decided to pass, and Kansas made the big shot.

And until he wins his first national championship, he'll have to go over and over those 10 seconds again, thinking about what could have changed the result.


Sportsattitude said...

Jake, when you mentioned no one cares about the final two minutes, it made me think of one of my pet peeves...micromanaging the clock at the end of the basketball games to make sure teams have that extra tenth of a second to heave the ball the length of the court. It's so funny that no one seems to care what happened the first 38 minutes in terms of checking the timer to see if he or she got stoppages of play correct, but man do we micromanage those final seconds of a basketball game. It's like there are two sets of rules. Why wouldn't you just include human reflex and human error in the last seconds of a game as you did the ENTIRE game to that point? Maybe I veered off topic here, but I have been seeing it so much this year - seems the clock at the end of the game becomes the focal point of officiating.

Jake Lloyd said...

Excellent point. Didn't even think of that. But the chance of an official stopping the game with 18:49 left in the first half to put 2 more seconds on it is, well, not good.

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