King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Memphis can't buy a free throw, Chalmers hits an epic three-pointer and Kansas wins the NCAA Tournament.


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King Kaufman
April 8, 2008 12:04PM (UTC)

When it comes to the endgame in college basketball, there are two ways to do it. You can make your free throws or you can make your three-pointers. Memphis had a nine-point lead with 2:12 to go in the NCAA Championship Game Monday night but missed four of five free throws down the stretch.

That -- and a strategic blunder -- left the door open for Kansas. Mario Chalmers nailed a game-tying three for the history books with 2.1 seconds to go. That's the other way to go. His shot over the tough defense of Derrick Rose, a shot that by this time next year will have a name everyone in Kansas knows, sent the game to overtime.

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Memphis, demoralized, exhausted and without the defensive presence of forward Joey Dorsey, who had fouled out, was run off the floor in the extra session. Kansas won the game 75-68 for its first title in 20 years.

"It wasn't really the free throws," Rose said after the game. Except, yeah, it was.

The sequence actually started with the Tigers making free throws. Robert Dozier hit a pair to give Memphis that nine-point lead at 60-51 and Chris Douglas-Roberts made a pair with 1:39 to go that restored the lead to six, 62-56, following a 5-0 run by the Jayhawks.

Three-fifths of that run consisted of a spectacular play by Sherron Collins that will be mostly forgotten because of Chalmers' shot, but it kept Kansas in the game. Memphis led 60-53 and was inbounding on the backcourt baseline with 1:54 to go. Collins stepped in front of Rose and stole the pass, somehow hanging in the air long enough to pass the ball to Mario Chalmers before Collins landed out of bounds.

Chalmers drove the lane but got caught in traffic underneath the basket. He dumped the ball off to Russell Robinson, who'd been trying to box out for a rebound. Robinson initially fumbled it, then threw it out to Collins, who was wide open in the right corner. Collins buried the three to bring Kansas to within four.

After Douglas-Roberts' free throws had built the lead back up to six, Dorsey fouled out by bumping Chalmers on the dribble about a mile from the basket. Not a Phi Beta Kappa play. Chalmers hit both free throws, and then the Jayhawks fouled Douglas-Roberts and that was the beginning of the end for Memphis.

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Shooting a one-and-one with 1:15 left and a four-point lead, Douglas-Roberts missed. Kansas pulled to within two on Darrell Arthur's turnaround jumper from the low post -- where Dorsey was absent -- and then after a timeout came something you almost never see in the last minute of a close college basketball game:

Basketball. As in exciting, end-to-end action, and I don't mean end-to-end as in everybody trudging from one foul line to the other.

The Kansas defense, stifling all night, as was that of Memphis, forced the Tigers into a tough shot at the end of the shot clock. Douglas-Roberts drove the lane and threw up a wild prayer that missed. Collins got the rebound, drove the length of the court and had his layup swatted away by Antonio Anderson, who raced the other way with the ball and a two-point lead, 20 seconds on the clock.

He passed ahead to Douglas-Roberts, who was fouled going to the basket with 16.8 left.

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Douglas-Roberts missed both free throws. Even making one would have been huge.

But Dozier got the rebound of the second one for Memphis. The Tigers played keep-away before the Jayhawks were able to foul Rose with 10.8 to go. He promptly missed the first of two, which is what would give Chalmers the chance to tie in a few seconds. Rose made the second, setting the stage for the dramatic moment.

But the dramatic moment should never have happened.

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Why do teams up by three in the waning seconds let their opponents get off a three-point shot? Why not foul, sending them to the line for two shots? The shooter could make the first and intentionally miss the second in hopes of a rebound and put-back, but that's way more of a long shot than hitting a three.

Memphis coach John Calipari would claim after the game that his team was trying to foul. Collins rushed the ball upcourt with Rose guarding him. He got a step on the defender with a crossover dribble, then crossed in front of him at the three-point line. There was contact, and Collins went down, though he was able to hand off to Chalmers, who was curling along the arc.

"We were fouling late," Calipari told CBS television after the game. "The kid got away from Derrick, so he couldn't get to him to foul him. When he did foul him and knocked him to the floor, you know, they just didn't call it, and I understand why because it looked like a little whatever, and then they make a tough shot."

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Except, no, Collins didn't get away from Rose. He beat him, but Rose was running with him for half the length of the court. There was ample opportunity to foul, and when there was contact and Collins went down, Rose threw his hands in the air, the international symbol for "Oh, crap, I fouled him, please don't call it."

Chalmers hit his already-famous three, which led to the all-Kansas overtime.

It was a terrific basketball game, everything you could want in an NCAA Tournament finale. Rose, who isn't coming off very well in this telling, was brilliant in the second half as Memphis built what looked like it would be a safe lead.

But no lead is safe when you miss your free throws and give up three-pointers. Those are the two ways to get it done in college basketball. Memphis didn't. Kansas did.

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Previous column: Title game preview

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  • King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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