Yes, Memphis did blow this game. You can’t be up by 7 with two minutes left, have the opportunity to put the game out of reach by hitting free throws and missing four of the last five attempts, and you certainly can’t fuck up an obvious chance to foul and force Kansas to intentionally miss a free throw. That said, it means nothing if Kansas isn’t good enough to take advantage of the errata, the wear and tear on a six-man Memphis rotation, and the absence of Joey Dorsey late due to fouling out. And let’s not forget: Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose are two of the team’s better charity stripe guys, hitting at 70 percent or better.
Mario Chalmers’ shot was absolutely incredible. He had a hand in his face and was on the move, and then helped contribute to a dismantling of the Tigers, who appeared as if Chalmers’ 3-point bucket to send it to overtime had inspired spontaneous bowel movements on the entire team (and given Derrick Rose’s diet, that image would have been an utter mess.) The Tigers looked like a dominant, championship team for 38 minutes — but you have to play 40. When you go against a team as deep as Kansas on the bench, it’s hard to compete and follow through, never mind finish, when you’re so dependent upon the starting five.
Chris Douglas-Roberts joined Darius Washington and Dorsey as the latest Tiger whose free throw woes cost his team the game, and while it’s fun to mock coach John Calipari about free throws not mattering, anyone can crack in that situation — especially when exhausted. The final two minutes with the turnovers caused by Chalmers, Rush, and Sherron Collins, along with Kansas’ depth, has Bill Self not only getting the Final Four monkey off his back, but the national championship to add to his resume (whether he uses it to pry more money out of Lawrence for an extension or takes T. Boone Pickens’ oil cash back to his alma mater in Stillwater.)
Let’s not make the errors of, say, Bill Plaschke or Stewart Mandel, and say Memphis chose flash over basic basketball, because outside of the free throws, that’s kind of inaccurate. This whole ideal of purist versus modern reeks of hoops Luddite-ism at its worst, as both the running style and half-court have merit — and, as SI’s recent article on Dribble-Drive Motion proved, there is a method behind the Memphis O’s madness. 38 minutes of basketball will show you that’s not true. Teams will break down when pushed, and it’s proof of how deep Kansas was with blue-chip athletes like Rush and Chalmers, as well as Darrell Arthur and Sasha Kaun, that they broke down the tough defense and incredible offensive work that Memphis had performed throughout the tournament.
Kansas had its trial by fire when it had to match up with Davidson and keep Stephen Curry from lighting them up. The Jayhawks got out to a massive lead against North Carolina only to fend off a comeback that cut a 20+ point lead to four. This team rolls nine deep and had to use everyone who could get double digits to do so. Kansas beat Memphis because they were able to wear their athletes down, and the Tigers didn’t have the bodies to compensate — thus, Memphis got tired when it mattered most.
Photo: AP/Eric Gay