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View from the 'ville
Thursday, April 10, 2008

By Al Myatt

Sad song in home of the blues

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

A parade was canceled on Wednesday. Memphis was supposed to hold a Big Blue Celebration downtown on Friday night for its NCAA runner-up basketball team.

A release from the university explained that many of the Tiger players had gone home for the first time since September and that coaches were involved in recruiting.

Although it wasn't stated, few people in the program probably felt like celebrating second place when the title was within their grasp.

With under two minutes left on Monday night at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Memphis had a 60-51 lead over Kansas in the NCAA championship game and appeared to be on the verge of putting a huge feather in Conference USA's cap.

Tigers coach John Calipari took responsibility for a demise that led to a 75-68 loss to the Jayhawks in overtime — a disappointing finish for C-USA's premier hoops program.

"I thought we were national champs," Calipari said. "That's the great thing about college basketball and sports. Within 30 seconds, they make a play and it's OT and it's on again."

Several factors allowed Kansas to dominate the last seven minutes of the game and shift postgame celebrations from Memphis to Lawrence, Kansas.

The most glaring was the Tigers' free throw shooting down the stretch. With the Jayhawks forced to foul to stop the clock, Memphis couldn't connect from the line. The Tigers missed four of five foul shots in the last 1:15 of regulation, starting with All-American Chris Douglas-Roberts failing to convert the front end of a one-and-one.

Memphis was just seven of 14 at the line in the second half and finished 12 of 19 for the game, 63.2 percent. The Tigers made just 61.4 percent for the season. The importance of accuracy from the charity stripe may have been reduced for a club that won games by an average margin of 18 points during a campaign that produced an NCAA Division I record 38 wins.

Only four times was Memphis in games decided by five points or less and the Tigers were 3-1 in those games. A 66-62 loss at home to Tennessee on Feb. 23 knocked Memphis out of the No. 1 ranking in the polls and briefly vaulted the Volunteers into the top spot. The Tigers had not been in an overtime game all season.

Kansas was 4-2 in games decided by five points or less and had beaten Arizona in an overtime contest by a 76-72 score on Nov. 25. The Jayhawks made 70.2 percent of their free throws for the season and took care of business at the line in the championship game, going 14 of 15, including 10 for 10 in the second half and overtime.

Douglas-Roberts missed two more free throws with 16.8 seconds left in regulation.

"It came back and bit us," Douglas-Roberts said of Memphis' struggles at the stripe. "We missed 'em. We missed 'em at a crucial time."

With 10.8 seconds left, the Tigers' sensational freshman guard, Derrick Rose, went to the line for a pair. He missed the first but hit the second, leaving the Jayhawks on the short end of a 63-60 score. The Tigers should have fouled to keep Kansas from hoisting a tying three-point attempt but that bit of end-game execution eluded Calipari's charges, too.

"Sherron Collins (Kansas guard) got away," said the Tigers coach. "We were going to foul at halfcourt. ... We were fouling. He separated."

Collins passed to Mario Chalmers, who hit a three-pointer from the right of the top of the key to tie the score with under three seconds left.

"With Mario's shot, I was right there, left hand up," Rose said. "He's just a good shooter. He just shot it right over me."

The Tigers were without their strongest inside player, senior Joey Dorsey, down the stretch. Dorsey picked up his fifth foul with 1:23 left in regulation and Memphis leading 62-57. Kansas' front line was dominant in overtime with Dorsey watching from the bench. Dorsey averaged 9.5 rebounds.

"You people ask, 'What happened in overtime?' " Calipari said. "We didn't have Joey Dorsey, that's what happened in overtime. That did hurt us."

The Jayhawks were fresher in the extra five minutes. Rose played the entire 45 minutes. Douglas-Roberts played 19 minutes in the second half and 42 minutes total. Robert Dozier, who had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, played the entire second half.

The Tigers coach was more liberal in his player rotation during the season.

"I was trying with that lead to finish the game off," Calipari said. "So I didn't do a whole lot of subbing those last eight minutes. That really beat down Chris and even Derrick. I rolled the dice. I basically said, 'We better get out of here in regulation.' I didn't play Willie (Kemp) and I didn't play Doneal (Mack) that much."

The sophomore tandem of Kemp and Mack played a total of one minute in the final. The duo averaged over 26 minutes combined for the season.

"Those two (Douglas-Roberts and Rose) never really came off the floor," Calipari said. "I didn't play like that all year. Those kids played 27, 28 minutes. When you're playing for the national title, I left them in there. Let's get out of here, they can be tired tomorrow.

"But those extra five minutes without Joey Dorsey and then (Kansas) came out and made two baskets. ... We were running uphill from that point on without having Joey Dorsey on the court."

Calipari and the Tigers let the big one get away. Memphis left the door open and the Jayhawks helped themselves to the crown. The Tigers coach even sensed with 10.8 seconds left and Rose at the line that Kansas was a team of destiny.

"You know, I think everything in life happens for a reason," Calipari said. "I sat there and looked up and I said, 'Lord, if he makes this, these two, we're supposed to be national champs. And if that's your will, I'm fine. And if he misses them and we're not, I'm fine with that, too.'

" ... It wasn't in the cards. It wasn't our day. I just sat there and went, 'Wow.' "

There will be a parade in Lawrence on Sunday, but they've added another riff of blues on Beale Street in Memphis.

They canceled the celebration of second place for the Tigers and, late Wednesday afternoon, Memphis police reported that on-campus apartments, where several Memphis players resided, apparently had been broken into while the team was at the Final Four.

Sometimes, you just can't win.

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04/10/2008 03:22:47 AM


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