Something told them they weren't in Kansas anymore, but the Jayhawks felt right at home at the end of the NCAA basketball Championship Game Monday night. They beat Memphis 75-68 in overtime as Elvis had left the building at the end of regulation. That's when "Super Mario" Chalmers of Kansas tied the game at 63-63. It was like a heavyweight championship fight, with both fighters getting off the canvas over and over again. Memphis was prepared to play two halves of basketball, but Kansas played until the game was over. They call the tournament, "The Big Dance," but there's only room for one team to waltz down victory lane. And that's the last sports cliché I'll use to describe this amazing game. It's just a shame that one team had to lose. Oops! Couldn't resist.
The game was one of the most exciting in NCAA championship history. Two "Number One" teams played fantastic basketball to prove which one of them was really Number One. There's a "rule" among members of the press covering a sporting event which states, "No cheering in the press box." What this means is that writers are supposed to be impartial, professional observers who don't show any emotion during a game. Well, that rule went out the window somewhere in the second half. It was impossible not to be excited by the game. There were six lead changes in the second half alone, and I lost track of how many times the game was tied.
It seemed like the Memphis Tigers were about to defeat the Kansas Jayhawks when Chalmers hit a game-tying three point shot with only 2.1 seconds left in regulation. From then on, through the overtime period, it looked like Memphis was in shock. They never recovered. There was no look of determination on their faces, only one of worry.
Throughout the season, free throws had been a problem for Memphis, and they missed four out of five in the last minute and fifteen seconds. That's the kind of thing that drives coaches – and fans – crazy. But as I said here the other day, the college game is played by kids, and kids make mistakes.
However, those last few minutes shouldn't be the only thing that people remember about how Memphis played. I'll remember the junior guard whose name sounds like a fancy Englishman: Chris Douglas-Roberts. He made shots from seemingly impossible angles, his long arms extending like a real Stretch Armstrong. Freshman guard Derrick Rose was outstanding. If he had had a first half like his second, Memphis would be the champs now instead of Kansas.
Kansas has, perhaps, the most storied tradition of basketball in the country. Its first basketball coach was James Naismith who invented the game of basketball. Some of the original rules seem quaint these days, but the game is slow to change its regulations. In fact, at lunch the other day, I overheard a couple of coaches declaring that it was about time the NCAA got rid of its "antiquated" rule against players chewing tobacco during a game. Yes, that's actually still a rule. Personally, I think it's a good rule and see no reason to get rid of it. Besides, just as a matter of practicality, where are the teams going to find stores that sell spittoons?
Monday night, basketball royalty was not only on the court, but in the stands as well. The legendary Bill Russell was in attendance, and this game was worthy of his presence. Earlier in the day, the Basketball Hall of Fame announced that, among others, Adrian Dantley, Pat Riley, Cathy Rush, Patrick Ewing, and Hakeem Olajuwon will be inducted into the Hall this year. They were all at the game, too. Another inductee is basketball announcer, Dick Vitale, the man who put "hype" in hyperbole. Strangely enough, Vitale got a bigger ovation at the game than any of those players or coaches. And he's an announcer. Just think how wild the crowd would have gone if they had introduced a columnist.