Anatomy of a loss
Free-throw ineptness, foul trouble led to Kansas defeat
Posted: Tuesday April 08, 2003 2:30 AM
Updated: Tuesday April 08, 2003 3:10 AM
At times, all Roy Williams could do was watch as his Jayhawks self-destructed. AP
By Albert Lin, SI.com
NEW ORLEANS -- True, Kansas had a legitimate chance to send Monday night's title game into overtime. But the Jayhawks never would have been in such a desperate situation had they taken care of business earlier.
Kansas shot 12-for-30 from the line (40 percent), the lowest percentage in an NCAA championship game for a team with at least 20 attempts. The 18 misses tied the championship-game record. In one stretch of the second half, senior Nick Collison and junior Jeff Graves combined to miss nine in a row.
"Everyone's going to talk about the free throws, and we did miss a lot of free throws," Kansas coach Roy Williams said. "When you're trying to come from behind, you can't make those kinds of mistakes."
"We could see right away they didn't have a good rhythm," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "Any time they got close to the basket, we wanted to foul them."
The 53 points scored by Syracuse in the first half are the most Kansas had allowed all season. The Orangemen shot 55.6 percent and hit 10 of 13 3-pointers before the break, with freshman Gerry McNamara, who once scored 41 points in the first half of a high school playoff game, doing most of the damage (6-for-8 on 3s for 18 points).
"Gerry McNamara may have been the freshman of the year tonight," Boeheim said. "I knew when he stepped up early that he was going to let it out. I knew he was going to let it go."
The hot shooting helped prevent Kansas from ramping up its transition game. With so many shots going up from the perimeter, several Orangemen were able to backpedal to midcourt by the time the ball went through the net. That allowed Syracuse to set up its 2-3 zone defense. In a half-court set, the Jayhawks had trouble getting the ball to Collison on the blocks, and he had to operate from the high post. Several of his drives resulted in shots that rolled off the rim.
"They did some good things with the zone, showed us some things we haven't seen before," Kansas sophomore Michael Lee said.
The only Jayhawk in any semblance of an offensive groove was Keith Langford, who scored 19 points in 23 minutes. Why only 23 minutes? Because the athletic Langford, who plays longer than his 6-foot-4 frame, was Kansas' best option to defend Syracuse freshman (and Final Four Most Outstanding Player) Carmelo Anthony.
"Carmelo is hard to guard. He got Langford in foul trouble," Boeheim said. "Langford was killing us on offense, but it's hard to kill us when you're in foul trouble."
Kansas senior Kirk Hinrich appeared to lose confidence after missing a couple of early shots. He passed up several open jumpers, sometimes for disastrous forays into the lane, and finished the night 6-for-20 from the field.
Williams changed things up on several occasions in the first half and appeared to swing momentum in his team's favor. The Jayhawks played a 1-3-1 zone on one possession (promptly busted by McNamara), double-teamed the ball on the perimeter a few times and even pressed twice. Syracuse turned the ball over or rushed its shots, and Kansas was able to quicken the tempo of the game. But rather than stick with it, as soon as his team closed an 18-point deficit to 10, Williams allowed the Jayhawks to settle back into their familiar man-to-man.
The same thing happened in the second half. Kansas would cause a few turnovers, then revert to its base defense.
"I was just trying to search for something to do," Williams said. "Somebody asked a question about pressing, why we didn't do it the whole game. We can't. We don't have enough guys. You got to dance with what brung you."
The turning point may have come when Kansas got within 61-58 and picked up a steal in Syracuse's frontcourt. But a careless outlet pass by Graves was intercepted at midcourt by Josh Pace. Pace advanced the ball to Anthony on the left side, and Anthony cooly drilled a 3.
"We have a chance to go down court, tie it up. Instead it's six," Williams said. "Great players make great plays. That's what [Anthony] did."
On three consecutive possessions, minutes after Anthony's 3 when they were trailing by eight, three different Jayhawks ventured into the lane and could do no better than put the ball right into the outstretched hands of Syracuse's 7-foot sophomore, Craig Forth.
"When you come back and you're fighting and scrapping, running a lot of double teams, playing catch-up most of the game, it takes a lot out of you," Hinrich said.
The Jayhawks may have run out of energy, players and time at the end, but they had themselves to blame for many of their woes.
"Obviously you want to avenge what happened, but right now you just have to live in the moment," Langford said. "You've got to give credit to Syracuse. Now we'll just go back to Lawrence and move on."