Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
4/08/2008 03:16:00 AM
Mario's Miracle: Kansas Is The Champ
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
SAN ANTONIO -- Sherron Collins was slipping, losing control of the ball with no whistle to save him, in much the same way Kansas had nearly let the national championship game slip out of reach two minutes earlier, falling behind Memphis 60-51 with 2:12 to go. But this was the denouement of a miracle rescue, and just like his Jayhawks, who had whittled the Tigers' lead to 63-60 on the final possession of regulation, Collins recovered, keeping hope alive. The play-call was "Chops," and Collins found a way to hand the ball off to Mario Chalmers on the right wing, with the final seconds ticking away. Collins turned to watch Chalmers fly toward the top of the key and launch a high-arching three-pointer, with overtime -- and the title -- hanging in the balance.
Athletes often struggle to do justice, in words, to the way they've awed a stadium full of 43,257 fans, or sent a nation of NCAA tournament viewers flying off their couches, and all Chalmers said of what he did with 2.1 seconds left at the Alamodome was that it was "a lucky shot." It barely eluded the outstretched right arm of Memphis freshman Derrick Rose, who was, until that moment, well on his way to becoming the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. Until that moment, the thought in Tigers coach John Calipari's head was that "we were the national champs."
The ball took what Collins said seemed "like five seconds" in the air, perfectly rotating, and Brandon Rush, who had positioned himself near the basket in the event of a tip, looked up at the net and "saw it splash right in there." Never mind that Chalmers lacked appropriate verbiage to describe what he had done -- tie the game and kill Memphis' spirit going into a one-sided overtime that finished 75-68, and make possible KU's first national title since 1988 -- because coach Bill Self did.
"It will probably be," said Self, "the biggest shot ever made in Kansas history."
Mario Chalmers (center) racked up 18 points, three rebounds and three assists and earned MOP honors.
Not even Danny and the Miracles, the last Jayhawks to cut down the nets (as a No. 6 seed) needed a shot like Chalmers' in their finale. Twenty years later, Danny Manning had a prime view of the Mario Miracle, as the assistant coach who had prepared the team's scouting report of Memphis for the title game. Ed Hightower, one of the refs from '88, was working the floor the floor again in '08, and while Manning said he was thinking "deja vu" when Chalmers launched it, the reason was not Hightower. Chalmers had hit the exact same shot -- on the same play -- to take Texas to overtime in last season's Big 12 tournament. "When this shot went in," said Manning of Monday night's three, "it gave us unbelievable energy, and we were able to roll in OT."
The Jayhawks went on a 6-0 run in the first 2:22 of overtime to bury Memphis' championship dreams. The Tigers looked shell-shocked in OT. Wouldn't you, if you were up nine with just over two minutes left, and watched it evaporate in some kind of sick nightmare? As Calipari said, "You have a lead like that, you're supposed to win the game."
What happened, then? How does one explain this breathtaking finish? If you listen to Chalmers' father, Ronnie, who happens to be KU's director of basketball operations, the sequence of events was nothing short of divine intervention.
Inside the left breast-pocket of Ronnie's suit on Monday night was a small scrap of white paper, a verse of scripture written on each side in pen. He took it out when Memphis' Robert Dozier was at the charity stripe, hitting the first of two free-throws that would put the Tigers up 60-51. On Kansas' bench, Ronnie silently read Psalm 46:1 to himself:
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Perfect, thought Ronnie, because "we were in trouble at the time."
That nine-point lead that Memphis held seemed insurmountable; even Darnell Jackson, one of the steady seniors who helped KU win the rebounding war, 39-28, admitted that "a lot of us thought the game was over." Self, who gave his troops the message "You've just gotta believe" during late timeouts, admitted that he almost didn't believe it himself. "But I never thought it was dead," he said. "I never did. But I knew it didn't look very good."
So how do you claw back against a Memphis team that had blown away its last two opponents -- including another No. 1 seed, UCLA -- by simply running them off the floor in the second half? Or as Rose had described it, by "just hoopin'" better than any other team in the tournament?
The answer: You slow the Tigers down. You put them on the free-throw line, the area of their greatest weakness, in the final two minutes. Memphis had come into the dance as the nation's fourth-worst free-throw shooting team, but had hit 20-of-23 against the Bruins. So you foul in hopes that the percentages even out. You foul in hopes that this line, which Calipari had uttered in the previous day's press conference, would come back to haunt him:
"I think I have mentally tough kids. If they're relaxed, they're going to make free throws. A kid that's not mentally tough that shoots 90 percent, knees knocking, he's missing it. Percentage doesn't matter. And we've got tough kids."
And then you watch, as Chris Douglas-Roberts, who hit 9-of-11 free throws against UCLA, but was a 71.2 percent shooter from the stripe on the season, misses the front end of a one-and-one. There's 1:15 remaining, and you get the ball to Darrell Arthur for a jumper that cuts it to 62-60. You watch as Douglas-Roberts misses two more free throws with 16.8 seconds left, but Dozier gets an offensive rebound, and you have to send Rose back to the line with 10.8 on the clock.
He misses the first but makes the second. The score is 63-60. If you're Collins, you think to yourself, "Now I know we have chance."
Ronnie Chalmers had two scriptures in his pocket, if you recall. The second was from Psalms 46:10 -- Be still, and know that I am God -- and he read that one, too, at the start of the comeback. But even Ronnie had his doubts when he saw Collins make the handoff, and then witnessed his son let go the biggest shot in KU history. At first, Ronnie said, "I didn't really think he got a good look at it."
But just as Rush did from near the hoop, and Collins from the wing, and Mario, falling back from the top of the key, Ronnie then saw that the aim was true. He had sat with Mario for the 2004 Final Four in this very arena, as spectators for UConn's title run, and his son had said that one day he would be playing for a national championship. Mario's shot made Kansas' title possible, and Ronnie, when he watched it go in, simply said, "Thank God. Thank God."
Soon after the buzzer sounded, Mario ran off one end of the court to find his mother, Almarie, and locked her in a tight embrace. "We did it, mom, we did it," he said, with tears streaming down his face, and his freshly donned championship hat turned askew. After Mario let go, Almarie said that she had seen Mario do this before -- the game against Texas in 2007 -- and knew it could happen again. "When it hit the bottom of the net," she said, "I breathed."
Manning, the architect of Kansas' two-decades-old title run, stood with the team on the podium after the game, watching as One Shining Moment played out on the Alamodome's video boards. Almarie was on the floor, singing along, and eventually came footage of Mario's shot: the play of this tournament, one of the greatest shots in the history of the tournament, and the latest Jayhawk miracle. As Manning, the proud coach, raptly gazed at the montage, it looked as if he, like Mario, might have tears in his eyes.
"It was a beautiful video," Manning would say later. "Just a beautiful video."
I don't understand how the coach didn't tell his players to foul Kansas & failing that the players should have known. I don't understand why he didn't call a time out after they made the foul shot. I love Memphis's players but both the coach and the players choked big time. That foul by Dosey was as stupid as Collinson's foul. I'm sorry but there is no excuse for major college basketball players not to hit three throws. Memphis gave this game away.
Big congrats to Kansas on pulling out a great win. It was heartbreaking for us life-long Memphis fans, but the game was fantastic. I'm glad Memphis has managed to stay classy, giving credit to KU for a great win.
This final will be remembered as one of the greatest in NCAA history.Memphis has a great team and i applaud their good effort. I live in kansas and almost broke my TV when we were down by 12 points with 2.12 mins left. Its a miracle because is yet to sink in. Thank God for this victory.
I'm an absolutely fanatic OU fan. Our team is the team they beat for their last championship in 1988. I can't tell you how proud we are of the entire nation of Jayhawks. We're also very proud of our native son Darnell Jackson. Rock Chalk Jayhawk and THANK YOU Super Mario!
I'm not so sure that God is all too worried about NCAA finals, but it really makes one consider if basketball has its own Gods looking over, waiting for the moment to use the power of divine intervention. This game was classic, and both teams played with such class, that is a fact that I hope is never overlooked.
Memphis give it away the last 2 minutes. I guess they didn't want the title that bad. They should have won the game easy the last 2 minutes, they were in the lead, they really did some sloppy shooting and playing, I wonder where there minds where?
I'm not a fan of either team but do enjoy college basketball. Having said that I thought the officiating was poor especially early on. It seems the officials were pro Kansas. The officials in the final 4 games were much better. The three point shot that was over turned looked like it was a three, his left foot was up in the air and his right was clearly on the ground behind the line. But anyway Memphis was careless at the end of regulation with turnovers and then missed critical free throws. Congrats to Kansas for fighting hard and never giving up.
I'm depressed.. We did give the game away. The mantra spoken all over Memphis today is: "I just don't understand how this happened." I really don't. We HAD that game. We HAD it. That was really a miracle. It was a good game. I'm anxious to see how Memphis performs next year. I hope we still have Rose.
Absolutely amazing game! Mistakes on both sides, great plays on both sides. You both deserved to win as you both played hard and were so evenly matched. Congrats to KU, this is a game that will not soon be forgotten. Mario, what a shot!
KU clearly overcame poor officiating, three no calls on obvious Memphis technical fouls, and talk about miracle shots, what about the prayers that the tigers kept throwing up that went in? Good coaching prevails after all.
I am a lifelong Jayhawk. I am so excited for the Bill Self and the guys, but I want to say that the Memphis players and Coach Calipari are class acts. As happy as I am for my Hawks, I too feel for such a great bunch of guys like the Memphis Tigers. I salute your grace gentlemen.
The officiating was a little loose, but once again the officials did not want the physicalness of play in a national championship game to be diminished, nor to make calls on questionable plays, and let the game play out without micro-managing the officiating. As a Texas fan, there was no loose-loose situation for rooting for one team over the other. If Memphis won, we were beat by the national champion, if Kansas wins, this only elevates the status of Big 12 basketball. Oh, and we did beat Kansas in the regular season, so.. Great game, great article.
Memphis was able to foul Collins without getting called for it in the last minutes of the game. Fortunately, the foul against Collins in the last few seconds was not called either and he was able to get the ball to Mario. If the Ref Calls the Memphis foul against Collins, Collins shoots two, and the games over, Memphis wins!
Memphis came back when Kansas went to a box-and-one and Kansas's offense got "stale" as Self called it. Most likely it got stale because Calapari took one look at the shot chart, saw Kansas had produced no outside game so far and adjusted.
If not for those two coaching moves, the game might not have been Memphis's to give away to begin with. But it takes two: one to give away and one to take. Kansas had every opportunity to fold and came up gold instead.
It was a terrific game between two excellent teams with an unbelievable finish. Both teams played some outstanding ball and left it all on the court. As a Lawrence native who was there in '88, I'm thrilled it was KU who came out on top.
Come to think of it, if you want an exciting title game, you could do worse than put KU in it. Think 1953, 1957, 1988, 2003 (2nd half at least) and now this.
Twenty years ago, I was a young student in Lawrence who had the priviledge to witness the miracle. In celebration, my friends and I received commemorative buzz cuts. Now this AM, with my 9 and 13 year old sons watching, I received a haircut that has been 20 years in the making. Thanks you guys for a wonderful season. Rock Chalk Jayhawk ---KU!
What a game! The best that can be said of a championship final is that it lived up to expectations. Champions -each tem - acting AND playing like champions. This one exceeded everyone's expectations and will go down in history as one of the best! How refreshing to see two class programs clash and walk away giving the other team the props for a battle well-fought. Here's to two coaches, who's players reflect their coaches values - respect and tenacity. Congrats KU and Memphis for high quality character, conduct and for a great performance!
All the comment about God did this and God did that is stupid. If God was controlling the play and the outcome, what did it matter which teams were on the floor? If God is on my side, I can beat any team in the country all by myself (whether or not I make free throws).
A nicely written article. Being born and raised in Kansas, my typical tournament tradition is to cheer for K-State until the get eliminated and then cheer for KU until they break my heart. It was terrific to see them win again (I'm old enough to remember the '88 team cutting down the nets).
Initially I was disappointed that KU did "win better". But upon reflection, it takes a considerable amount of maturity and mental toughness to NOT fold when down by nine with two minutes left. Memphis brought an EXTREMELY talented team. Neither Texas nor UCLA were slouches and Memphis handled both teams with ease. After seeing Memphis play, I don't think any team in the country would be able achieve a "pretty victory" over the Tigers. Any victory would be fought tooth and nail. The Jayhawks had a couple of lapses that gave the Tigers the chance to put the game out of reach and they didn't do it.
The Jayhawks demonstrated poise, skill and toughness at key moments of the game and the tournament. That's a credit to Bill Self. But it is also a credit to Texas, Texas A&M, OU, K-State and Davidson. Each of those teams pushed the Jayhawks to new levels; each taught the squad how to deal with a new type of challenge. So a tip of the cap to Augustin & the Longhorns; to Beasley and the Wildcats; to Curry and another group of Wildcats. You were all great opponents. Were it not for your teams testing the Jayhawks mettle, they probably would have folded against a team as formidable as the Tigers.
But most of all, "thank you" to Mr. Self and all the team. You gave your supporters in the region a terrific season and something to remember for the rest of your (and our) lives.
Calipari sucks! Rock Chalk baby. I remember when he said on espn that on a scale of 1 to 25 free throws had an importance of 26. I wonder if he still thinks so? He is way to arrogant and it shows in his players. All he did was make excuses about why they lost not give credit to KU till later. Bill Self and KU are a class act not Calipari and Memphis. Did nobody else see CDR and Rose at the press conference? I mean i understand you just lost the biggest game of your life but show some class.
Great article. There was a lot of prayer at the Final 4, I was on one of the teams that prayed on Saturday for the coaches & teams. Great to see the references to scripture & tribute to God, from whom all blessings flow.
The Jayhawks were able to overcome adversity. That is what winners do. Memphis had a great team and a great season but KU deserves the title. What a game!!! You have to appreciate how much heart these kids put in a game - no comparison withthe boring games on the NBA. Congrats KU for the National Chamionship.
RE: If the Ref Calls the Memphis foul against Collins, Collins shoots two, and the games over, Memphis wins! Not so clear cut... Collins shoot first of two and intentionally misses the second, Hawks rebound and put back for two... game tied. Don't put so much on just one call or one play. Kansas won because they didn't quit, they have greater depth, get points off the bench, etc. They won because they are a complete team and play as one.
Thanks for a great article, Luke. I am a Jayhawk and can't stop the last two minutes and overtime in my mind. What a game! What a shot, Mario! Congratulations to Coach Self and his team. You've made us all proud.
Games like that Kansas-Memphis classic (Memphis wins more games in a season than anyone had... but lost it for "free" throws that weren't "free" when it counted most) are what make College Basketball the most exciting sport of all!
KU won it with class and Memphis lost with class. I think this entire tournament has had some of the finest games all told, remember Davidson holy cow, what a team. A big Congratulations to both teams, probably the finest finals EVER played.
Crazy, is all I can say....what a game. As a KU fan I've seen KU blow a lot of games they should of won, so I know the disbelief memphis fans must be feeling right now. These two teams were the most athletic and balanced teams I can ever recall. Too bad we didn't pin "who has the best BBQ" on the game also. Two great teams, awesome to watch.
Rock Chalk Jayhawk! What a wonderful article and an even more wonderful game. As a jayhawker through and through I want to give credit to Memphis. They played their hearts out and left everything on the floor. They also epitomized sportsmanship - every time a KU player hit the floor there was always a Memphis guy there to help him up. Great sportsmanship and great play - that makes a GREAT championship game.
What a game! Both teams played their hearts out. Self did exactly what he should have doen given the circumstances- FOUL and exploite the one weakness Memphis had. The law of averages always catches up to you.
I want to congratulate all the teams in this years tourney.Nothing but class throughout!Brandon and Durell stay in college its the best time of one's life.I realize the money is there now but come on! Hey, I'm trying!!!! Go KU.! JP.
Living in Florida, I did attend KU for a year back in the early 90's, having gone to such a tradition rich school, you can't help but have the team spirit in your veins. I was there when we lost to NC in '93, and I was ecstatic to see us beat them in the final four and even more pleased to see Roy Williams in the stands, Jayhawks sticker and all.
Having beaten two #1 teams to get the title, it just says a lot about this KU Team. How they endure, and thrive off of challenges, kept their cool and their poise. They're incredibly talented and a great team to watch.
Memphis was an outstanding team as well and kept us all on the edges of our seats. My heart was racing all game long.
Thanks Luke...and thank you fellow-Jayhawks for a wonderful season. Not only did you get my heart pumpin' and my family jumpin' but you absolutely dumbfounded the media who had already - with minutes still to go - virtually crowned Memphis and its obvious tourney MVP, Rose. Mario is a hero, for sure. But what a beautiful TEAM.
No doubt in my mind Memphis players and Coach Calipari are class acts.
Somebody said we had to thank teams which had beaten or scared KU this year. Well, this team had to endure some names like Bucknell, Bradley and UCLA in the previous seasons. They had to grow up and be tough to defeat the demons of past memories.
Nice article. I just love to see that Kansas the so called underdog all tourney was able to pull this out and shut up all the media. I was sick of hearing about how they haven't beat anyone all year. Rock chalk jaw hawk.
Its funny to read some of the postings that claim why Memphis didn't take time-out, Memphis missed free throws, Memphis should've fouled and not let Chalmers hit a three ... trying to take away from a fabulous comeback made by the Jayhawks. Could it be that Memphis players and the coach was in denial that the 3 pointer would go in with 10 secs left? End of regulation, the game is tied. If Memphis was truely a better team then they would've showed up for the extra 5 minutes .. the better team prevailed. Period. No question about that.
Anonymous said: "With all due respect, I don't think God is involved in determining the outcome of basketball games. I never will understand that. Why would God will one team to win over another? Makes no sense."
Maybe because Memphis was arrogant and lacked class. Did you see Dorsey bump into Aldrich, not once but twice? That was very poor sportsmanship and disrespectful of the other team. When I saw that, I knew I wanted Kansas to win. Why no technical foul then? Kansas, to their credit, was not arrogant and exhibited nothing but class. And why no technical when Dorsey caught and held the ball after a Memphis made shot? It was a championship game and Dorsey did that to unfairly take a fast break opportunity away from Kansas. That's cheating and also very arrogant! Why no technical when Roberts slammed the ball to the floor? It's in the rules. See, maybe there WERE grounds for God favoring one team over the other!
Here's a little irony: Suppose CDR makes that second free throw with 16.8 left. Kansas gets the ball, down three, just like it did in the game, but now they've got six extra seconds to make something happen.
Thanks to Dozier's rebound (and a somewhat odd bounce), Memphis was actually better off missing those three free throws (CDR's last and Rose's two) than if CDR had hit the last.
Granted, if Rose had made his two, it would most likely have been over, but missing those free throws didn't lose them the game. They lost the game in overtime, with Dorsey out thanks to a dumb foul.
At the game, huge Kansas fan so that should be stated but...do you really foul here if you are Memphis and when do you do it. There are 10 seconds left, so, you could foul at 7-8 seconds but really, if you cant make free throws and/or inbound the ball (which they had trouble doing) why not just play D close and not give up an easy look. You fould with 7 seconds, Kansas puts it to 1, they foul and miss both. Kansas then has the ball, down by 1 with 5 seconds on the clock and you cant stop them inside at all. The refs were not calling soft fouls all game so it doesnt surprise me they didnt call the bump on Collins. Mario had a long shot with a hand in the face that left 2.1 seconds on the clock. Memphis played it right in my opinion, they just got beat and choked on the court except for.....not calling a timeout with 2.1 left and setting up an inbounds play --- Duke-Kentucky anyone?
i just want to say wonderful job to self and his players,you did it,you are #1. it was a very exciting and close game,but i knew when mario hit the three pointer to tie the game,the momentum changed and it was all ku in overtime! i still can't believe it,but it's true,we are the national champs! GO KANSAS!!! p.s bill self is staying at kansas for years to come,good decision bill! #1 go ku!!!
i am an almost fifteen year old lifelong jayhawks fan who had never seen a national title in lawerence but thanks to mario and all the jayhawks(especially shady)i finally have the memory all jayhawks fans cherish