Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Final Four

In case you haven't heard, I was at the Final Four.

It was my fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament, and I have been in several different capacities. I attened my first in 1997 when Brian and I went to San Antonio for the regional the Minnesota ended up winning.

I was back in 2001, once again as a fan this time in New Orleans for the first and second round. In 2003 I got the chance to go as a member of the media, covering my Bearkats as they took on Florida in Tampa.

It was my first time on press row for an NCAA tournament game and the experience was unreal. I had sat courtside for plenty of games, but being right there for the Dance was something completely different.

In 2007 I worked the Regional in San Antonio as a member of the media services. Once again I was courtside and once again, it was an unreal experience.

But none of that compared to the thrill of being on the floor of the Final Four. The energy in the building was like nothing else I had ever felt. After the first day of games, I got a text message from a friend of mine that read "What a shitty ass Final Four." The thing was on TV it may have felt like that, but in the arena I never felt that way.

The first game of the night was the Memphis and UCLA game. Kevin Love and Derrick Rose were all that we expected to see. Both made some plays that freshmen aren't supposed to be able to make. The thing that stood out the most was the quickness of Rose.

I had seen him play on TV several time this season and knew he was good, but damn. When you are siting 30 feet from the court, you see just how quick he really is. Westbrook is one of the top defenders in basketball, and Rose ran past him on a couple of plays like he was a practice walk-on.

While Memphis pretty much controlled the game, sitting there and watching it, you never felt like it was a bad game, because it was well played.

The second game of the night was the UNC-Kansas game. Once again, two of the top teams in the country squaring off. No Cinderellas in this match up either. North Carolina was the top over all seed and a lot of people's pick to win the whole thing.

That is what made the first 15 minutes so unbelievable. Kansas was shooting lights out and as the lead built, I just sat there wondering how big the lead could get before the Heels woke up. Kansas got it to 28 and had three good chances to get it to 30. Kansas wasn't supposed to be doing this.

Everyone knew UNC was going to make a run, but it was just a matter of when they were going to get started and how close they are going to get. As it turned out, they cut the lead to four and had a 3-pointer go in and out that would have cut it to one. From that point on, the air was sucked out of the UNC players and crowd.

Kansas ended up running away with it making the final minutes of the game a throw-away, but that didn't take away from the first 33 that was really captivating to watch.

The championship game was something else all together. The Kansas fans were the strongest contingent, but Memphis brought a great group as well. That just added to the atmosphere and gave exactly what you want in a championship game.

It only took about 10 minutes to realize this was going to go down to the wire. I'll fast forward to the end of the game. A lot of people are harping on the mistakes that Memphis made down the stretch, but to be honest, Kansas just made more plays.

Everyone is pointing at the missed free throws, and that was a big part of it, but it is not like they were a great free-throw shooting team that choked in the clutch. They can't shoot free-throws and everyone knew, so I don't know that was a big of a factor as it has been made out to be.

There is even the argument that Calipari lost the game because he didn't call a time out after the free throw by Rose or foul. I don't buy either one of those arguments either. There are strong arguments against doing either. I have seen team call a time out and let the opponent set up an offensive play to win the game.

A few weeks earlier, Sam Houston was in the same situation against McNeese, and they fouled in the final second up by three. Problem was, the other player was able to get a shot attempt up from 40 feet away and was awarded three free throws. Fortunately for the Kats, he missed two of the shots and SHSU won.

The spot where I thought Coach Cal cost his team, was by not calling a timeout after Chalmers tied the game with 2.1 second left. Some of the most memorable moments in NCAA Tournament history have happened with less than two seconds to play. Tate George anyone?

He had the time out, and could have drawn up a play that would have given them a better effort than that mid-court heave by Dozier. I think everyone in the building could sense the change in momentum, so it was no surprise when Kansas ran away with the game in OT.

Before the game started, I really didn't have a rooting interest. I sent a text before it started saying I just wanted to see one of the greatest championship games of all time, and I think I got it.

BTW - "One Shining Moment" on the big screen in the arena was awesome.

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