Monday, March 31, 2008

The Monkey - Gone!

Before we get into anything, let me just say that we at MTAC could not be any happier for Kansas Head Coach Bill Self. A class act across the board finally gets to his first Final Four. We were there again yesterday, now 3-0 live at Regional Finals. As we have said in the past, our job is to get them to the Final Four, once they get there, they should bring it home. No need to rehash what you already know; The KU defense put the clamps down on Davidson's Stephen Curry on the final possession with the Wildcats down two. Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, and then Sherron Collins all switched onto him and wouldn't allow him to get a look. Eventually, the ball ended up in the hands of Jason Richards, who's NBA three for the win was wide left. Just like that, the monkey was lifted off of Self's back, a country was disappointed, but the Jayhawk nation rejoiced as they have returned to the Final Four. 59-57. What a game.

Our Experience: As stated Saturday, the set up and atmosphere at Ford Field was attrocious. Friday was definitely worse. Had Davidson not been KU's opponent, the crowd would have been dead. Everyone was caught up in the Davidson story and rightfully so. We would have been as well if we weren't diehard KU fans. The way it went, there was one section of Davidson fans - their entire student body - and one section of KU fans. The rest of the the reported 57,563 (no chance there was 57k there) had no real rooting interest, but took up for the Wildcat cause. So my boy Sean and I were essentially the only two real fans in our section with hardcore interest.

As the game went on, it was clear Davidson was not going away. In fact, several times we both thought we were done. I couldn't take it. Late in the first half, as Kansas continued to miss bunnies and open jumpers, Rush spotted up for a three. He hadn't hit a shot yet. I yelled "One Time Brandon!" Brick. I then jumped up and screamed "BRANDON! WAKE UP! JESUS CHRIST!" Keep in mind, the building is like a library and nobody else around me is standing. I sit down, look up and 40 people are staring at me. I've yelled at games before and I'll do it again. But this one was reminiscent of my late father, who loved to melt down on occasion during Tribe Playoff games. But we digress.

As poorly as KU played in the first half, they were still up two. But our main concern was that they had played good defense, but they were getting nothing in the post outside of Sasha Kaun, weren't hitting outside shots, and seemed to be committing too many dumb turnovers (see Cole Aldrich's outlet pass right to Jason Richards). Seemed like the UCLA game all over again. Mario Chalmers and Kaun really were the only two who showed up in the first half, and Kaun had gone to the bench with two fouls with eight minutes left in the half.

The second half gets going and with 15 minutes left, Andrew Lovedale hit a layup to give Davidson a lead and the crowd roared. We sat in disbelief. This was the first of two times where we thought The Jayhawks were done. A short three minutes later, KU went up six at 43-37, and this is where we figured we would pull away. But oh, the ups and downs of sports. This is why we love this game so much. Fast forward three minutes, Davidson's Bryant Barr, a guy I had never heard of until the second half of this game, hit back to back three's, Lovedale scored inside, Barr hit his third straight triple, and Davidson led 49-45. We sat with our heads in our hands while the parisan Wildcat crowd stood and screamed. I believed it was here when Sean turned to me and said "this is when it is no longer fun. This is painful." At the under eight TV timeout, KU trailed 51-47. This is where the game changed and the KU defense kicked into high gear. Kaun's layup and Sherron Collins' three - his only basket of the game (1-8) - put KU on top 52-51, a lead they would never relinquish.

The final minute felt like it took an hour. A 59-53 lead almost disappered. Curry, who was hounded all game, hit the three to cut it to two. Davidson had one more chance to win it with 16 seconds left. Coach Bob McKillop, a master X's and O's guy, called a timeout. I had to walk out to the aisle and pace. I was in full freak out mode. Later I was told by my brother that the woman behind him said "That poor guy is going to have a heart attack." Everyone in the building knew, heck, everyone in the country knew Curry was going to take a three for the win. I could just visualize it: Another classic loss by one of my teams. This one was going to hurt more than any other KU loss. I said to Sean, "lets see what my dad has up there for me." I am not a religious man and I don't pray. That was the best I could ask for, my father looking down, who had been to the 2003 regionals with me the year before he passed away, helping my boys out. Sure enough, Curry ended up with the ball, but couldn't get any sort of look, instead, it was Jason Richards who got the look. It was wide right.

I don't know if I was more happy or more relieved. Relieved probably, but so happy for Self, who now has shed the "best coach to never get to the Final Four" tag. Thrilled for Darnell Jackson, who despite playing very poorly, wanted it more than anyone else. For guys like fifth year Senior Jeremy Case, the last Roy Williams recruit, and Senior Rodrick Stewart who rarely plays, but is the epitome of a team player. But nobody deserved it more than Self. It was a pleasure watching him cut down the nets.

There will be more to follow....

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