One more. That's all it is going to take. If Kansas wins Monday night and gets MTAC their first title, do we have to change the name of the website? Do we retire the site? Who knows. It's clearly not the right move to even think about having that conversation since my teams have been this close before, only to fail to seal the deal. Maybe though, just maybe, this team is different. Maybe, they are the ones to give MTAC that feeling that we have longed for our entire 32 years of existance. I said to my Mrs. MTAC last night that there is only one thing missing in my life, and we are 40 minutes away from it. I've got the coolest wife (who else could put up with all of my bullshit) and family, amazing friends, and the best son any man could ask for. Scott van Pelt on ESPN Radio said on Friday that when his beloved Maryland Terrapins won the national title in 2002, he said he knew what it meant when they said "now, I can die in peace." Is MTAC about to finally experience that feeling?
If last night was any indicator, Monday could be a wild ride. What a tale of three games this was. In all of my years of watching KU Basketball, I have never seen a first 15 minutes. It's almost as if the 'Hawks couldn't miss and the Tar Heels could hit anything. The defense was swarming. Everytimg you looked up, Russell Robinson or Mario Chalmers was taking the ball away or Cole Aldrich was blocking a shot, starting a fast break that would end in a layup or a Brandon Rush three. Before we could stop from holding in the giddyness, it was 40-12 and CBS's Billy Packer actually said "this game is over." Shots of a desponent Roy Williams brought smiles to the KU Nation watching on TV. We've seen that look too many times.
But you just knew the Tar Heels would make a run. Game two was just starting. The last five minutes of the half was dominated by UNC and their super sixth man Danny Green. Sherron C0llins buzzer-beating layup put KU up 44-27 at the half. Self diagrammed a beautiful screen and dish to the post for Darrell Arthur on the first possession and that is where the game turned. Tyler Hansbrough and company were attempting to make our worst nightmares come true. The run we were awaiting was happening. The Jayhawks decided to stop going into the post and started jacking up wild jumpers whole UNC couldn't miss. (Oh, I forgot to mention the various b.s. charge calls that Hansbrough received. If you bump into him going to the hole, its a charge). I felt myself getting sicker and sicker. A 28 point first half lead all of a sudden turned into a 54-50 game. UNC was on a 47-24 run.
But once again, the game turned. We don't remember whether it was the big Sherron Collins three, the Brandon Rush driving left-handed layup, or the renewed move to go into the post with Darnell Jackson, but KU put the game away with a 13-0 run and finished the game 20-7. The last two minutes, we finally had a safe feeling. Talk about a roller coaster of emotions. KU fans had the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, and the highest of highs again. Now, they are just one win away from winning it all. You can see it in Bill Self's face, he is having so much fun with this team. We can't imagine what he'll be like if his squad closes the deal Monday night.
Cole Aldrich - Say it again. COLE ALDRICH! If you would have told us that Cole Aldrich would play 13 first half minutes, score six points, grab six boards, and block three shots in those 13 minutes, and while he was on the floor, KU ended a 17-10 lead to 40-12, we would have asked what you were smoking and where can we get some. Cole was sensational. This was by far his best game of the season. He was so active on the glass and on the defensive end, who knew HE'D be the one who gave Hansbrough fits. With Sasha Kaun and Jackson in foul trouble, he stepped up big time. “I thought Cole was the best player in the game for a stretch in the first half,” Self said. “He may have won the game for us as much as anybody because he bought us so many great minutes.” The best is that thanks to Cole, we no longer have to hear about Hansbrough working harder than anyone else in the world, well at least for nine months.
Rush to the Rescue - Everyone has been telling us that Rush is an NBA prospect. I think I finally saw it last night. He had the eye of a player trying to move up the draft board on the season's biggest stage. In 32 minutes, Rush was as aggressive as he has been all year, scoring 25 points and taking 17 shots. He grabbed seven boards and played his usual excellent defense. You can bet he will be the one who gets the assignment of Chris Douglas-Roberts on Monday night.
The Post Defense - Not many teams can hold "the great" Tyler Hansbrough to 17 and nine boards, but the KU rotation of bigs did the job. Jackson, Kaun, Darrell Arthur, and Aldrich all took turns guarding him and the double-teaming worked to perfection. You could see the difference in the two teams right there. KU has four agile, tough, and smart big men, UNC had one. Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson? What do those two do?
The First 15 - This bears repeating. This was the single best 15 minutes of Basketball any KU team has ever played, especially in a game of this magnitude. The Hawks shot over 70%, nailed 4-5 threes, and were all over the Heels defensively. It was truly a thing of beauty.
The Real Sherron - OK, he turned the ball over seven times and played out of control at times, but KU's offense just rolls when he is on his game as he was late in the game. He shed the knee brace and finally looked 100%. This was the perfect kind of game and matchup for Sherron, because he wants to run, run, run. “Everybody keeps saying ‘their pace’, but it’s our pace." He said. "We’ve played like that all season. That’s the big thing. Everybody’s saying ‘How you gonna stop them? How you gonna run with them?’ How you gonna stop us? We run, too. I think that played into our hand, everybody’s worried about how we’re going to run with them and we ran them.”
The Glass Work - Kansas 42 North Carolina 33. Did you know that North Carolina led the country in rebound margin? That and a quarter would have gotten them a newspaper last night. Didn't matter. KU was the more physical team and it showed on the glass. UNC had no answer for Aldrich. Did we really just type that last sentence?
Vintage Roy - While his team was getting it's doors blown off, Roy Williams once again refused to slow things down with timeouts. Some things never change. You can also question why, with five minutes to go, trailing by nine, he had Ty Lawson on the bench in favor of Quinton Thomas. By the time he went back to Lawson with just over two left, it was too late. Credit him for the motivation to get his team back from a 28 point deficit to four. But late, Self outcoached him.
Game Quotes (courtesy of KUsports.com)
Rodrick Stewart on watching the game hurt and losing control of his emotions late: “They used it as motivation, and every time they came over in the timeout, they would just say ‘Keep your head up’ and stuff like that. But it’s all about the team. I don’t know if my knee really helped motivate us. I hope it did. It looked like it did. Whatever worked. Played with a lot of energy and had a lot of fun out there ... I was over there crying, trying to hold it in the whole time, but I think that set it off a little bit with the fans chanting my name.”
Sasha Kaun on Cole Aldrich’s contributions Saturday: “He played the best game of his career. I think he did a phenomenal job. He came out strong, got some boards, made some shots, and he was a huge, huge, huge help to us.”
Sasha Kaun on comparing going against Tyler Hansbrough to Michael Beasley: “They’re both great players. They’re so different from each other in a way that Beasley is more of a talent and Hansbrough’s such a hard worker, and he always fights. Beasley can just take you off the perimeter, so creative with the ball.”
Darrell Arthur on the efficiency KU played with: “If we keep playing the way we’ve been playing and come out like that (Monday), I don’t think anybody can beat us.”
Darrell Arthur on answering UNC’s second half run: “I think those guys got winded, because they were down 28 and had to make a massive comeback, so I think those guys got tired and we just took advantage of those guys on our offensive end.”
Sherron Collins on Memphis: “They’re tough. They’re fast, tough, strong, similar to our guards. We’ll be ready to play them, though ... We feel confident. We feel we’re one of the best teams in the country and it’ll be proven Monday.”
Sherron Collins on the game’s pace Saturday: “Everybody keeps saying ‘their pace’, but it’s our pace. We’ve played like that all season. That’s the big thing. Everybody’s saying ‘How you gonna stop them? How you gonna run with them?’ How you gonna stop us? We run, too. I think that played into our hand, everybody’s worried about how we’re going to run with them and we ran them.”
Mario Chalmers on the huge first half lead: “I kinda was surprised, but I knew a lot of it had to do with them missing a lot of shots and we were hitting our shots. Our defense was excellent tonight, so it was hard for them to get going ... Once we got them down, we just wanted to make sure we kept them down and were able to do that.”
Cole Aldrich on his performance against Tyler Hansbrough: “It was a blast. I don’t even know what to say, because he’s such a great player, and just being able to be on the same court, in the Final Four, in San Antonio, playing against him, it’s a huge honor ... We’ve got four really good big guys, and I don’t know if he’s quite gone against four big guys like that. We just tried to double the post, constantly deny the post and keep him off the glass.”
Cole Aldrich on literally taking a rebound away from Tyler Hansbrough: “I wasn’t gonna let it go. I got it, and I was like ‘He’s gonna try his dangdest to get this, and I won’t let him.’”
Bill Self on Cole Aldrich: “I thought Cole was the best player in the game for a stretch in the first half. We’re playing out of foul trouble, Sasha gets two minutes and Darnell gets seven the first half, and we didn’t have to play out of kilter because he was so good ... He may have won the game for us as much as anybody because he bought us so many great minutes.”
Bill Self on answering UNC’s run: “When I was at Tulsa, in my first NCAA Tournament game, we had College of Charleston down 52-26, and they missed a three to take the lead with a minute left, then we end up winning by nine ... We knew they were gonna make a run. We hoped they wouldn’t have got to four, but we went braindead for awhile. We kept clipping off shots when shots weren’t going down, and then their best offense was our offense because we just threw it to them to start the second half and they went and made layups ... The thing I was most proud of, on the biggest stage, they were in the attack mode for 40 minutes.”
Bill Self on where motivation came from Saturday: “All we talked about was Carolina (their players, not going against Roy Williams). Our players care about guarding Lawson, Ellington and Hansbrough. They were on the circuits together. Ty was the best point guard, Sherron was the second-best point guard coming out. That’s what everybody said. Mario wanted to go against Ellington. That’s what our motivation was.”
Bill Self on what is now guaranteed to be KU’s last game of the season: “I think it’s great, because we can all hibernate and get some rest in a little bit. Coaches are like this: They never want the season to end, but when they do, they’re really glad. I know Cal and I are both gonna be really happy that the season’s over - of course one of us is gonna be ecstatic and one of us will struggle for awhile. But I told our guys before, I’m really looking forward to practice tomorrow. And I am. When you get to this point, everything is the last ... And we’re ready for it to end. We just didn’t want it to end until Monday.”