Jayhawks win epic title game
2008 NCAA championship: Kansas 75, Memphis 68 (OT)
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Bill Self looked worn out.
Gloriously worn out.
When John Calipari came to the postgame stage, he, too, was wiped out. But his eyes were hollow.
The two had just coached in a national championship game of the ages, an epic battle between the two teams that were clearly the best in the country.
Kansas won and Memphis lost. That doesn't explain merely what showed up on the final score ledger; it defines what happened in the game. The Jayhawks won this game, won it thanks to an ice-in-the-veins 3-pointer from Mario Chalmers, who drained the tying shot with 2.1 seconds left to force overtime. And the Tigers lost it, lost the game at the uncharitable stripe, where Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose missed a combined three of four in the final 16 seconds of regulation.
Two years later, the drama is now part of the recycled highlight reel to introduce March Madness, but the importance of the game still resonates.
Before the season, critics wondered whether Self was the right man for a place like Kansas. He was 0-for-his-career in regional finals, failing to deliver the mighty Jayhawks to their Final Four promised land.
Fast-forward two years, and Self sits atop the No. 1 team in the country in 2009-10, a team whose recruiting oats were sown by that championship team.
The same critics argued all through the 2007-08 season that Memphis was a beggar at the feast, owner of a 38-1 record heading into the title game, a mark arguably inflated in a subpar conference.
Instead, the Tigers blew through the NCAA tournament and into the championship game, going toe-to-toe with one of the most storied programs in the country, forever silencing those who didn't think they belonged.
Since then, their coach has parlayed his success at Memphis into the plushest head-coaching job in the country: Calipari is now at the University of Kentucky.
And Memphis remains a national program. New coach Josh Pastner recruited the top class in the country this year, attracting players on his own merit, certainly, but also with the cachet that the program has established.
Kansas-Memphis, 2008: an epic game in the moment with an even bigger impact on the future.