- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
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SAN ANTONIO -- The Memphis media guide calls him the "most electrifying player in Tiger history."
Penny Hardaway is calling for a rewrite.
Casually perched atop a box in the Memphis locker room wearing a grin as wide as a mile, the Tigers' most famous hoops alum turned almost slack-jawed as he tried to put his arms around the talent that is Derrick Rose.
He compared Rose to Mike Bibby, remarking how the two share an uncommon poise for players so young.
Of course, there's another little nugget worth mentioning. Arizona has won one national championship in its program's history. That was 1997, Bibby's freshman season.
"We found out last year how much of a difference Rose makes to this team," Hardaway said. "No disrespect to any of the players in here, but he's the difference. Last year, we lost in the Elite Eight. This year, we're going to the national championship. That's all you need to say."
It really is that simple. Memphis has been knocking on the door of basketball's heaven for more than a decade, getting achingly close to the promised land three times since 1992. But each year, the Tigers were turned away at the gate, whiffing in the Elite Eight in 1992, 2006 and 2007.
Now the beggars at the Final Four feast of blue bloods have been given the key. They just need to turn it.
Memphis dismissed UCLA just as easily as it rid itself of Michigan State and Texas, 78-63, to make its first national championship appearance since the tournament expanded to a field of 65. The Tigers will face Kansas on Monday night.
"Going into the game, I knew we were going to win," Rose said, laughing after his ho-hum night of 25 points, nine rebounds and four assists. "There ain't much more to say, really."
Crazy as it sounds, he still has a lot of talent untapped. He's out there playing on natural ability right now. He's going to get a lot better. Scary thought.
--Penny Hardaway on Derrick Rose
Except this: In a season dominated by freshmen, there is one game left and just one of the bumper-crop rookies. As Rose celebrated with his teammates, a red-faced Kevin Love walked off the court to chants of "One more year!" from the UCLA faithful. He had just received the treatment Joey Dorsey promised Greg Oden a year earlier, getting limited to an unassuming 12 points and held without a bucket for the second half. Dorsey went scoreless, but his 15 rebounds spoke volumes about his impact on the game.
"I'll tell you what, it makes me hungry," said Love, when asked whether the loss might sway him to stay another year. "I made it to the Final Four, but I came here to win a national championship. But a lot will go into that decision."
Love admitted he needs work on his game, needs to lose weight and get stronger. The question is whether he'll do it at Westwood or while collecting an NBA paycheck.
Odds are the latter, which made the image of him and Rose -- who has to simply finish his college career before bolting to the league -- embracing on the court seem like a good keepsake memento.
"Just being a good friend of mine, he said, 'You're a winner, keep your head up," Love said.
That's the thing about Rose. He is not some me-first, 40-shots-a-game guy. He'd rather chew nails than talk about himself -- other than to tell you that he must have pineapples before games or he'll "go crazy."
Told about Hardaway's comments, he looked almost pained.
"Man, it is not about me," he said.
Rose is completely guileless, a kid playing at a level that makes grown men weep in envy. He calls his game "just hoopin'," as if the Final Four is some make-it-take-it playground game. The only time he gets his back up is when you ask him about being a freshman.
"I don't like being called a freshman," he said. "I don't like labels. If you can play, you can play."
He shredded UCLA -- a team that likes to say it's pretty good on defense -- and, were he a more selfish sort, he easily could have gone for 40. Getting to the hoop was that easy. Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook looked like cardboard cutouts, caught flat-footed more often than an 11-year-old boy at his first ballroom dance lesson.
Rose got around people, over people, under people, shaking and baking at the free-throw line for a dizzying drive to the bucket that elicited an oh-no-he-didn't gasp from the Alamodome.
"Every once in a while, I just go 'Oh my' and I kind of sit down," Memphis coach John Calipari said.
UCLA opted for the same defense against Memphis. The Bruins tried to go bucket-for-bucket with Memphis for a while, but it was akin to Princeton trying to run with Jerry Tarkanian's UNLV Runnin' Rebels.
In other words, bad idea.
By the time the game ended, UCLA players were gassed, doubled over at the waist, their shorts soaked dark blue from sweat.
Meanwhile, you half expected the Memphis' players to shout, 'Let's play two.'
Overwhelmed by Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts, a backcourt tandem that produced 55 percent of the Memphis offense against UCLA, Collison drew his fifth foul (defending Rose, naturally) at midcourt to put an awful game out of its misery. Collison shot 1-for-9 from the floor, had five turnovers and spent most of the game dribbling aimlessly around the arc, unable to make anything happen against the Tigers' backcourt defense.
"It started in the first half," Westbrook said. "They got a lot of transition points, a couple buckets, get back in transition. That's their game. They really took the opportunity with that in the second half and finished the game off."
While Rose and Douglas-Roberts finished off the offense, Dorsey finished off the defense and Love. Faced with yet another stud freshman, Dorsey chose his words carefully this week but thought quietly that this was his chance at redemption.
Or at least he thought that way until he ran into Larry Brown at practice Friday. Calipari's mentor heard what Dorsey said and chided him, telling him not to blow it all out of proportion and to just go play his game.
"I thought, 'Man, I said that wrong, too,'" Dorsey said, laughing.
But Dorsey this week promised he is a wiser, more mature version of himself and although even his coach might disagree at times -- Calipari said Thursday, "I love Joey like a son, but he does some of the dumbest things sometimes" -- there's no question Dorsey offered more than lip service to the notion against UCLA. He frustrated Love, worked the boards and, in one rags-to-riches play, missed a perfect alley-oop pass but made up for it by hightailing it back on defense to block Westbrook from behind.
Naturally, the Tigers took Dorsey's block the other way while the demoralized Bruins licked yet another wound.
And naturally, the guy who scored it was Rose, putting away yet another jaw-dropping reverse layup.
"Crazy as it sounds, he still has a lot of talent untapped," Hardaway said. "He's out there playing on natural ability right now. He's going to get a lot better. Scary thought."
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at email@example.com.
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