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There was shock and disappointment inside the locker room.
What didn't exist were excuses.
The last time Memphis lost was on Feb. 23 at home to Tennessee. That was the only time all season until Monday. After the Tennessee game, all but two Memphis players spoke to the media. A few, notably junior Chris Douglas-Roberts and senior Joey Dorsey, put their jerseys over their heads and declined any interview requests.
But they stood up and answered questions Monday night after an epic collapse against Kansas in the national championship game. The Tigers led by nine points with 2:12 remaining. They still held a three-point lead with 10 seconds left. And they let the game get away from them in overtime of the 75-68 loss to the Jayhawks at the Alamodome.
"Being so close to the national title, to not have it, I feel bad for our city and our players, because they know we had it," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "We collectively let it slip out of our hands."
"We can't hold our heads down," Dorsey said. "We beat ourselves."
Douglas-Roberts and Rose combined to miss 3 of 4 free throws (a nemesis that wasn't an issue when the two guards were a combined 20 of 23 from the line in the semifinal win over UCLA) in the final 16 seconds. And the Tigers failed to foul the Jayhawks with a three-point lead with 10 seconds left. There's no complicated reason for the mistakes. They simply missed the free throws. And they let Sherron Collins break free, even though they thought they had fouled him before he passed the ball to Mario Chalmers for a tying 3-pointer with two seconds left.
"We missed those shots. No excuses. They won the game fairly. I thought the officiating was really good. We just came up short."
Rose said the loss was a "heart-breaker." He said that the free throws shouldn't have been a reason for the defeat but that they did give Kansas a chance.
"I'm sick, disappointed to have that kind of lead since we've been the kind of team that finishes things off," Calipari said. "When you're up nine, you're supposed to win."
He said that when there were 90 seconds left in the game and his team was leading by five, he told his team and staff, "We just have to finish it off."
"I didn't expect us to break down; we normally don't," Calipari said. He questioned whether he should have burned a timeout after each missed free throw to calm CDR or Rose.
"We were five seconds, four seconds, three seconds away from a national title," Calipari said. "They make a tough shot. We thought we fouled Collins, but he figured out a way to get through our man. The kid makes a tough shot. They did what they had to do, and we weren't able to finish it off."
Calipari wanted to make it clear that Kansas grabbed this title. Despite that sentiment, the Memphis players were surprisingly upbeat about how this team should be remembered, the legacy of a college basketball team that won more games (38) than any Division I team in the history of the sport.
|Derrick Rose had a spectacular game, but his missed free throw with 10 seconds left in regulation gave Kansas the chance to send it into overtime.|
When Calipari was asked whether the 38-win record means much, he said rather succinctly: "No. No. Our goal was to win them all and the national title. Right now, I take no solace in how many games we won, against ranked opponents, nonconference scheduling, road wins, RPI. None of that matters right now. What matters is I've got a team in there that is really, really down."
But Calipari can take something away from Monday night. The Tigers did handle themselves with dignity after the game. They have matured this season. You can argue they should have won the game. They were seconds away. But the 38 wins stand, and the crushing wins over Michigan State, Texas and UCLA in this tournament were as impressive a run as this event has seen in the past 10 years.
Still, that legacy won't be topped by a title. And because Rose is likely to declare for the NBA draft, Dorsey will depart as a senior and junior All-American Douglas-Roberts likely will leave for the draft, this show won't be duplicated.
"It was tremendous," Rose said. "I hope people keep thinking about us. I know we didn't get it done, but it was a nice ride."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.