In What Was Supposed to be a Final Four for the Ages, Two No. 1s Prove Not So Nearly Equal
April 6, 2008
SAN ANTONIO (AP) - There are No. 1s, and then there are No. 1s.
If there's a lesson to be learned from Saturday night, it's that not all are necessarily created equal.
We expected a Final Four for the ages. We got a clunker and a half until North Carolina finally woke up and made things at least a little bit interesting for a few minutes against Kansas.
UCLA was too slow and not nearly talented enough for the high flyers from Memphis. Kansas was too fast and, ultimately, too good for North Carolina.
Two of the country's best players had so-so nights when it mattered most. Two others on opposite teams made sure they paid for it.
Memphis and Kansas may yet put on a spectacular show and make it all pay off Monday night. For one night, though, the dream matchups weren't nearly as dreamy as network programmers had hoped.
For the first time ever, all four No. 1 seeds took the court in a single night just a few blocks from the Alamo. Basketball fans everywhere were salivating for two semifinal matches without a sacrificial lamb like George Mason anywhere in sight.
The Patriots were missing, but UCLA and North Carolina stepped up and filled that role quite well. With the score 40-12 in the first half, it looked as if Kansas were playing the first round against a No. 16 seed like North Carolina A&T instead of the revered Tar Heel program.
Not content to be routed in the first half, North Carolina took a second lashing just for good measure after pulling to within four points in the second half to lose 84-66.
"I've never been so embarrassed in my life," guard Marcus Ginyard said. "They were very poised. They picked our defense apart. They knocked down their shots. They knew where the open guy was going to be every time we doubled. It felt like we couldn't get a breath of air."
Kevin Love couldn't, either, mainly because Memphis put two men on him all game in a brilliant bit of coaching strategy from a coach who was supposed to be lacking in strategy of any sort. To hear basketball pundits talk, all Calipari ever did was recruit great athletes, toss them a ball and tell them which basket they were supposed to deposit it in.
Against UCLA, he threw a defense at its freshman sensation, then let his big and fast team ravage the vaunted defense that carried UCLA to its third straight Final Four appearance.
"Heck of a game," Calipari said. "Got a good team of players that play together, take care of the ball, rebound. Got a good team."
No one's disputing that, not after 38 wins in 39 games and a 20-for-23 performance at the free-throw line that should put to rest any worries about the Tigers' ability to play in the clutch. No big deal, they could have missed 10 more of them and still have earned a spot in the national championship game with points to spare.
These games were so lacking in drama they'll be consigned to the early morning hours if ESPN Classic even dares to replay them. In Los Angeles and Chapel Hill, they might only be found on the Horror Channel.
The only consolation for UCLA was they're used to it after losing in the last two Final Fours. There wasn't any consolation for North Carolina, which seemed shell-shocked in the opening half of its first appearance in the same Alamodome where they were thrashed in a semifinal 10 years ago.
"I told someone it looked like we have never played basketball before," guard Quentin Thomas said. "It looked like the first time we had ever walked on a basketball court."
It might have been the last time Love and Tyler Hansbrough walked off a basketball court, at least one of the college variety. Though neither did anything to boost their NBA draft status with workmanlike but unspectacular efforts, the lure of the pros may be too much, especially for Love, who was always groomed as a one-and-out.
We'll get one more chance to see two other potential lottery picks, though, and that might be what salvages this Final Four.
Brandon Rush was spectacular against North Carolina with 25 points and seven rebounds, while Derrick Rose was just as good controlling the floor for Memphis as a freshman on the big stage for the first time.
The two together on the same court with some very able supporting casts is a pick 'em game in the eyes of Vegas bookies, and a can't miss game in the eyes of college fans everywhere. Both schools are starved for a title, both are coming off dominating wins, and both are playing with supreme confidence.
The Final Four might not be one for the ages, but that doesn't mean the championship game won't be.