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April 7, 2008
SAN ANTONIO ? Derrick Rose scored a three-point play on one of his wild, pump-filled dashes to the rim and made a crazy-good long bank shot off an inbounds pass.
Memphis' sensational freshman approached a triple-double despite a Kansas defense stacked against him and powered a game-changing stretch, scoring 12 points in a run that took his team from down by three to up by seven.
If only he had made a free throw with 10 seconds left, or gotten called for a foul he was trying to commit, he probably would've turned Memphis into national champs.
Rose was at his best during the NCAA tournament title game against Kansas on Monday night - but not long enough. He scored only three points in the first half and was shut out in overtime, then had to slink off the court with streamers falling and the Jayhawks celebrating a 75-68 victory.
"I thought we had it," he said. "But they're a good team. They're going to keep fighting. That's what they did."
Rose finished with 18 points, eight assists, six rebounds and two steals, the kind of all-around dominance Memphis fans came to expect from him. He was at his unbelievable best during an 8-minute stretch of the second half, when he scored 12 of the Tigers' points in a 14-4 run that took them from trailing 43-40 to leading 54-47.
They stretched it to nine with 2:12 left, but couldn't protect it because Chris Douglas-Roberts missed three free throws and Rose missed another.
"I thought it was going in," he said. "It bounced around the rim two or three times."
After he made the next one, Sherron Collins drove downcourt and Rose tried fouling him, but didn't get a whistle. Collins got the ball to Mario Chalmers for a high-arching 3-pointer that tied it with 2.1 seconds left.
"I didn't want to slap him like on his arm or something obvious that they'd call intentional, so I hipped him a little bit and he fell a little bit," Rose said. "That's why I thought they were going to call it, but they didn't call it."
Rose was out of answers.
The kid from Chicago who wears No. 23 and, at times, plays like Michael Jordan was sapped. Not only was he slowed Sunday by a stomachache, he played the entire first half and all but one minute of the second half. When regulation ended, he was bouncing up and down one leg, suffering a cramp.
In overtime, all he could muster was an assist, a turnover and a missed 3.
"It's a heartbreaker," Rose said.
The finish can't take away from the phenomenal season he had. But it's certainly the difference between exceptional play and joining the likes of Syracuse's Carmelo Anthony and other great freshmen in NCAA tournament history.
"It was a nice ride," said Rose, adding that he hasn't made any decisions about turning pro.
For weeks, coach John Calipari has talked about the season's ending not taking away from the joy of the journey. That's certainly going to be tested now, especially with the way things fell apart at the end.
Memphis led by nine with 2:12 left, but couldn't protect it. There are lots of reasons, but the one everyone will remember is those four missed free throws.
When Rose looks back on this season, he'll have a lot of fond memories: The 38 wins, the most by a Division I team; the five weeks at No. 1 and never being lower than No. 3 in the poll; being the first Conference USA team to make the national title game and the first team from a non-BCS league to make it since UNLV in 1990.
Heck, he can even take pride in the losses - to the No. 2 team in the country and a memorable title game that needed overtime to decide.
Rose, however, might first think about how he little he was able to do in the first half, when he took just four shots and made only one. He contributed in other ways, but the Tigers were held to just 28 points, matching their second-lowest total of the season.
At times, he probably felt as if Kansas had six guys on the court and all were covering him. There was one play when he spun away from his man only to be met by a big man. He then threw the ball across the court and it was intercepted. He even missed some layups.
He was back to his sensational self in the second half, right from the start - feeding Robert Dozier for a dunk. Then he threw an alley-oop pass that Joey Dorsey stuffed, putting Memphis back in front.
And he was only getting warmed up.
After Kansas went up by three, he began cutting the lead with a hard-charging, high-flying layup. A few trips later, he soared above two big men and banked in a short shot to keep the deficit at one.
He followed with a 3-pointer from the top of the key that put Memphis up 49-47. After a Kansas timeout, he scored in the lane, stretching the lead to 51-47. Then came another three-point play.
You have to figure some folks already wrote his name into the Most Outstanding Player ballots at that point.
Those who didn't probably did so soon after, when Rose took an inbounds pass from Dozier, jumped and banked in a shot that originally was called a 3-pointer. It was later changed to a 2-pointer, but that couldn't take anything away from how pretty it was.
In the end, though, that missing point cost Memphis.
So did the missed free throw.