The field of 65 is now down to the final two after last night’s national semifinal games. And, after last night I don’t think anyone can doubt that the final game includes the two best teams in the country. Memphis easily handled a very popular UCLA team in the first game 78-63 and Kansas took a huge lead early and held off a North Carolina comeback to win 84-66, setting the stage for a Memphis/Kansas final on Monday evening.
The Memphis Tigers were led again by their two All-American guards, freshman Derek Rose and junior Chris Douglas-Roberts who combined for 53 of the 78 Memphis points. These two players, who are destined for NBA stardom, are that much better than any other guard tandem in college basketball and are a serious match up problem for any team they play. Of their 53 combined points, 20 of them came from the charity stripe on 23 attempts. Rose went 11-for-12 and Douglas-Roberts went 9-for-11. Interestingly, the two players were the only Tigers to get to the line. Maybe this was Coach Calipari’s strategy for fixing their free-throw woes (61% for the year), only allowing his two best-free throw shooters to get there (Rose and Douglas-Roberts, 71%). Senior Joey Dorsey did not score any points, but made his contribution by bringing down 15 rebounds, six of them on the offensive side. Forward Shawn Taggart came off the bench for 22 minutes and scored seven points and grabbed seven boards.
UCLA led 12-11 four and half minutes into the game, but Derek Rose’s lay up put Memphis in the lead for good. UCLA kept it close during the first twenty minutes of the game going into halftime 38-35, but a 10-2 run to start the second half put Memphis up by 11 and UCLA couldn’t fight their way back. UCLA was led by sophomore guard Russell Westbrook who scored 22 points on 10 for 19 shooting. Freshman Kevin Love, who most likely played his last game for UCLA, finished with 12 points and nine rebounds. This was UCLA’s third straight final four appearance and the third straight time they finished empty handed.
The nightcap featured another future NBA star Brandon Rush and his Kansas Jayhawks. On 11-for-17 shooting, Rush dropped in 25 points including 12 in a 40-to-12 run to start the game. The lead looked too big for any team to come back from, especially with the way Kansas was out-everthinging (made up word?) UNC. But, with five minutes left in the first half, Tarheel junior Danny Green sparked a 15-to-4 run with eight points on his own to close the half at 44-27.
The comeback didn’t stop there. With UNC not slowing down any, they came out firing, cutting the lead to 54-50. However, coming back from a deficit that big spends a lot of energy and the Tarheels couldn’t get any closer. Kansas finally regrouped and again took control of the game getting the lead back to 10 points, 71-61, with four and a half minutes left to play. Kansas guard Sherron Collins came off the bench with 11 points, four assists and four rebounds. AP Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough finished with 17 points and nine rebounds. Wayne Ellington led all UNC players with 18.
Monday night’s game will feature two of the best guards in the country squaring off against each other with Kansas’ Brandon Rush and Memphis’ Chris Douglas-Roberts. Both are 6-6 and can play inside and outside. The winner of this battle could ultimately help lead their team to a national title.