Because actual Kansas basketball has not been played yet, I’d rather look back and analyze things that have happened than hopelessly try (and fail) to predict future outcomes. Mario Chalmers’ game-tying three in the 2008 national championship game is one of the most memorable shots in Kansas basketball history. Here’s how it went down, and how close it came to not happening at all.
In the 2008 national championship game, the Kansas Jayhawks trailed 60-53 with just under two minutes to play against John Calipari’s Memphis Tigers. Memphis, entering the game at 38-1, boasted the nation’s second-best defensive efficiency rating (just behind Kansas) and were led by future #1 overall pick and NBA MVP, Derrick Rose. A seven-point deficit with less than 100 seconds to play looked (and felt) insurmountable.
And then things got weird.
With possession of the ball and 1:54 to play, Memphis’ Antonio Anderson attempted to inbound in a full-court situation, only to have his pass stolen by Sherron Collins. Collins then saved the ball from going out of bounds and found Mario Chalmers, who then dished to Russell Robinson, who finally found an open Collins in the same corner he stole the initial pass in. Collins knocked down the open three and suddenly, Kansas was within four.
A quick Kansas foul on the ensuing inbound play allowed Memphis to stretch their lead back up to six following two made free throws by Chris Douglas-Roberts.
Memphis’ Joey Dorsey did the Jayhawks a huge favor on the following possession, fouling Mario Chalmers after the Kansas offense struggled to find an open look out of their half-court set. Chalmers calmly knocked down both ends of a 1-and-1, rewarding Kansas with two points in exchange for running precious seconds off of the clock.
Another quick KU foul and a missed 1-and-1 opportunity by Douglas-Roberts was quickly answered by a Darrell Arthur turn-around jumper, and all of the sudden, the Jayhawks were within two with exactly one minute to play.
Memphis used the entire 35-second shot clock on the following possession only to have Douglas-Roberts miss a runner. A long rebound by Sherron Collins led to a 3-on-2, but Collins kept the ball himself and had his shot rejected by Antonio Anderson, who led a break of his own the other way.
Chris Douglas-Roberts was fouled at the other end and was put at the free-throw line to shoot two with 17 seconds left. Douglas-Roberts missed both free throws, but Robert Dozier of Memphis elevated for the offensive rebound, delivering a crushing blow to Kansas’ attempt at a late, championship saving rally.
Running an additional seven seconds off of the clock, Memphis got the ball in Derrick Rose’s hands. Kansas had no choice but to foul, and the best player on the floor was now going to the free throw line with a chance to clinch a national title.
Rose, a 71% free throw shooter on the year, missed the first, made the second, and allowed Kansas one final shot at extending the game and its season.
As we all know what happens next, we must reflect on how much had to go right in order for Chalmers to knock down his miraculous three to send the game into overtime.
First, John Calipari had to decide not to foul while up three. The only way that Kansas could tie the game in this scenario is by knocking down a three. By fouling, Calipari would be electing to put a Jayhawk on the line to shoot free throws. Needing three to tie the game, Kansas would then have to rely on an intentional miss, a rebound, and a made basket in order to tie. The probability of these events happening consecutively is much lower than a made three-pointer from a Jayhawk team that made near 40% of its shots from behind the arc.
Next, Kansas had to get an open look against an outstanding defense that, once it made the decision not to foul, knew that the one thing it could not allow was a game-tying three.
Finally, the Jayhawks had to make a three. Though they shot a great percentage throughout the 2007-08 season, they had struggled over the course of the night against Memphis’ stout defense, making only two such shots prior to Chalmers’.
Sherron Collins’ dribble handoff to Mario Chalmers set in motion one of the most memorable moments in Kansas basketball history, as well as one of the great finishes in NCAA tournament history. Chalmers’ three essentially sent the game to overtime, where Kansas outscored Memphis 12-5, garnering its first national championship since 1988 in improbable fashion.