The ingredients were all in place for an epic, juicy drama: Love, a Rose, a foursome with two divorcees, and, of course, one Self. In the end, as is so often the case in these affairs, the outcome was not quite what was imagined, which is not to say there wasn't a whole lot of satisfaction.
The two semifinal games at the Final Four brought together four number one seeds for the first time in NCAA history-- UCLA, North Carolina, and Kansas, all deeply pedigreed basketball programs, and Memphis, no stranger to the dance but a comparative up and comer, albeit one who arrived with the best record in the field.
I'd recorded the games on my DVR and settled in to watch Kansas take on North Carolina and their fine coach Roy Williams, who jilted the Jayhawks four years ago for the apparently bluer pastures of Chapel Hill, leaving behind more than few ruffled feathers in the heartland.
But hell hath no fury like that of a Jayhawk scorned, as Kansas laid waste to North Carolina in the first 13 minutes of the game with a blitzkrieg attack so quick and clean that the Heels looked as though they were stuck in . . . well, tar. Again and again the men from Lawrence picked Carolina's pockets with a ball-hawking defense that showed you don't necessarily need the pill to be on the attack. Never has defense looked so cool and sexy.
With a little over seven and a half minutes remaining in the first half and Kansas up by a preposterous 38-12 score, CBS commentator Billy Packer declared, "This one is over." And though he was correct in the letter of his declaration, he couldn't have been more wrong in spirit.
Displaying the valor of a champion, Carolina refused to roll over and die, whittling the lead down to 17 at the half, and coming within five points of the disbelieving Jayhawks before Kansas snapped out their fugue state, reasserted their dominance, and took it home with a decisive 18 point victory, making a prophet of their coach, Bill Self.
CBS had miked Self for his pre-game message to his underdog club, the kind of media contrivance that usually makes one cringe. But Self delivered a calm, unifying set of principles devoid of cliches, reminding his team that the game would be long, that adversity was expected, that the best players love games such as these, and that he fully expected they would all reunite in celebration a couple of hours hence. His marvelously balanced team delivered the goods as scripted in a manner that was-- dare I say it-- both Self-ish and un.
It was only when CBS put up a graphic advertising Monday's championship game between Kansas and Memphis that I realized I'd watched the second of the two semi-final games, reminding me that I need reminders to take my ginko biloba.
I hate watching recorded games when I know the outcome in advance and pride myself on being able to avoid spoilers-- even for days when necessary-- by constructing an elaborate set of preemptive tactics that would make Monk proud. But duty called, so I persevered and waded into Memphis versus UCLA.
There are times when the game transcends the score. This was one of those times. To say that what I witnessed was artistry would be to damn Derrick Rose and his Memphis running mate, Chris Douglas-Roberts, with faint praise. The show they put on was Cirque du Soleil in sneakers.
In what was otherwise a systematic and workmanlike victory over the Bruins, Rose and Douglas-Roberts swooped, soared, juked, streaked, and, above all, finished with exclamation points. They were not alone, supported by the sturdy infrastructure of Joey Dorsey, who scored no points but cleaned the glass with 15 rebounds.
It is hard to believe that Rose is a freshman. He runs the floor and his club with ambidextrous flair and aplomb. And for good measure he's placed the maturation of his game on the fast track, draining 11 of 12 free throws-- perhaps inspiring his notorious, brick laying teammates who hit 20 of 23 from the line when it counted most.
When all was said and done the Bruins, who kept it close for a half, simply couldn't keep up with Memphis' high octane attack, leaving the building with a 15 point deficit that ended their magnificent season, while Elvis remained behind to bask in the glory of his hometown's latest rock stars.
So now the foursome is a couple. Yes, Love is gone, but Self remains. This could be very interesting.
Did anyone see where did I put my ginko?