Kansas and Self Want To Grab the Brass Ring

SAN ANTONIO — Bill Self has called the past seven days "the best week of my professional career."

First, Kansas beat Davidson in the Elite Eight last Sunday. Six days later, KU beat North Carolina in the Final Four.

Now, on Monday night at the Alamodome, Bill Self’s Jayhawks will be shooting for the biggest prize of all.

The national championship.

KU (36-3) takes on Memphis (38-1) at 8:21 p.m. (CST) in hopes of winning the school’s third NCAA title and its first since Danny and the Miracles cut down the nets in Kansas City 20 years ago. Memphis, meanwhile, is aiming for its first national championship.

This game actually features the two winningest teams in college basketball since 2002-03. Kansas is No. 1 with 173 victories, while John Calipari’s Tigers rank No. 2 with 171 wins.

And with all the media hype and potential distractions of the Final Four, Self believes his Jayhawks are completely focused to accomplish greatness and get win No. 174.

After all, they’ll be playing with a free mind.

“We got a great group of guys that have to be sometimes suggested to or told multiple times that this is exactly how we need to handle situations,” Self said on Sunday. “As we’ve gone through the tournament, they have bought in. They bought in in Omaha, they bought in a little better in Detroit. They have totally bought in.

“I think they feel that how they handle these situations, in large part, will be a key factor in how we perform in the games. I think that’s one reason we performed well on Saturday night (against North Carolina) because they haven’t been distracted.”

Distractions were a big reason KU lost two of three games in February. The ‘Hawks, though, had a players’ only meeting and regrouped. They have since won 12 straight games heading into the national championship game.

KU has already set a school single-season record with 36 victories. Now, the ‘Hawks can add another mark in the history books with a win over Memphis.

But they’ll be facing their toughest team all season, which has already made its own history. With their impressive 78-63 victory over UCLA on Saturday, the Tigers set an NCAA record for most victories (38) in a season.

Like Kansas, Memphis has won 12 consecutive games. The Tigers’ only loss this season came against Tennessee on Feb. 23. Memphis is led by arguably the best starting backcourt in the country with consensus junior All-American Chris Douglas-Roberts and third-team freshman AP All-American Derrick Rose.

Douglas-Roberts averages a team-high 18 points per game, while Rose averages 14.8 points and 4.6 assists. The dynamic duo have taken their games to another level in the tournament. Douglas-Roberts has averaged 23.6 points and Rose 21.4 points the last five games.

They are fast, quick, and explosive with Rose (6-3, 205) running the point and Douglas-Roberts (6-7, 200) a scoring machine. Both guards can also get to the free-throw line. Rose was 11-12 against UCLA, while Douglas-Roberts made 9 of 11 free throws.

“Derrick has a gear that very few have, if any,” Self said. “He can make plays you can’t coach. And to be that big and powerful at a young age, he can go from head of the circle to head of the circle in two bounces. ... He’s big enough to jump over you. Chris is shooting the ball much better (54.4 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from three-point range) from the perimeter this year. And because of that people now crowd him. When you crowd him, he’s very good at getting his shoulders past you.”

“Those two guys have been the two best performers on the same team probably throughout the entire tournament,” Self added. “We have to be alert. We have to do it as a group as opposed to just thinking that Russell’s (Robinson) got Derrick or Brandon’s (Rush) got Chris.”

Memphis has other athletic weapons as well. The Tigers are big up front with 6-9 forwards Robert Dozier (9.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and Joey Dorsey (6.9 ppg, 9.7 rpg), while 6-6 guard Antonio Anderson averages 8.5 points and 3.5 assists per game. Sophomore guards Doneal Mack (7.1 ppg) and Willie Kemp (5.2 ppg), and 6-10  sophomore forward Shawn Taggart (6.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg) also contribute off the bench.

Dorsey is a load at 265 pounds; he had 15 boards against UCLA.

“(He) is a big-time banger inside, kind of like Tyler (UNC’s Hansbrough),” KU forward Darrell Arthur said. “He loves to go to the offensive and defensive glass. He’s not as skilled as Tyler is offensively, but he gets the job done defensively and he loves to attack the rim. It’s going to be a challenge against them.”

These two teams match up very well. KU shoots a significantly better field goal percentage (.508 to Memphis’ .467), but most of the other statistical categories are relatively equal. KU averages 80.7 points per game to Memphis’ 80.2; Memphis averages 40.8 rebounds per game, compared to 38.7 for Kansas; Kansas allows 61.3 points per game to the Tigers’ 61.6; KU holds opponents to 37.9 percent field goal shooting, whereas Memphis’ opponents shoot 38.7 percent; U of M averages 6.2 blocks per game to KU’s 6.0; Kansas averages 18.1 assists per game compared to 16.0 for Memphis; and the Jayhawks total 8.8 steals per game to 8.4 with Memphis.

And yes, both teams love to run, drive the ball and make plays.

“They play similar to us,” Arthur said. “They like to get the ball in the paint, get the ball to the rim. They try to play inside and out with their guards, just try to penetrate and kick the ball out. They like to play one-on-one ball and play as a team.”

“They’ve got their roles very well-defined and guys have accepted their roles, just like (our) players have,” Self added. “They move up and down the floor very well, so do we. They have athletic big guys that can defend on the perimeter, and so do we. The way they run their offense is different than the way we run it, but the philosophy’s still the same: get the ball to the paint.”

KU sets ball screens for its guards, while Memphis has gained national publicity this year with an offense Calipari calls ‘Princeton on steroids.”

“There’s some serious thought that goes into this, in driving straight lines, getting the ball to certain areas of the floor which creates certain penetrate and pitch opportunities, angles to drive it,” Self said. “They’re great at creating isolations off of what they do. If we’re going to have success defensively, we have to be able to guard the ball.”

The Jayhawks are very confident entering the last night of the college basketball season.

“There’s been something special about this year,” senior Russell Robinson said. “This is our year. We’re in the national championship game, which we’ve prepared very hard for. We’re very deserving of it. I’m more confident than anything going into this game because we’ve shown we can win in a lot of different ways, whether it’s an up-tempo game or a slowdown game.”

Self said he doesn’t have any special motivational pregame speech planned for the big game. He’ll just speak from the heart.

“The message I hope we can get across to them is to go have fun, relax, and enjoy it,” Self said. “Don’t hope for good things to happen, expect them to.”

The Jayhawks last played in the national championship game five years ago when they lost to Syracuse. Memphis has played in one other title game — 35 years ago in 1973 against UCLA. (The Bruins won, 87-66.) That Bruins’ team had the dominant center Bill Walton, who had arguably college basketball’s greatest offensive performance that night. Walton shot 21 of 22 from the field for 44 points.

KU surely won’t have a player put up those numbers on Monday night, but don’t be surprised if someone has a breakout game on the biggest stage of all.

For Robinson, he wants to end his career on a winning note and make a lasting legacy on Kansas basketball and his future family.

“It set in today (about my last college game),” Robinson said on Sunday. “It’s probably going to be one I show my kids and family when I get older. I got to go out there and play the game of my life.”

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