Kudos to ESPN and CBS for dropping some classic college basketball games on us to help pass time. I’ve recorded every KU game that has been on so far. I’ve watched a few minutes of the triple overtime Oklahoma game from 2016 and the 2007 Big 12 tournament championship game. In anticipation of Sunday’s airing of the 2008 national championship game, I fired up the YouTubes Saturday and watched that year’s national semifinal against North Carolina.

This was time well spent.

The Carolina game was such an emotionally pleasing game, running the Tarheels out of the arena for the first 12 minutes of the game, at one point leading by 28 points and eliciting Billy Packer’s classic, “This game is ovah!” line. I remember running around my house during commercial breaks that night, wound up by Bill Self getting over on Roy Williams.

Until KU got sloppy, Carolina strung some buckets together, and made a run before halftime. An early second half surge pushed the lead out again until the script completely flipped and UNC went on a huge run, getting as close as four points until a final KU push stretched it out to an 18-point win. I recall getting pretty puckered up when it looked like KU might blow a nearly 30-point lead in the Final Four.

KU looked soooooo fast in that game. Carolina was supposed to be the quickest team in the country and KU made them look slow. ACC media bias exposed. KU manhandled Tyler Hansbrough inside. Other than his flopping, which drew four fouls on the night, he was mostly shut down.

Ah, the ’08 title game. I remember that day very well as I came down with a bug and spent most of the day in bed. I tried to eat dinner but could not, returning to bed and hoping I could rally in time for the game. Which, I did, kind of. I spent the entire game lying on the couch, sometimes watching with my head sideways on a pillow, putting the pillow over my head during breaks. The last 2:12 of regulation and overtime are legendary, but I really don’t remember much of the actual game since I was kind of out of it.

What a great game, though. Those were two very well-matched teams, and they took turns making runs at each other, making life miserable with attacking defenses on both ends, athletic big men battling inside, and two great coaches matches wits on the benches. Derrick Rose’s banked-in shot at the 4:00 mark was initially ruled a three, but changed to a two after a review at the next time out. That was a new rule that year. In 2007 Memphis might win the game by that point, although with four minutes left you never know how things would have worked out.

As well as I remember the end of that game, there were some huge moments I had forgotten. Sherron Collins had a chance to tie the game with about 20 seconds left on a breakaway layup that was swallowed up by two defenders. Sherron, again, absolutely wiped out in front of the Memphis bench late in overtime, giving the Tigers back the ball.

A bad moment I never forgot was Darrell Arthur getting beat for a rebound after Chris Douglas-Roberts missed a free throw with about 16 seconds left. Shady had an incredible game, going for 20 and 10. If not for Mario’s shot, he may well have been named Final Four MOP and it would be his jersey and not Mario’s hanging from the rafters in Allen Fieldhouse. But, man, he got worked over by Robert Dozier on that rebound, giving Memphis two more free throws. Derrick Rose could hit just one, setting up Mario’s shot. I remember almost passing out I was so angry in that moment in 2008. I nearly passed out again moments later when Sherron avoided a foul and losing the ball to shovel it to Mario for the biggest shot in KU history.

Arthur kind of gets lost in KU history. He’s remembered as a really good player on a title team that has had four other players’ jerseys retired. I think most people forget how freaking good he was because that whole team was so good.[1] So athletic, so fast, so skilled, so versatile. He’s the guy on that team who it is most surprising he never did much consistently in the NBA. He always had little moments like that rebound where he made you crazy. But it was also his 19-foot shot that started the last comeback. He hit three other ridiculous shots in the game.

While watching I texted friends that he would have been the Big 12 POY had he come back for his junior year. Maybe his presence is enough so that KU doesn’t blow that 13-point lead in the Sweet 16 against Michigan State. Maybe with him KU is back in the Final Four in 2009. But had he returned, I doubt KU would have gotten the Morris twins, which changes the 2010 and 2011 seasons significantly. It’s always interesting and maddening to consider these What Ifs.

Speaking of What Ifs, seeing how damn good that game was, how good both teams were, got me thinking about those tiny margins that change history. If Mario misses, if Derrick’s “three” had counted, if CDR hit one more free throw, or if one of those tough Arthur shots had rimmed out, how do KU fans view that team? I suppose it all depends on what happened the next few years. Would Sherron not have gotten fat if he hadn’t won a title as a sophomore and he gets KU to two more Final Fours, winning one? If Mario misses his shot, does he come back for his senior year and pair with skinny Sherron to be a ridiculously good backcourt? If Mario comes back, Tyshawn Taylor doesn’t come to KU… You can make yourself crazy going through all the possibilities.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun to watch those games. I also watched parts of two of the Saturday replays, the 1982 and 1983 national title games. Both were classics. It was so strange seeing the court in 1982 without the three-point line. Weirder was the court in New Mexico in 1982 which had a three-point line, but since that was not an official NCAA rule yet, shots beyond the arc were still two pointers. Some other assorted thoughts from those games:

  • I loved Georgetown and Patrick Ewing back then. I was so disappointed when they lost to North Carolina. A decade later I would be rooting hard for Michael Jordan to beat Ewing’s Knicks in the playoffs every year.
  • Basketball in domes has come a long way, but the setup in the Superdome in ’82 was pretty rough.
  • It still makes no sense how North Carolina State won the ’83 title. Houston was so much better than them, and had complete control of the game fairly late. Like Memphis in 2008, though, they couldn’t hit free throws.
  • So much fun watching Ewing, Jordan, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Clyde Drexler, and “Akeem Abdul” Olajuwon in college again. Those were the glory years for talent in the college game, and I ate that shit up when I was a kid.
  • It was always easy to hate Billy Packer. But he was awfully good at identifying things that were going on inside a game. Unlike Dick Vitale, he generally kept his focus on the game in front of him. His downfall was his love of the ACC, his desire to prove how much he knew, and his tendency to raise his voice a little too much, too often. He also loved to point out what he thought were missed traveling calls. “OHHH HE GOT AWAY WITH A DOUBLE-DRIBBLE THERE!” Every game I watched this weekend he would yell shit like that multiple times.

It sucks immensely that we weren’t watching new NCAA games this weekend, making new March memories. I’m still super sad for Udoka. It eased that pain a little to watch some classic games.

  1. I love Brandon Rush’s line about people giving him grief for not scoring more in college. “Man, our whole team was killers.”  ↩