One of the most famous shots in recent NCAA tournament history was preceded by a lot of missed free throws.
Twelve years ago today, Kansas guard Mario Chalmers hit a dramatic three with 2.1 seconds left to tie Memphis at 63-63. The shot forced an overtime period that Kansas dominated on the way to a 75-68 win for the school’s first national title in 20 seasons and the only title of Bill Self’s Kansas tenure.
And that shot may not have mattered had Memphis been able to make another free throw or two.
Kansas started fouling early
While Chalmers’ shot is the highlight of the game, the best move came when Self decided to have his team start fouling with more than two minutes to play. Memphis entered the game shooting less than 62 percent from the free-throw line. More than 325 teams shot better from the line than the Tigers did all season.
Self and his coaching staff realized that weakness. And with the Tigers leading by seven with possession and less than 2:30 to go, Kansas needed to try something bold to get back into the game.
The strategy didn’t immediately pay off. Memphis’ lead went to nine after Robert Dozier made two free throws to put the Tigers up 60-51 after Brandon Rush’s foul with 2:12 to go.
Things got crazy from there. A jumper from Darrell Arthur cut the deficit to seven. And it was quickly four after Sherron Collins stole an inbounds pass, found Chalmers as he was falling out of bounds and then got the ball back for a wide-open three. Suddenly Memphis’ lead was at 60-56 with 1:39 to go.
Kansas kept fouling. The Jayhawks immediately fouled on the inbounds pass. And while Memphis’ Chris Douglas-Roberts made his two free throws on that trip, the fruits of Kansas’ efforts started to blossom.
Memphis missed 4 consecutive FTs
Douglas-Roberts missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:15 left and the Tigers leading by four. Another basket by Arthur cut the lead to 62-60 and Kansas held off on fouling with the lead down to one possession.
After Memphis’ possession ultimately came up empty, a frantic sequence ensued as a Kansas fast break turned into a Memphis fast break as Douglas-Roberts got hammered by Arthur as he drove to the basket with less than 17 seconds left.
That foul turned out to be a fantastic move.
Douglas-Roberts missed both of his free throws, though Dozier came up with the rebound. Kansas had to foul again to keep the game going. And this time, the guy who got fouled was Derrick Rose with 10.8 seconds left.
Rose missed his first free throw and extended Memphis’ missed foul shot streak to four.
Rose’s miss meant Kansas would have a chance to at least tie — presuming it got the rebound if he missed the second one. He didn’t, meaning Kansas needed a three to draw even.
After Rose’s make to put the game at 63-60, Memphis didn’t elect to foul like Kansas had done. While fouling could have prevented Kansas from shooting a tying three, it would also likely have put a Tigers player at the free-throw line at least one more time.
Collins sprinted up the court with Rose guarding him. As Collins neared the 3-point line, Chalmers curled toward the middle of the court from the wing. Collins almost lost the ball as he tried to get it to Chalmers. Chalmers was able to gather the ball, make sure his feet were behind the 3-point line and get the shot off over Rose.
The game was heading to an overtime period that Memphis never led. Brandon Rush scored 30 seconds into the extra five minutes to give Kansas a lead that it would hold for the rest of the game.
The three was Chalmers’ last made field goal in a Kansas uniform and immediately made him a significant part of Kansas’ storied basketball lore. He declared for the NBA draft in the days after the game and was selected in the second round and traded to the Miami Heat.
With the Heat, Chalmers won two NBA titles and his number was retired by Kansas in 2013. He currently plays in the Greek Basketball League.
Kansas has been to two Final Fours since the 2007-08 season and lost to Kentucky in the 2012 national title game. A third Final Four looked very possible this season. The 2019-20 Kansas basketball team would have entered the NCAA tournament as the favorite to win. But we’ll never know how that tournament would have played out.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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