Sunday April 6th, 2008

SAN ANTONIO -- Five things we learned while being stunned that Curtis Shaw got to referee the Memphis-UCLA game:

Kansas is tougher than I thought it was. The Jayhawks could have crumbled when their 28-point lead shrank to five midway through the second half against North Carolina, but they found a way to go on a 30-16 run of their own to end the game. So much for the "flaky" rep that had attached itself to some of the Kansas players. Brandon Rush, in particular, made some monster plays (passing, defending and shooting) to put things right for the Jayhawks, who looked like they were on the ropes and in danger of falling victim to one of the all-time Final Four collapses.

Derrick Rose won himself a lot of money on Saturday. It wasn't as though Rose had a pedestrian regular season, but he has been absolute money in the tournament, and the freshman from Chicago owned UCLA's Darren Collison on Saturday with a monster 25-point, nine-rebound, four-assist performance. (If Collison was considering an NBA move, he might want to think twice.) The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Rose has the entire package for an NBA point guard: the vision, the strength, the speed, the defense and the smarts. (The one thing he didn't demonstrate much on Saturday was his outside shot.) I'll be very curious to see whether Rose can beat out Mike Beasley for the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, because Rose made his best case yet on Saturday.

Memphis-Kansas will be a defensive slobber-knocker. Both these teams can run, but I don't think it's any coincidence that the two best defensive outfits in this Final Four reached the championship game. Can KU's first-rate perimeter defenders (Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson) stop Rose? Can Memphis big men Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier contain the Jayhawks' Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson? And in my favorite match-up, will Kansas defensive stalwart Brandon Rush be able to deal with swingman extraordinaire Chris Douglas-Roberts? Forget offense for a second; in what I expect will be a close game, the team that wins the defensive battles will take home the title.

Cole Aldrich picked a good time to have his breakout game. Bill Self had told me on Thursday that he thought Aldrich, the freshman who is KU's No. 4 post option, might play some valuable minutes against North Carolina. But nobody could have known that Aldrich would put up eight points and grab seven rebounds in 17 minutes of play. If you ever wanted to know if depth really matters in the NCAA tournament, we got our answer Saturday. With the Kansas big men in foul trouble, Aldrich produced the game of his life so far, outbattling Tyler Hansbrough for rebounds and playing solid defense as well. Not bad, rookie.

Joey Dorsey may have had the best zero-point game I've ever seen. Dorsey's line: zero points, 15 rebounds, two blocks. This was the Dorsey hoops junkies fell in love with two years ago as the ultimate menace on the blocks. There's a reason the Memphis fans serenaded the big guy with "Jo-EY! Jo-EY!" chants late in Saturday's game. Dorsey's defense prevented UCLA's Kevin Love from even getting the ball inside (Love finally resorted to moving outside), and his breathtaking block of a Russell Westbrook lay-up kept UCLA from cutting the lead to seven late in the game. (The Bruins would get no closer.) Not long before that, John Calipari and Dorsey had engaged in a hilarious heated exchange coming out of a time-out which concluded with Dorsey turning and spewing invective to himself. But maybe it worked. Joey D played like a demon from then on.

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