Going to Kansas City,
Kansas City, here I come.
They got some crazy little winnin' there,
And I'm gonna get me some.
So Kemper Arena is barely 40 miles from the Kansas campus. So the Jayhawks were given five or 10 or 15 extra seconds to escape Michigan State in the semis. So most of the 17,000 spectators were chanting "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk" Sunday as the remarkable Danny Manning scored 12 straight points to rally Kansas from a five-point deficit to a 75-67 victory over North Carolina State and the championship of the Midwest Regional. Home cookin'?
Now wait a minute. In this regional of the Long Count, let's give some well-deserved credit to the winners: a Kansas team tough and steady enough to withstand all that domestic pressure (neither Syracuse nor Georgia Tech could prevail at home), and sufficiently resourceful to find the will when there didn't appear to be a way. Twice.
On Friday, Kansas, whose players, especially hulking 7-foot center Greg Dreiling, hardly resemble a sprint relay team, won a scintillating 96-86 track meet in overtime over Michigan State. And the Jayhawks did it from low tide: behind by six points with less than a minute left in regulation; their two leading scorers, Manning and Ron Kellogg, having fouled out; their coach, Larry Brown, having aplombed out when he was whistled for a technical foul.
However, Michigan State, the best free-throw-shooting team in the land (80.5%), blew a couple of one-and-one opportunities, Kansas' Archie Marshall tipped in the tying basket while falling flat on his back and the Spartans' redoubtable Scott Skiles (20 points and at least as many cuss-outs) fanned on a broken-field run and off-balance 20-footer at the buzzer. Then came the anticlimactic extra period, in which Jayhawk senior guard Calvin Thompson merely scored eight of his season-high 26 points while limping painfully on a cramped-up leg.
As if that weren't enough weird science for Kansas, on Sunday N.C. State's Valvano had, as he put it, "game-planned" his again-surprising young Wolfpack into just the situation that he wanted: a snail's pace, a walk-down game, nervous Kansas in foul trouble, nervous Kemper fans sitting on their hands, quiet.
State's tandem giants, Chris Washburn and Charles Shackleford, with 37 points between them, had been dominant in the lanes just as they had been in the Pack's 70-66 semifinal elimination of Iowa State. Moreover, after the Wolf-pack answered a Manning basket by scoring six straight points—Ernie Myers converted a breakaway layup and was fouled to make it 57-52 N.C. State, with 8:53 left—the Wolfpack bench was feeling great.
Obviously it was time for Kansas to separate the boys from the Mannings or, said Manning, "as my dad [KU assistant coach Ed] says, it's only a matter of me wanting the ball." After Myers missed his free throw, the show opened—and for N.C. State, closed as well.
Manning rattled in a forced jumper with State's best defender, Nate McMillan, draped all over him. Manning pressured Washburn into a travel and scored on a baseline layup. Manning followed up his own miss on a mirror baseline drive for a third basket and hit from 14 feet for a fourth. Manning grabbed the rebound of a Kellogg iron ball and in the same midair motion banked in still another bucket. Five Kansas possessions over 2:55 yielded 10 Manning points and a 62-58 Jayhawk lead.
Reacting to an earlier timeout flare-up—"You don't want the ball," said Kellogg to Dreiling—an aroused Dreiling then scored nine straight inside points to break down the suddenly packing-it-in Pack. Manning had 22 points and six rebounds; Dreiling 19 and 12, causing the screaming Kemper denizens to create, in Valvano's words, "a drop in our sense of safety. Clapping, stomping, waving the wheat, singing that Rock Chalk, whatever the hell that is, I thought I was in the middle of Farm Aid."
The fact that on Friday night the timekeeper had not come to the referees' aid caused time to stand still in the Kansas-Michigan State semi. Between Spartan Vernon Carr's free throw with 2:21 left in regulation (MSU leading 76-72) and Kellogg's rebound tip for Kansas, the game clock did not change. The official play-by-play, kept on a computer utilizing a separate clock, listed 12 seconds between plays; CBS-TV counted 15. Because Spartan coach Jud Heathcote left his bench to pound on the scorer's table, demanding the clock be corrected, Brown blew up in his own tirade, earning a technical. Meanwhile, Skiles was being fouled by Kansas.
But to be fair, did it really matter? When play resumed, MSU had a chance for at least six unanswered points—Skiles' four possible free throws plus possession. The Spartans scored only four and still led 80-78 with freshman Mark Brown (no relation to Larry, also no chance) at the line with 20 seconds to go. Kansas would live to Rock again.
Manning reaffirmed that on Sunday when he made up for an early-season outing against N.C. State in which he scored but two baskets and was booed in his hometown of Greensboro, N.C.
"Just great," muttered Valvano as he watched Manning leave Kemper Arena. "First he turns down my recruiting pitch and leaves the state. Then he goes spectacular and makes all those baskets. Next he'll probably go eat Italian for dinner."
And who knows? This week maybe the national championship for dessert.