ST. LOUIS - In the rematch, Kansas missed the free throws and Memphis had the final shot.
The Jayhawks won again, but not without a tougher-than-expected fight from the undermanned and supposedly overmatched Tigers.
Cole Aldrich had 18 points, 11 rebounds and blocked five shots, helping No. 1 Kansas overcome a sloppy night to hold off Memphis 57-55 in a rematch of the 2008 national championship game Tuesday.
No miracles from Mario, no confetti flying from the rafters, but still another exciting finish.
“I can tell you this for sure: I’m 32 but I’m getting out at 35,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “I don’t know how these coaches coach until they’re 70. It’s unbelievable.”
Kansas (2-0) managed to lead most of the night despite 21 mostly sloppy turnovers, but couldn’t shake the scrappy Tigers.
Memphis (1-1) closed within three on Doneal Mack’s 3-pointer with a minute left, then cut the lead to 56-55 on Elliot Williams’ long 3 with 17 seconds left. Sherron Collins hit 1 of 2 free throws at the other end to give Memphis a final chance, but Williams’ contested 3-pointer clanged off the back iron.
Williams thought the shot was in. The Jayhawks held their breath until it caromed away.
“We’ve known for the past few days that they’re really going to give us a challenge and it proved to be right,” Aldrich said.
Memphis wasn’t supposed to have much of a chance against the depth and talent of Kansas, and had a miserable night from 3-point range, hitting 6 of 25. The Tigers hung around with scrappy defense, keeping the score low and the Jayhawks within reach far longer than anyone expected against the nation’s top-ranked team.
Williams had 21 points to lead Memphis, 0-9 all-time against No. 1 teams.
A loss, but a step in the right direction.
“The message we sent is that nobody is going to run over us,” Williams said.
The last time these teams played, it turned into one of the greatest games in Final Four history.
That was 18 months ago. These aren’t the same teams. Not even close.
Collins is the only major contributor left. Aldrich, despite outplaying North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough in the semifinals, logged four minutes in the final. The rest of the Jayhawks were either buried on the bench or watched it on TV.
Memphis’ Pierre Henderson-Niles, Willie Kemp and Mack played a combined seven minutes in the title game. None of the other Tigers were even on the roster.
Different teams, certainly a different feel.
The Tigers came out jittery, shooting airballs and wild 3-pointers that caromed high off the glass, getting their pockets picked from behind.
Kansas played out of control out of the gate, forcing up shots, turning it over on poor post entry passes and weak dribbles into the lane.
At the 15:55 mark, Kansas led 4-2.
“I thought we really got sped up,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Some of the plays we made in transition, we really got sped up.”
Fed up with the foolishness, Self yelled out to Collins: “1 game, get the ball to the big fella.” The Jayhawks did and Aldrich hit a layup, then a rebound slam before sitting out the final 1:34 after picking up his second foul.
Kansas went right back to the big fella in the second half.
Tyshawn Taylor found Aldrich on an alley-oop to open the half and Collins set up another dunk on an over-the-top pass to the post. That seemed to jump start the Jayhawks, who finally pushed their lead to double digits, 38-28 on Henry’s fastbreak layup.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Aldrich added a dunk on a dish from Collins to put Kansas up 52-45 with just under 3 minutes left. He finished 7 for 10 from the field after taking just five shots against Hofstra on Friday.
“I saw him in high school a bunch and I knew he was going to be good,” Pastner said. They do a real good job with their bigs. He’s a future pro.”
The Jayhawks needed every bit of what Aldrich gave them.
Collins, Kansas’ leading scorer, had 12 points and couldn’t play down the stretch while struggling with leg cramps. Former Memphis recruit Xavier Henry seemed too amped up at times — Tigers’ fans booed him plenty early — scoring 11 points on 3-of-11 shooting and turning it over four times.
Taylor had seven turnovers, most on forced passes in traffic, and the Jayhawks could only get off five 3-point shots — making one — against Memphis’ pressure defense.
“Hopefully, it’ll be a good teaching tool for us,” Self said.
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