Aggressive Rhode Island played to win; tentative Kansas played not to lose. So lose it did against the quicker, hungrier Rams on March 15.
The shy-guy Jayhawks, playing scared, got a six-point lead in the second half but kept tiptoeing as they've done too often in tourney play. The Roadies weren't impressed, 35 wins be damned.
Mindset has much to do with what happens at tournament time. The slightest doubt or uncertainty can be fatal. KU's mindsets have been lousy for quite a while. So was cocky Arizona's against fired-up Utah. It's called basketball and you gotta massage the nets.
Reverse the tape to April 1, 1991, at Indianapolis, Kansas vs. Duke for the NCAA championship. Duke set the stage immediately when quarterback Bobby Hurley shot a long alley-oop pass to forward Grant Hill and KA-BOOM! Intimidation. KU was in trouble from then on.
Never mind that underdog Kansas had knocked off Indiana, Arkansas and North Carolina in what might have been the best coaching job Roy Williams has ever done. KU needed to remain a devil-may-care swashbuckler in `91; that early thunder-dunk created just enough KU doubt and uncertainty for Duke to prevail 72-65. KU forgot to swash, so it buckled; the Devils nailed their first title. After a ferocious five-game surge, Kansas ran out of mental gas against a great opponent. Too timid in the clutch. Not quite mean enough.
Now fast-forward to March 15, 1998. Kansas knew Rhode Island was quicker with tremendous guards. So how did the Roadies get their first hoop? KU led 2-0 and downcourt headed the Rams. Guard Tyson Wheeler uncorked a long pass and partner-in-crime Cuttino Mobley did a 1991 Grant Hill -- whistling slam.
That rocked Kansas back onto its heels and it never could take command, as it did in ripping Texas Tech and Baylor here. Kansas kept playing not to lose rather than to kick-ass and take names. The all-too-customary lack of ferocity cost the Jayhawks again. Too focused on ``winning for Roy?'' How about winning for themselves?
But the sun came up on March 16, no asteroid hit the planet and my newest grandbaby's hug was just as delicious as it was before the KU disappointment. Williams and the lads need to stop grieving and move on to more important things. If losing to Rhode Island's the worst thing that ever happens to them, they'll live hellacious lives.
Roy realizes he needs quicker kids who can shoot better than many we've had around here. Sign `em, turn `em loose. He also needs to recognize he's no villain, considering the classy program he runs. No weep-sessions, Roy. Just grim determination, all-out effort and continued emphasis on enjoying kids who belong on a college campus rather than in some halfway house. And more mental toughness and firepower at crunch-time.
- Point of order: Dean Smith went 21 years as a head man before he got his first coonskin. Phog Allen was in his 35th season at Kansas when his came. John Wooden coached 11 years in high school, two at Indiana State and was in his 16th season at UCLA before No. 1. He bagged 10, but it took only four wins then rather than today's six.
Adolph Rupp coached at Kentucky from 1930 until 1948 before he captured the brass ring. Hank Iba at Oklahoma A & M won with towering Bob Kurland in 1945 and 1946; Hank had been a college coach 15 years up to that 1945 breakthrough. Arizona glamor-boy Lute Olson went 18 seasons before the golden ball dropped into his court. (It didn't devastate me that he didn't make it again this year, considering that 'Zona attitude.)
This is Roy Williams's 10th KU season and he's only 47. Lordy, Roy, you're good enough, smart enough and, doggone it, an awful lot of people still like you.
-- Bill Mayer's phone message number is 832-7185. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.