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Boulder, Colo. From the coach to the veteran players, members of the Kansas University basketball team repeatedly have made it clear the No. 1 ranking thrills them not in the slightest in February.
Maybe so, but it means a ton to every opponent on the schedule. It gives each one a cause. For the underdogs, it’s a chance to gain national recognition in the most important way in their worlds, which of course means leading that night’s SportsCenter telecast.
For the Colorado University players, Wednesday represented an opportunity to carve a lifelong memory out of an otherwise mediocre season packed with homecourt victories and road losses.
The cause made the students louder, put a little extra oomph in the talented dance team’s every move and fueled the home players with adrenaline, the perfect ingredient to blend with the looseness that comes with playing on the side nobody thinks has a shot to win.
Conversely, for most of the night, Kansas played without a cause, and it showed. You can’t win one for the Gipper every night.
How in the world did a Colorado team that now has lost as many as it has won take No. 1 Kansas to overtime before losing, 72-66?
The explanations ranged from the especially troublesome altitude to mysterious shooting woes from close range, the free-throw line and beyond.
It was such an eerie night in the Coors Events Center that one strange thought stepped to the forefront of a brain, mine, crammed with so many: Everyone always talks about how much farther the baseball travels in the Colorado altitude, but nobody ever concludes that the basketball does the same.
“I think I’m going to take that, and I’m going to tell coach that’s why we missed all those free throws, the ball was going too long,” said Sherron Collins, who made just six of 17 from the field and misfired on all five three-point attempts.
Collins was joking. Sadly, I wondered if there might be something to the original theory. Remember, people used to think the earth was flat, mocked the first who said otherwise.
The obvious counter to the reality that some of the free-throw misses were so short they were nearly airballs: Visiting players subconsciously become aware of the long-ball theory and compensate by aiming shorter, an adjustment that backfires because legs grow tired more quickly because of the thin air. Tired legs result in short shots.
Unusual circumstances trigger bizarre thoughts. Yet, it’s not as odd as it seems for such a mismatch to become a coin toss. Just last week, now-No. 2 Syracuse defeated overmatched DePaul by just two points.
Heavy-legged and light-headed, Kansas didn’t play a particularly smart game. Tyshawn Taylor’s wild drive and shot hard off the glass seven seconds into the shot clock while protecting a three-point lead with less than three minutes remaining raised the question: Has a player’s role ever been to take a wild shot seven seconds into the shot clock while protecting a three-point lead?
In overtime, the Jayhawks played smarter and embraced a simple cause: win. They did. In the end, that’s all that ever matters.