UCLA made shots. Kansas missed shots.
I haven't gone back and watched the game again to determine the relative approximate cause (bad Kansas offense vs. good UCLA defense) of the second sentence above. I probably won't. In a box in a closet in my house there sits an unwatched tape of the 2002 National Semifinal, procured with the intention of charting Maryland's relative success against Kansas's man-to-man defense vs. Kansas's "point zone."
At least in the first half, Kansas missed shots they did a good job of creating. I believe that the quality and ease of shot that Kansas created declined as the game progressed.
Much of my writing here this season has depended on parsing final box scores in search meaning. I hope I have always remembered that those final numbers derive, in great part, from the effect of individual plays and brief sequences within the games. Because I am a Kansas fan and because Kansas lost, I cannot but wonder how the game would have played out if Kansas had converted some of their early opportunities, allowing them to trade blows with the Bruins for 40 minutes rather than attempting a desperate comeback over the final 13 minutes.
Because I am a Kansas fan and because Kansas lost, I focus not only on Kansas's improbable misses, but also on UCLA's improbable makes. This despite full knowledge that the inverse of both those descriptions most likely occurred. (The likelihood of Russell Robinson making both of his three-point attempts is about 11%.)
The inescapable fact of the game, the truth that catches wouldas, couldas, and shouldas in the throat, is this: UCLA won because they made shots that Kansas forced them into taking. Arron Aflalo's contributions in this regard were most frequent and impressive. Darren Collison's 23-foot heave over two Jayhawks as the shot clock expired elicited a pained, purely animalistic vocal response from me at the time. In my calmer moments and upon reflection I try to see the almost pure good fortune of the Bruins in that instance as another partial karmic payback for Clint Normore's less-contested, but similarly deep, desperate, and successful three-point make in Kemper Arena in 1988. Perhaps Collison's shot will prove to be the one that balances the books as we prepare for the twentieth anniversary of certain charmed events I would very much enjoy seeing replicated.
I had little doubt that UCLA was capable of beating Kansas. I only wish that the Jayhawks had given a better account of themselves with the ball in their hands. As a Kansas fan, though, I've experienced far worse ends to a season.
I have been cognizant of the last 24 trips Kansas has made to the NCAA Tournament. 23 of those trips have ended with a loss. 21* or 22** of those losses have been moderately to paralyzingly unpleasant. Even two days later it's a cold comfort, but I've seen worse.
*(The certain exception to unpleasantness: The 1995 loss to Virginia in the Sweet 16 was foreseen by me from the moment the brackets were announced and I knew the '95 team would return intact (and add Paul Pierce) for 1996. Unfortunately, they returned to lose to Syracuse in the worst-played Regional Final I have ever witnessed and cause the quietest two-and-a-half drive (factoring in number of people in the vehicle) I've ever been a part of on the return to Atlanta from Birmingham on the night of March 21st, 1997.)
**(A possible second exception to unpleasantness: The 1994 loss to Purdue in the Sweet 16. The supposition that Kansas had no one who could hope to guard Glenn Robinson proved extraordinarily true. The revelation that, if Kansas had found someone to guard Cuonzo Martin, Robinson's brilliance might not have been enough for Purdue to advance casts a retrospective pall of what-if over the game.)