One of my first memories of watching soccer with a non-soccer fan involves a friend asking why one team just kicked the ball out of bounds for no reason. The answer, of course, was sportsmanship. For decades, players who saw an opponent injured would kick the ball out of bounds so they could receive treatment.
These days, that sort of sportsmanship has been taken out of the game as referees will decide when to halt play for serious injuries (usually of the head variety) but otherwise players are encouraged to keep going until the whistle, in part because of the proliferation of players feigning injury to stop the opposing team’s offense. You’ll still see teams knock the ball out of bounds on occasion, but it’s no longer the norm.
That sportsmanship play made a return on Monday night, albeit in a basketball game.
Kansas claimed its fourth NCAA men’s basketball title with a come-from-behind victory over North Carolina on Monday night. Down 15 at the half, the Jayhawks overcame the largest deficit to win a national title game. In the dying moments, when Kansas could have added to its lead, the Jayhawks instead pulled out a page from the soccer sportsmanship playbook.
In the final minute of the game, Tar Heels star Armando Bacot rolled his ankle going to the basket. The UNC player stayed down as the other nine players went down to the other end of the court. Kansas could have easily used the numerical advantage to add to its one-point lead. Instead, the KU guards held onto the ball, allowing Bacot to hobble down the court at which point the referees halted the game for the injury. The referees would have allowed play to continue if not for Kansas choosing to not initiate its offense.
Kansas Sportsmanship vs. UNC
Armando Bacot goes down.15p/15r#UNCvsKansas #UNCvsKU #KansasvsUNC #KansasJayhawks #CollegeBasketball #RockChalk #CarolinaFamily #NationalChampionship #MFinalFour pic.twitter.com/oxAqYvCysG
— BasketballBuzz.ca (@basketballbuzz) April 5, 2022
You could argue Kansas just wanted to run clock instead of trying to score in the closing minutes, but considering how some of the KU players were yelling at the guards to run the offense, it’s clear some wanted to score instead of wind down the clock.
After the timeout for the injury, David McCormack hit a short-range hook shot to put the Jayhawks up 72-69, which proved to be the final score as the Tar Heels missed a trio of three-pointers in the final 15 seconds.
Sportsmanship doesn’t always pay off in elite-level athletics, but it did on Monday night. I’m just disappointed Megan Rapinoe wasn’t on hand to provide analysis like she was for the women’s NCAA final on Sunday.