Every now and then, someone (occasionally not a woman or a foreigner, either) will ask what could possibly be so compelling about watching 10 guys in long shorts running up and down a hardwood floor for two hours. To which I’ll answer on this glorious night, no matter how many times I’ve watched college basketball, there is always the chance that something will happen that I’ve never seen before and might never see again. And what could be more compelling than 3 middle-aged guys in zebra shirts hunched over a 5-inch TV monitor, reviewing the same regulation-ending play, over and over again, while 16,000 patrons stand around scratching themselves?
19 lead changes, 10 ties, 2 overtimes, and at least 48 ounces of a flat, black liquid optimistically dubbed Diet “Coke”.
(The Spartans’ Shannon Brown, 24 points, throwing it down)
In all seriousness ladies and gentlemen, Sunday’s regional final between Michigan State and Kentucky was as packed with intrigue and drama as any game I’ve attended. On the intrigue scale, Mark Story of the Lexington Herald is wondering like so many others, how Kentucky failed to get off a shot with nearly 26 seconds left in the first overtime.
Eschewing a time out, Tubby Smith called a play from in front of the UK bench.
According to numerous UK players afterward, the plan was for Rondo to work the clock down to around eight seconds, then attack the basket by driving the lane.
Said Chuck Hayes: “We wanted Rajon to drive, put the ball on the rim and then me, Randolph (Morris) and Kelenna would attack the glass.”
But, instead, Michigan State jammed the lane. Rondo couldn’t penetrate and wound up pitching the ball to Azubuike on the wing.
The 6-foot-5 junior said he thought he saw three seconds on the clock when he received the ball. Under heavy defensive pressure, Azubuike chose to drive the ball toward the baseline.
“I should’ve just risen up and shot it,” he said later in a subdued Kentucky locker room. “But I thought I could create space and get a shot.”
With the Final Four on the line, the clock expired without UK getting a shot.
Said Smith: “You hand it to Kelenna and hope he would jump up and shoot it – but he didn’t.”
Tournament basketball is packed with ironies. Tubby Smith is one of the best late-game situation coaches I’ve ever seen, but, in basketball terms, this was pretty much the unpardonable sin.
The Final Four on the line and you don’t get a shot?
For Tubby – whose team gave one of the biggest-hearted efforts any Kentucky team ever has in a big game – this will be the second-guess equivalent of Rick Pitino’s decision not to put a man on the inbounds passer in the famous 1992 “Christian Laettner” game.
A lot of this will be unfair. But a captain goes down with his ship, and a coach is responsible for the outcome of late-game situations.
So those who want to look for reasons to bash the current Kentucky coach have a new and fair one if they want it.