Monday, March 28, 2005


The Wildcats' season came to an end yesterday in an excruciating rollercoaster double-overtime game against Sparty and his minions. The capper on an unmatched set of regional finals over the weekend (two overtime games on Saturday and this double-overtime thriller on Sunday), this game on the heels of the Illini overtime victory the night before just about caused my head to literally explode.

In short, the heart was there; the execution was not.

Sparty seemed to have wrapped the game up, taking an eight-point lead with 4 minutes left in regulation, but as we found out all weekend, no lead is safe. The Cats battled back, and an incredible three-pointer by Patrick Sparks at the buzzer sent it into overtime. The shot was incredible for several reasons. First, because it was actually the Cats' third attempt at a game-tying basket. Sparks missed a shot from the right wing, which was rebounded by Kelenna Azubuike, who then dribbled to the right corner and fired a turn-around three pointer, which caromed out to Sparks at the top of the key. Patrick then pumped-faked and leaned into Kelvin Torbert (no call, not this time Pat) and let fly.

The second reason it was incredible was the fact that the ball literally took a tour of the entirety of the rim before settling through the net. Quite frankly the second bounce, the one at the front of the rim, seemed to defy the laws of physics themselves by working its way towards the backboard rather than rolling off.

The third reason it was incredible was the fact that his toe was mere nanometers from the three-point line. CBS examined this fact in excruciating detail for the assembled referee corps before the call was finally made that it was indeed a three-pointer and that overtime was in store.

The first overtime saw the other two defining sequences of the game. With 4:05 left in the overtime Azubuike made two free throws to give the Cats a 79-75 lead. The next Sparty possession involved no fewer than five offensive rebounds culminating in a Shannon Brown three-pointer to cut the lead to one. A defensive rebound on any one of those five missed shots would have given UK the ball and a four-point lead. Not to be.

Instead, the game seemed to come down to the final possession for the Cats. Unfortunately, they exhibited absolutely no idea what to do with the ball during this critical possession. Rajon Rondo held the ball too long, finally passing to Azubuike 22 feet from the basket with 5 seconds left. Then Azubuike was unable to find a path to the basket or a clean look and the buzzer sounded without a shot being fired.

That was the death knell, and the second overtime was a mere formality. Sparty 94, UK 88, end of season.

A great one it was, 28 wins 6 losses, an SEC Championship, a berth in the Elite 8, but that one possession will surely leave a bitter taste for a long time. Let's hope it serves to motivate next year's team, one which has all the makings of a pre-season Top 5 club with every possibility of finally returning to the Final Four.

For now, though, GO ILLINI!


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