Thursday, Dec. 09, 2010

A College Basketball Cinderella Comes Oh So Close

Rarely has a half-court heave carried the vanquished hopes of so many underdogs. With 3.6 seconds left in the men's college basketball championship between Duke, the perennial power and heavy favorite, and Butler, the small-school underdog playing in front of hometown fans in Indianapolis — it was a script straight out of the movie Hoosiers — Duke clung to a two-point lead. On a second free throw, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski ordered Brian Zoubek to miss it on purpose, since Butler had no timeouts left, and thus wouldn't be able to set up a last second-play.

Coach K is a bonafide Hall of Famer, but that strategy was atrocious. The intentional miss gave Butler a chance to win, and the Bulldogs took full advantage. Butler's Gordon Hayward pulled down the rebound, and dribbled toward half-court: teammate Matt Howard delivered a brutal, but perfectly legal, screen on Duke's Kyle Singler, giving Hayward, Butler's best player and soon-to-be the 9th overall pick in this year's NBA draft, a clean look at the hoop. Hayward's running half-court shot seemed to hang in the air forever. When it finally came down, right on line, many a fan's gut feeling had it going in: it would have been the greatest ending to any championship sporting event, ever. But it bounced off the backboard, and jetted past the rim. Kryzyzewski won his fourth national title. "Felt good, looked good," said Hayward afterwards. "Just wasn't there."