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NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

Arizona Collapse Ill-Timed

Illinois wipes out a 15-point deficit in the final four minutes of regulation and hangs on in overtime to stun the Wildcats, 90-89, in Chicago Regional final.

March 27, 2005|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

ROSEMONT, Ill. — Arizona's 15-point lead was long gone, blown away in a blur of Wildcat turnovers and Illinois baskets, yet the Final Four was still only a layup away.

On the sideline, Illinois Coach Bruce Weber was firm. Anybody but Salim Stoudamire, the shooter who had saved Arizona so many times but was lost in a two-for-13 funk against Illinois.

"We were not going to let that little critter beat us," Weber said.

Trailing by one with 11.8 seconds left in overtime, Arizona's plan was to use the suddenly slumping Stoudamire as a decoy and try to get the ball inside to Channing Frye or let Hassan Adams drive, hoping either one would score or be fouled.

But as the final seconds of the 90-89 overtime victory that sent once-beaten Illinois to the Final Four ticked away, Adams dribbled beyond the top of the key, hesitating, uncertain, at last looking desperately for Stoudamire before heaving up a three-pointer that caromed off the backboard without even hitting the rim before the buzzer sounded.

When the crucial moments arrived, Adams seemed to freeze.

"I just didn't see an opening," he said. "When time was going down, I was hoping to get it to Salim -- he's been our go-to guy. Time ran down, and I had to put it up."

Weber could only wait.

"Five seconds, four, three ... he still hasn't done anything," Weber said he thought as he watched Adams. "When that red light finally went on, there was never a better feeling."

It was a feeling guard Dee Brown called "amazing" and "unbelievable."

"A miracle," Brown said.

Trailing by 15 with four minutes left in regulation and still down by 14 with 3:26 to go, Illinois roared back, spurred by quickness and steals and the three-point shooting of Williams and Luther Head, the Illinois guard who played with a painful right hamstring.

"If we don't have Luther, we have no chance," Weber said. "Luther hit the first three, there were a couple of steals, I'm not sure what happened after that. I know Deron hit the last one. It was just a blur."

With 45 seconds left in regulation, Arizona still led by three.

But an inbounds pass to Frye against the press that had been working well blew up when Jack Ingram dashed in and tipped the ball away.

Williams ended up with it and sank a three that tied the score at 80-80 with 39 seconds left.

Arizona missed three desperate shots before the game went to overtime, where two more three-pointers by Williams and a steal and a layup by Head helped stake Illinois to a 90-84 lead with 1:57 left.

Head finished with 20 points, five three-pointers and four steals, and Williams finished with 22 points, making five of nine three-pointers and adding 10 assists as well as playing the bulk of the defense on Stoudamire and defending Adams on the final play.

"Absolutely fabulous," Arizona Coach Lute Olson said. "You can see why they're 36-1. They're not a team that's ever going to give up.

"Salim said he had an off night. Anytime you have an off night there's a reason. ... Williams has extra length and strength and really made it difficult for Salim."

Adams had to contend with Williams on the final play too, after Williams switched off Stoudamire because Williams was cramping.

But the last play was never meant for Stoudamire, who made a 17-foot jumper with 2.8 seconds left to beat Oklahoma State in the regional semifinals Thursday and won two other games in the final seconds this season against UCLA and Arizona State.

"We didn't want a three," Olson said. "We wanted to attack the basket.

"Williams did a great job. He forced Hassan to go out six or seven feet from the high post."

With Adams in trouble, Stoudamire tried to come to the rescue at the end, but it was too late.

"The reason I came over was he was looking at me like he wanted to give me the ball," Stoudamire said. "It was just an off night on my part. I didn't knock down shots, but I didn't quit."

Arizona's season ended at 30-7, with Frye, who had 24 points and 12 rebounds, and Stoudamire, held to nine points, failing to reach a Final Four during their careers, an Arizona rarity. It might have been the final game for Adams as well, Olson said, suggesting Adams might turn pro.

"We'll look at [the loss] for a long time from a coaching standpoint," Olson said, already second-guessing himself for not having Ivan Radenovic in the game at the end.

"There are a lot of things that will force sleepless nights for everyone. Our team took the loss very hard because we played so hard and put so much into trying to get to the Final Four."

For Weber, who has carried the burden of a No. 1 ranking and is mourning the death of his mother shortly before the tournament began, there was a measure of relief.

"The last couple of weeks, every day has been a relief," he said. "It's survival. It's trying to get to sleep, just hoping we could keep advancing."

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Second Wind

Illinois trailed Arizona by 15 with four minutes to go and by eight with a minute remaining before forcing overtime (Illinois possessions in color):

1:03 Mustafa Shakur free throw, 80-72.

0:54 Luther Head three-pointer, 80-75.

0:48 Shakur turns ball over to Dee Brown.

0:45 Brown layup, 80-77.

0:43 Turnover on inbounds pass.

0:39 Deron Williams three-pointer, 80-80.

0:12 Jawann McClellan misses jumper.

0:11 Brown rebounds, turns ball over.

0:04 Salim Stoudamire shot blocked by Head.

0:01 Hassan Adams misses three-pointer.

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