Sunday, March 29, 2009

The shot that just won't go away

It's been more than 11 years, but the final images of the Ole Miss/Valpo game from March 13th, 1998, are seared into my mind. Hell, it's got its own Wikipedia page. I've yet to watch a single replay of the play they call "Pacer". As soon as I see a March Madness promo with Jamie Sykes lined up on the baseline, I change the channel and grab a beer or two. To this day, I insist that Bryce Drew write a check to Ole Miss for upwards of $1M as he was a lottery pick in the NBA draft based almost entirely on that shot.

And it pops up in seemingly "safe" places when you least expect it. In last night's fantastic game between Pitt and Villanova, the Wildcats ran a play very similar to that which resulted in a tough leaner from 6 feet by Scottie Reynolds. As the play was unfolding, I began to have flashbacks to Ansu missing free throws, Keith fumbling the ball out of bounds, and a flailing Buck trying to stay with Bryce Drew. Reynolds scored with what was determined to be .5 seconds left on the clock. As the officials huddle to make sure the time was correct, Verne Lundquist said that play reminded him of the one "Valpo ran a few years back." Sigh...

There have been other buzzer beaters since, but none as perfectly drawn up and executed as that one. That 1997-98 team was the most talented team we've fielded in many years, even deeper and better than the 2000-01 team that lost in the Sweet 16. They just faltered at the end of the season, and are now immortalized as the victims of one of the most memorable finishes in Tournament history.

Even with Malcolm White leaving the basketball team, next year's team is more talented than either top to bottom. There's some work to be done, particularly now in the post, but the pieces are in place for a fun couple of years of hoops in Oxford. We just need to stay healthy and focused.

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