Mr. Clutch awaits in this year’s Final Four
It’s the closing seconds of a tight game in the NCAA Tournament and the coach needs someone to take a big shot.
Experience helps, as does talent and preparation. There is another variable, too, that can’t necessarily be quantified.
“Those kids, they’re not afraid of the moment, and they really just rise to the occasion, all those clichés you want to use,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
Marcus Paige did it last year for North Carolina with a clutch basket late in the national title game before Villanova’s Kris Jenkins knocked down a game-winner. Luke Maye joined the clutch club this year with a jumper with 0.3 seconds to beat Kentucky to get the Tar Heels back to the Final Four.
Pressure is magnified under the bright lights of the NCAAs. These are situations in which intangibles may set clutch players apart.
Wisconsin pulled off a memorable victory after beating overall top seed and defending national champion Villanova in the second round on a game-winning reverse layup by Nigel Hayes with 12 seconds left. Hayes and guard Bronson Koenig were the headliners of a savvy senior class that produced in crunch time.
“And then you’ve got to get a little lucky too once in a while,” coach Greg Gard said before the regional semifinals.
A look at some memorable March moments and thoughts from coaches and players about performing in the clutch: NORTH CAROLINA: Experience paid off for the Tar Heels. Williams runs plays in practice with a 15-second shot clock for precisely the kind of scenario that the team encountered in the regional final against the Wildcats.
“We’ve won a few games like that,” Williams said.
OREGON: The Ducks may not have had the opportunity to reach the Final Four had Tyler Dorsey not come up with key buckets down the stretch of a 75-72 win over Rhode Island in the second round. Dorsey hit a contested, go-ahead three from the top of the arc with 38.4 seconds to go after tying the game with a three with 1:45 left. Dorsey, who scored 27 points, shook off two missed three throws with 3:36 left to produce late in the game. SOUTH CAROLINA: Southeastern Conference coaches might have named Sindarius Thornwell the player of the year, but the senior has made a star turn in the NCAAs. Averaging 25.8 points in the tourney, Thornwell has helped the Gamecocks rally from three halftime deficits in their run.
“The one thing in my history of players who have that is they always remain humble that they can fail at any time,” coach Frank Martin said. “They believe they can do it, but they also realize it can go the other way and that bothers them so they stay committed to the task.”
GONZAGA: The Bulldogs played in a lot of lopsided games this season. But coach Mark Few has pointed to non-conference wins over Florida, Iowa State and Arizona, each by single digits, as effective preparation to play NCAA nail-biters. That experience paid off especially in the 6158 win over West Virginia in the regional semifinals after Jordan Mathews hit the goahead 3-pointer with under a minute to play.