Road to Fi­nal Four paved by big shots

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Ge­naro C. Ar­mas

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 the game- win­ner. Luke Maye joined the clutch club last week­end by mak­ing a jumper with 0.3 of a sec­ond left that beat Ken­tucky and ad­vanced the Tar Heels back to the Fi­nal Four.

Wil­liams drills his play­ers through those sit­u­a­tions in prac­tice ev­ery day. But it’s one thing for some­one to hit a shot on the prac­tice court. Pres­sure is mag­ni­fied un­der the bright lights of the NCAA Tour­na­ment. 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 at crunchtime.

“And then you’ve got to be a lit­tle lucky too once in a while,” Bad­gers coach Greg Gard said be­fore the re­gional semi­fi­nals. “You’ve got to make shots at the right time, get a stop at the right time. ... One lit­tle thing here or there tips the scales in a team’s di­rec­tion.”

The Bad­gers ex­pe­ri­enced heart­break in their next game, when Florida’s Chris Chiozza hit a buzzer­beat­ing 3- poin­ter in over­time on a play that started with four sec­onds left.

“But inmy off night when I’m in the gym or some­thing Imight do that two or three times the whole time I’m in there, and it nor­mally doesn’t go in,” Chiozza said.

A look at some mem­o­rable March Mad­ness 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 Ken­tucky.

“Be­lieve it or not, we have prac­tices where we play with a 15- sec­ond shot clock be­cause I want them to push the ball hard enough to get a great shot in 15 sec­onds, not just throw it up,” Wil­liams said. “We’ve won a few games like that.”

ORE­GON: The Ducks may not have had the op­por­tu­nity to reach the Fi­nal Four had Tyler Dorsey not come up with key bas­kets down the stretch in a 75- 72 win over Rhode Island in the sec­ond round. Dorsey hit a con­tested, go- ahead 3pointer from the top of the arc with 38.4 sec­onds left af­ter ty­ing the game on a 3.

Dorsey, who scored 27 points, shook off two missed three throws with 3: 36 left to pro­duce late in the game.

“Like Coach ( Dana) Alt­man al­ways says, keep my fo­cus first on de­fense and re­bound­ing and the of­fense, let it come,” Dorsey said. “That’s all I’ve been do­ing these last cou­ple games and my team­mates have been hav­ing con­fi­dence in me and I’ve been knock­ing down the shots.”

SOUTH CAROLINA: South­east­ern Con­fer­ence coaches named Sin­dar­ius Thorn­well the SEC player of the year, but the se­nior has made a star turn in the NCAAs. Av­er­ag­ing 25.8 points in the tour­na­ment, Thorn­well has helped the Game­cocks rally from three half­time deficits in their run to the Fi­nal Four.

“The one thing inmy his­tory of play­ers who have that is they al­ways re­main hum­ble that they can fail at any time. Con­fi­dence al­lows them to step up, be­cause some guys don’t want that, other guys love that mo­ment,” Game­cocks 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 non­con­fer­ence wins over Florida, Iowa State and Ari­zona, each by a sin­gle digit, as ef­fec­tive prepa­ra­tion to play NCAA nail- biters. That ex­pe­ri­ence paid off in a 61- 58 win over West Vir­ginia in the re­gional semi­fi­nals. Jor­dan Mathews hit the go- ahead 3- poin­ter with un­der aminute to play.

North Carolina sopho­more for­ward Luke Maye takes the shot that beat Ken­tucky in the South Re­gional cham­pi­onship game last week­end. Bran­don Dill, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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