Warrick's massive wingspan kills key shot for KUPosted: Tuesday April 08, 2003 1:37 AM
Updated: Tuesday April 08, 2003 3:12 AM
By Albert Lin, SI.com
NEW ORLEANS -- Roy Williams had no way of knowing it at the time, but at his team's Sunday-morning news conference, he described how Kansas would be denied the national championship.
"[Syracuse's 2-3 zone] is better this year than it's ever been because of the length of the athletes they have. They have big guys who can cover a lot of ground," Williams said. "NFL people talk about how a cornerback or a safety closes on somebody, takes up that gap. I think that's the same thing that Syracuse does better than anybody."
That zone gave the Jayhawks problems most of the game, but they picked up their own defensive intensity in the second half and gave themselves a chance in the final seconds.
With the clock ticking down on the season and Kansas trailing by three, senior All-America Kirk Hinrich passed up a shot and swung the ball into the left corner, where sophomore guard Michael Lee was stationed without a defender within 12 feet of him. Lee had made all three of his 3-point attempts in Saturday's semifinal win and one of four leading up to that moment. That one, significantly, came from the very spot in which he was standing.
"I'd told myself if I got a shot late in the game, I would knock it down," Lee said afterward. "I knew it was a possibility that it was gonna come my way."
Lee caught the ball cleanly, his feet already squared to the hoop, then turned his torso and elevated. But his view of the basket suddenly was obscured by the body of Syracuse sophomore Hakim Warrick.
"I saw him coming, but I felt like I had more time to get the shot off," Lee said.
Instead, the incredibly long and athletic Warrick reached out his left hand and cleanly swatted away Lee's shot, sending the ball out of bounds with only 0.7 seconds showing.
"All I saw was the rim. I didn't even know the shot was blocked," Lee said. "I thought it was still floating in the air. After it happened and I looked where the ball went, it was surprising how much ground he covered."
Officials put eight-tenths of a second back on the clock, but Hinrich's desperation 3 over three defenders didn't draw iron, and Syracuse left the Superdome with the national title.
Warrick's play and the Orangemen's championship may have been some sort of karmic payback. Longtime fans remember that in Syracuse's first Final Four appearance under coach Jim Boeheim, in 1987, in this same building, the team was victimized by a jumper from nearly the exact spot on the floor where Lee had been stationed.
"I saw him in slow motion," Warrick said. "I was thinking, This can't be happening again. I didn't want another one of those Keith Smart shots."
Warrick, a 6-foot-8 sophomore who has drawn physical comparisons to Darius Miles, had missed a pair of free throws with 12.4 seconds left that could have made it a two-possession game. Redemption could come only on the defensive end.
"I was in the lane and I saw the pass go over there. I thought, This dude is wide open," Warrick said. "From where I started out, I knew I could get to it. I was worried about him pump-faking to try to get a foul, but I knew I had a chance to block it."
He did just that, preserving the lead and making the Superdome 4-for-4 in fantastic championship-game finishes. For a split second, it appeared Lee would add his name to a list that includes Michael Jordan's corner jumper in 1982, Smart's 1987 heroics and Chris Webber's blunder. Instead, Warrick will go down in the history books.
"I should've been more ready and shot it quicker, more alert in that situation," Lee said. "He made a great hustle play."
It was more than just hustle. Warrick said that Syracuse has drills it uses to work on closing the gap on shooters, but "most of it is just our athletic ability."
Athletic ability that Williams knows all too well.