The clock had nearly run out on regulation in Villanova-BC, and there was Wildcats guard Kyle Lowry, standing alone on the right wing, ready to end the game. The ball was in his hands, the score was 51-51, and he was about to launch a buzzer-beating 3. Eagles center Sean Williams was in the far side of the lane when Lowry caught the ball, seemingly an impossible distance from which to make a defensive play. And yet, with two-and-half long strides, and needing every inch of his 6-foot-11 frame -- right down to his fingertips -- Williams made up the ground, deflecting Lowry's shot with the end of his left hand as the clock read 0.7 seconds.
The ball fell harmlessly into the hands of Jared Dudley as the buzzer sounded, forcing overtime, and Craig Smith ran straight for Williams to celebrate. A friend called my hotel in Atlanta to relay details via TiVo; "In fast motion," he said, "that play is stupid."
Hakim Warrick made this superhuman play in 2003.
Stupid, as in, awe-inspiring.
LSU's Darrel Mitchell, Texas' Kenton Paulino and Northwestern State's Jermaine Wallace have all become crunch-time offensive heroes in this NCAA tournament, but Williams' block was the clutch defensive play of the dance.
Williams and Warrick both made their beater-busting blocks with 0.7 seconds on the clock. The similarities, unfortunately for Williams and BC, end there. Warrick's swat of Kansas' Michael Lee sealed an 81-78 Syracuse win in the 2003 national title game.
Williams sent BC-Villanova to overtime, and the game was won by 'Nova 60-59 on a last-basket goaltending call -- which was whistled on Williams. It wasn't his fault; he was merely swatting away a wide-open look that the Wildcats' Will Sheridan had been given on an out-of-bounds-play breakdown by BC's defense. But it seemed like karma had paid Williams back in just five minutes' time.
Villanova went 0-for-9 on 3-pointers in the first half against Boston College -- a crazy stat that throws our by-the-numbers preview all out of whack. The Wildcats averaged 9.0 made treys per game in 2005-06, and their season-low 3-point total is four, which occurred against Seton Hall (Jan. 17) and St. Joe's (Feb. 7). 'Nova won both of those games -- but BC, which leads 28-24 at the break, is a whole different animal than the Pirates and Hawks.
Is the Wildcats' over-dependence on 3s finally going to catch up with them tonight? Or, does the law of averages mean that 'Nova will defrost in the second half? I'm expecting the latter.
This isn't an I-told-you-so post. But before delving into tonight's games, I'm going to revisit the telling Duke-LSU stats we put up here in yesterday's preview -- just to establish some credibility for this sort of analysis.
My LSU pick (in our regional breakdowns from Tuesday) was based heavily on this point-distribution spread compiled from kenpom.com, pitting the Tigers' offense versus the Blue Devils' defense:
When LSU has the ball (all figures are percentages, with national rankings in parentheses)
LSU had the perfect offense for Duke's D -- on the season, the Tigers have scored 82.8 percent of their points on twos and free throws, and rarely ever launch 3s. The Tigers made just two treys in a brutal offensive game (they shot 39.3 percent to Duke's 27.7), and the defense of Garrett Temple and Tyrus Thomas neutralized the Blue Devils' large advantage in offensive efficiency (119.5 to 111.1).
With that out of the way, let's move on to arguably tonight's biggest game: No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 4 Boston College in Minneapolis. First, examine how the teams stack up in tempo and efficiency (tempo is possessions per 40 minutes, offensive efficiency is points per 100 possessions, and defensive efficiency is points given up per 100 possessions):
Team Tempo (Rk.) OEff. (Rk.) DEff. (Rk.) Nova 67.5 (168) 118.6 (3) 89.3 (17) BC 63.3 (305) 117.7 (6) 96.8 (97) * Rk. is national rank in all of Division I
WHAT IT MEANS: The idea that 'Nova will run BC off the floor with its four-guard offense is incorrect, at least statistically. The Wildcats are only 4.2 possessions per game faster than the Eagles -- and the two teams' offenses are almost identical in their levels of efficiency. Where BC falls apart is its defense, which is significantly worse -- 7.5 points per 100 possessions -- than 'Nova's.
Here's how the point-distribution percentages are arrayed (with national rankings in parentheses):
WHAT IT MEANS: 'Nova's offense, which relies on 3s more than any team left in the bracket (at 36.1 percent), doesn't take advantage of BC's weakness -- which is giving up twos, even though it has Craig Smith and Sean Williams inside.
WHAT IT MEANS: BC's offense -- just like LSU's last night against Duke -- is perfectly suited to its opponent. The Wildcats won't be able to take the Eagles out of their traditional game plan.
THE FINAL WORD: Offensively, BC is well-positioned to knock off the second No. 1 seed of the dance. The Eagles have been just as efficient at scoring as 'Nova has -- even if BC hasn't received nearly as much publicity -- and they have an advantage of the glass.
There is still one, glaring problem: The Eagles, unlike LSU, are not sound on D, and 'Nova happens to be the second-best offensive squad (after Duke) that BC has faced all season. After the Thursday-night knockout of Gonzaga, the Eagles are now the worst defensive team, efficiency-wise, left in the NCAA tournament. And that, I fear, will be their downfall.
Adam Morrison (left) collapsed on the floor, crying, after his Zags squandered a massive lead and lost to UCLA.
John W. McDonough/SI
ATLANTA -- It's far too late, and I've posted too many times already, but I'm still riding an emotional high. Fans, can you believe everything that happened Thursday? I watched, courtside, as LSU knocked off No. 1-ranked Duke. And two hours later, from the same seat, saw Kenton Paulino's buzzer-beating 3 send West Virginia packing. I'm sitting here in the hotel viewing computer-video replays of UCLA's absurd comeback -- from down 17 -- to beat Gonzaga in Oakland, Calif., and Gus Johnson's "Un-believable"s are blasting out of my laptop speakers.
The Season Of Adam And J.J. ended with both of them breaking down and crying, on the same evening, 2,500 miles apart. In 2005, we had the epic Elite Eight Saturday, with Illinois-Arizona and Louisville-West Virginia; in 2006, we were given this thrilling, Sweet 16 Thursday.
Fans, will the '06 tourney get any better than this? And now that the RedMo duo has gone home, which players are going to define the final two weeks?
Kenton Paulino and the 'Horns now face LSU in the Atlanta Regional final on Saturday.
ATLANTA -- How could anyone be laughing at him now? Kenton Paulino, the surprise toast of Texas after drilling the buzzer-beating 3-pointer that sunk West Virginia, 74-71, was walking to the postgame press conference alongside teammates LaMarcus Aldridge and P.J. Tucker, when the 6-foot-11 Aldridge stopped, looked down at the 6-1 guard, and doubled over giggling. "KP! Your face!" Aldridge said, incredulously. "Did you really make that shot?"
Aldridge -- the statistical star of the game, with 26 points and 13 boards -- was the first one of the crazed Longhorns to reach Paulino after the shot, which was fired from the left wing on a fast break. Aldridge grabbed the heroic gunner -- who's usually second-seeded Texas' fourth option on offense -- and lifted him into the air. Paulino is a reserved kid -- they call him the Silent Assassin, just like LSU's Darrel Mitchell -- and the initial look on his mug, according to Aldridge, was one of total disbelief. I can't believe I made that shot, thought the senior guard who was just 1-of-6 from 3 up to that point. Even the refs had to review it; Paulino's release came so close to the gun that it needed to be confirmed on video before the teams could leave the floor.
Once his fit of laughter had subsided, Aldridge put his hand on the 6-1 guard's shoulder and in all seriousness, said, "Man, I felt like I was on One Shining Moment!" It was, undoubtedly, one of this NCAA tournament's most furious finishes. WVU erased a five-point deficit with 27 seconds left to tie the game at 71-71 on a fadeaway 3 from center Kevin Pittsnogle with the clock reading 0:06 -- only to have it countered by Paulino's dagger. "They did us one better," said Pittsnogle, and Texas coach Rick Barnes remarked that, "These are the kind of games that CBS wants."
These are also uncharted waters for most of the Longhorns (30-6), who bowed out of the 2005 dance in the first round (to Nevada), and lost in the Sweet 16 in 2004 (to Xavier, also in Atlanta). Only senior forward Brad Buckman saw serious action in their 2003 Final Four run; Paulino was a seldom-used reserve who played just two minutes -- in first-round garbage time -- during that stretch. And neither Aldridge nor Paulino had ever been on the winning end of a buzzer-beater; Paulino had squandered his only other chance at a collegiate game-winner, when he missed an 18-footer as time expired in a 89-88 to Wake Forest on Dec. 18, 2004.
Paulino may have had just eight points on Thursday night (he averages 9.9) against sixth-seeded WVU, but his aim was true on career buzzer-beater attempt No. 2. He was mobbed by the other 'Horns -- and even Texas' mascot -- after Aldridge lifted him into the air. "They were smacking me on the head," Paulino said of his teammates. Perhaps they were trying to elicit an outburst of emotion from their chilled-out savior, who, by the time he walked back to the locker room, was already starting to get absorbed in his Saturday meeting with Mitchell and the Tigers. Silent Assassin vs. Silent Assassin. Duke, the squad that slaughtered the 'Horns by 31 in December, was already out of the way (thanks, LSU!), and UT is just one win away from a trip to Indianapolis.
Paulino -- whose shot will be on One Shining Moment in April -- turned to me in the Georgia Dome tunnel and explained his stoic demeanor. "It feels good," he said, "but I've gotta move on."
"Already?" I asked. "You have to move on that fast?"
"Well," Paulino said, pausing, and breaking into a half-smile, "not quite yet." And then, even he started to laugh.