As Kimble puts it, "I played with Hank for 11 years, and there's no better story about his heart and resilience than the LSU game. He said [to Shaq], 'You did a great job blocking the first five shots, but good luck trying to stop the next 30.'"
In an epic, though, there is room for a final plot twist. Up 138--134 in overtime, the Lions pressed, created a turnover and—because the System was so hard-wired in them—Fryer hoisted a long-range bomb within four seconds. Loyola didn't need a three, and the lane to the basket was open ... but the Lions never passed up open threes.
This one missed, and momentum flipped. LSU converted the long rebound into a Randy Devall three-pointer, and that metastasized into a 9--0 run. Gathers never scored again, and Loyola walked off stunned after a 148--141 loss. CBS had no time for a wrap-up to make sense of things. The network cut away to coverage of the third round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, where viewers were promised glimpses of Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood and Don Johnson: a slow chaser for fast basketball.
Contextual Timeout No. 2: A Possessional Overlay
Unlike Debi Polito, I had the luxury of pause and rewind buttons, and I set to charting the full game in a spreadsheet. Polito's lone advantage was in being able to see the house scoreboards. CBS only displayed occasional time-and-score Chyrons; during a game of that speed they felt like lifelines. I had to use a stopwatch to fill in the blanks.
The possession count is staggering. In regulation LSU had the ball 116 times and Loyola 115. Each team had 13 more possessions in OT. LSU's possessions averaged just 11.3 seconds, Loyola's 9.7 seconds.
How does that compare to 2011--12? To be fair and not pick on one of the many games played at the speed of golf, I went searching for the highest-tempo games between two ranked teams last season.
It turned out to be Kentucky's win over Louisville in Lexington on Dec. 31, 2011, in which each team had 78 possessions. That game was not notable for being fast. Stout defenses held the score to 69--62, and the possession count was driven up by the fact that 52 fouls were called. More than one writer described it as a "grinder"; Kentucky's average possession was 16.7 seconds, and Louisville's was 14.1.
The graphic on the next page shows the first-half possessions from Kentucky-Louisville overlaid with the first-half possessions from LSU-Loyola. Such is the gap between the old and the new concept of up-tempo. I was reminded of a nugget that colleague Seth Davis tweeted in the lead-up to the 2010--11 season: "Rick Pitino just told me Louisville is going to play offense like the old Loyola Marymount teams. Does Bo Kimble have any eligibility left?"
It was nice to know that Pitino had a hankering for the System, even if he wasn't being entirely literal. But his Cardinals have averaged 67.9 and 66.9 possessions per game, respectively, in the past two seasons, a far cry from Loyola's 103.0. Accommodations must have been made.