Nutty is thinking Derrick Williams had no business taking that failed three-pointerby Javier Morales on Mar. 27, 2011, under Sports
No qualms or questions here about Derrick Williams and Jamelle Horne taking three-pointers in the final two attempts of Arizona’s season Saturday.
In fact, knowing Williams and Horne had a chance to beat Connecticut should allow for a calm night of sleep for Arizona followers, despite the 65-63 loss in the Elite Eight game in Anaheim. Those who began watching the Wildcats in the postseason (ahem, national-media types) will argue that Arizona, namely Williams, should have attacked the basket with only a two-point deficit.
They don’t realize, or choose to consider, that Williams and Horne were mostly effective from three-point range all season. Entering the game, Williams and Horne were a combined 48.5 percent from three-point range — 48.5 percent! — and they are not shooting guards by any stretch. They are technically power forwards. For Arizona, those three-pointers are high-percentage shots, practically no-brainers.
And wasn’t it Williams who kept Arizona alive in the NCAA tournament by shooting 5-of-6 from three-point range against Duke in the Sweet 16? Nobody yelled “No! No! No!” when Williams tried a 25-foot three-pointer at the buzzer before halftime against the Blue Devils. He nailed it, to no one’s surprise really, especially those who know something about Arizona basketball.
When Kobe Bryant takes a step back and nails a long-range jumper in crunch time, is the first reaction: Why didn’t he take the defender off the dribble? Well, only if he misses, that’s when the cynics emerge.
Bryant can call his next shot, overriding Phil Jackson, because of his MVP status with the Lakers. Without him, how many NBA titles would the Lakers and Jackson have?
Williams similarly has earned that carte blanche status with Arizona and Sean Miller. Without Williams, the Wildcats do not have a winning record.
That’s not to indicate Williams can do whatever he pleases without consequence. That’s not a concern. Williams is not reckless and he generally plays within the team framework.
Telling: When Williams stepped back and launched his three-point attempt with 8 seconds left, Miller remained kneeling by the Arizona bench, motionless. He did not throw his arms up as if to suggest, “No! No! No!” None of the assistant coaches or his teammates flinched either.
“Derrick popped out after he set the second screen, which is fine,” Miller said. “He’s won about 15 games, and to have him shoot that shot, which I don’t know if it was a great one, but for him with the ball in his hands from three in that situation is something we all can live with.”
Think of it this way: A Williams’ three-pointer was converted 60 percent of the time this season. Any interior player would love that percentage for a shot near the basket; Williams just happened to be in a different comfort zone. Note to CBS’s Greg Anthony, who picked Arizona to lose Memphis in the first round: Williams taking that three-pointer was just as effective as him trying to maneuver around UConn’s bigs.
Columnist Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times wrote about the last sequence this way: “On the Wildcats’ final possession after a timeout, Williams threw up yet another nutty three-point try with seven seconds remaining, then teammate Jamelle Horne missed an open three-pointer at the buzzer. If you were wondering why Williams did not take the ball inside, you weren’t the only one. Said UConn Coach Jim Calhoun about the final stretch: ‘We were happy when Derrick Williams went outside.’”
Calhoun’s happy that Williams missed; if the shot goes in, he’s talking about how effective Williams plays all over the floor. A nutty three-pointer? That classifies as a heave or a wild one-handed throw like Washington’s Venoy Overton tried against North Carolina.
As far as Horne’s attempt goes, it was appropriate that Kyle Fogg made the split-second decision to kick the ball out to him. Fogg could have tried a mid-range jumper, but Connecticut’s players swarmed to him, leaving Horne wide open. The shot looked good on Horne’s release, just like the three-pointer he swished a minute earlier.
Thinking back to three years earlier, when Horne made forgettable late-game snafus as a sophomore, the prevailing thought would be, “Why is Horne in the game?” In a symbolic move, Miller inserted Horne, the lone senior, for the last sequence instead of playing decent three-point shooters Jordin Mayes, Kevin Parrom or Brendon Lavender.
“I think everybody in the room knows I should have made that shot,” Horne is quoted as saying. “It’s just going to be hard to sleep on that one for a while. I think it’s going to be hard to sleep for everybody.”
Sleep easy, Horne. They all don’t drop.
For Horne to put himself in a position to take the potential game-winning shot in his last attempt as a senior shows how far he has come. He never disappeared. He persevered. Horne can walk into any Tucson establishment today and receive a standing ovation. Who would have guessed that to be the case three years ago when he intentionally fouled that Alabama-Birmingham player with the game tied and time running out?
Lost in all the “should haves” from those who have not followed Arizona basketball for most of the season is the plain truth that the Wildcats had no business being in the Elite Eight.
Nobody thought Miller would coach Arizona to a regular-season Pac-10 title in his second season after finishing 16-15 overall last year. Nobody.
Thirty wins for only the fourth time in school history. Thirty?
Not a soul could have predicted Williams would play his way into being the potential No. 1 pick in the NBA draft when this season started. Not a soul.
Who could have predicted the Wildcats would not only beat No. 1 seed and defending national champion Duke, but pound the Blue Devils by 16 points in the Sweet 16. Who?
Talk about nutty. That’s nutty.