ANAHEIM, Calif. — Jamelle Horne’s first reaction was to bring his hands, balled into fists, near his face. Disbelief. Dismay.
Time had run out. UConn was celebrating. Arizona was stunned.
Just moments earlier, Horne had launched a 3-point attempt from the right angle with about three seconds left. UConn star guard Kemba Walker watched in fear. This was it. Make or miss. Win or lose. Final Four on the line for both teams. With the ball in the air, Walker shouted, “Game time!”
The shot looked good. Horne said later it felt good.
It wasn’t good.
Arizona’s season — the one with 30 victories, a Pac-10 title and a thoroughly memorable and satisfying run to the West Region final — took an unkind bounce off the front of the rim and came to an end with a 65-63 loss to UConn on Saturday at the Honda Center.
Horne immediately turned to walk off the court toward the locker room. An official wouldn’t let him leave. It’s the NCAA Tournament. There is no damn place to hide.
When media was allowed into the locker room for interviews, Horne sat alone, elbows on knees, head in hands, his back to the room. Photographers snapped pictures. Horne hardly moved. Reporters wandered away, giving him space.
After several minutes, Arizona sports information director Tom Duddleston approached Horne. Horne eventually picked his head up. He was ready. In hushed tones, the raw pain was exposed.
“I think everybody in the room knows I should have made that shot,” Horne said.
“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.”
It was a shot anybody dreams of taking, dreams of making. The subtitle of the NCAA Tournament is One Shining Moment for a reason.
While the ball was in the air, it was almost as if everything was in slow motion. And then …
It’s cruel, really, the end coming so suddenly and so harshly.
For Horne, four seasons at Arizona led to those final few seconds. The incomprehensible late-game fouls early in his career. Having to play for three coaches in four years. Staying with it after nearly transferring a couple of times. Losing his starting job this season to a junior college transfer.
And yet the coaches thought enough of him that they called his number when the team was down five points late in the game. Horne, from nearly the same spot he would miss later, drained a 3-pointer to cut the Huskies’ lead to 65-63.
“If he didn’t make the first shot,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said, “we would never have been talking about the second shot.”
Arizona’s defense forced Walker into passing the ball on UConn’s final possession. Shabazz Napier missed the shot. Horne grabbed the rebound. The Wildcats called timeout with 18.2 seconds left.
Arizona worked the ball to Derrick Williams at the top of the key with about nine seconds left. He quickly calculated in his head. He didn’t want to drive and shoot the ball with maybe only four or five seconds left, not having time to grab a potential rebound.
He rose up for a 3-pointer. Side of the rim.
Kyle Fogg corralled the rebound and kicked it out to Horne.
“Everybody would have loved to have been in that position,” Horne said. “That’s literally a shot you dream about taking.”
What are you going to do?
Horne, the team’s only senior, didn’t rush the shot. He didn’t force it. He didn’t selfishly try to be a hero.
The ball came to him with a few seconds left and he was open.
“Like I told him, is that a good shot for the team? Yes,” Miller said. “You make some, you miss some.”
Miller challenged Horne last spring to be a better teammate, to work harder. Miller reiterated Saturday what he has said all season: “He was in a good place from start to finish. Accepted his role. Really listened, tried to do what we asked, and he had some big moments in his senior year that helped us have the year that we had.”
But with the miss, there will be no happy ending for Horne. He said the biggest shot of his life was the 3-pointer with 1:02 left. Then came the worst moment … and the wondering about what might have happened in the Final Four for the Wildcats if that shot had traveled just a bit differently, by an inch.
“For it to be at this kind of game, and for me to have made one right before that … it seemed as if everything was going to go right,” Horne said.
“It’s over. It’s over for me. As proud as I am for how this year went — we fought through some adversity and I’m pretty sure we gained some respect — but, you know, it’s over for me.”