HOW YOU SEE IT, HOW YOU DON’T
“Beauty”, they say, “Is in the eye of the beholder.”
No matter how you beheld it, the play that ended last night’s UCONN men’s basketball win over Florida at Gampel Pavilion was just that, a real beauty, and not everyone beheld it the same way. Florida took a two point lead on a Michael Frazier layup with 17.7 seconds left and called a quick timeout to set up their final defensive stand of the night, designed to put a trap on the expected man with the ball, Shabazz Napier.
For 16.7 seconds it worked just the way Billy Donovan drew it up, Napier losing the ball in the trap, picking it back up and taking a wild shot that went wide of the hoop. The final second, however, turned the game. Deandre Daniels got a hand on the ball and tipped it back to Napier who hit a fallaway 15 footer as the clock hit three zeroes and bedlam broke out at Gampel. 12th ranked UCONN 65 – 15th ranked Florida 64.
“The guy who won this game for them was Daniels”, Donavan said in analyzing the game winning play, “He made an unbelievable tip out that kept the ball alive.”
Or did he?
“I don’t even know if I touched it or not”, said Daniels, “But I was really close and it bounced out to Shabazz and he hit that amazing shot.”
When given a chance to adjust his analysis and give himself credit for making the play of the game, Daniels offered a second, tongue in cheek re-cap. “Yeah, I was trying to tip it out to Shabazz”, he joked to a chorus of laughter, “I think they should put that in the books as an assist.”
Don’t tell Napier his teammate didn’t make the play that allowed him to make the shot. “Deandre put a hand on the ball”, he insisted after the game, “He got it up high and I was just able to be in the right place at the right time.”
That much, right place at the right time, a little luck involved, Donovan agrees with. “We did a really good job defensively”, said the Florida coach, “(Napier) lost the ball, our guys tried to recover it, but we didn’t take ourselves out of position.
“He took a very off balance shot”, Donovan said of Napier’s initial launch, “His (second) shot was really lucky. The ball was tipped to him. If it was tipped anywhere else it’s out. Our guys ran to the rim to go rebound which left space for Napier. We needed to keep a guy there and we didn’t.”
UCONN coach Kevin Ollie said he’d need another look, but he was pretty sure Daniels made the play. “It seemed like he hit it off the backboard”, said Ollie, offering a fourth perspective, “He definitely got a hand on it and pushed it back to Shabazz. Then it kind of reminded me of Richard Hamilton, I think it was in the “Sweet 16″, it was just a tap back and a fadeaway.”
Indeed it was in the “Sweet 16”, coach, 1998, against Washington, and indeed this was very similar. Napier remembers it as if it unfolded in slow motion. “When it comes down to the last seconds”, he said, “The game seems much slower than it is. As soon as I got the ball I saw point-nine seconds left and it just felt so slow. Point-nine, point-eight. I just tried to shoot the ball as quick as I possibly could, but, at the same time, shooting regular. As soon as I let it go I felt it was going in.”
There’s an old saying in basketball. It doesn’t matter what it looks like or how you see it, “Good if it goes.”
This one went, and it was a real beauty, in the eyes of any beholder.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.