Final Four Minutes

“I don’t believe it.”
– Dennis McDevitt, my Dad.

It was by far the best final four minutes of basketball I have ever witnessed. A few days later, It still stuns me how the Fighting Illini Men’s Basketball team came back and won a contest that by most accounts was over.

But to throw caution to the wind and use a famous baseball quote, “It ain’t over, till it’s over.”

It the final stretch it was the Dee/Deron/Luther show. Three-pointers, steals, layups, improbable put-backs. Down by 13 with 3:28 left, down by 11 with 3:00 left, down by nine with 2:43 left. The orange clad fans at the arena and watching on their big screens saw the impossible.

Down by three with 45 seconds left. Deron Willians hits the three with 34 seconds left to lock the game at 80. He hits another three to open overtime. Then another to give the Illini an 88-84 lead. All the while, he alone confined the best shooter in college basketball, held him to a 2-for-13 night in the biggest game of his NBA-bound career.

And with 11 seconds left in one of the greatest games of NCAA recent memory, he made it impossible for Arizona to get a shot off to win the game.

“Deron Williams has ice-water running through his veins.”
– Dennis McDevitt, my Dad.

So much was riding on this one game — a Final Four berth, a season, a team never quitting, a fan base so energized media mavens were calling the All-State Arena, Assembly Hall North. The pressure of fulfilling a goal set waaayyy back in October.

But all you needed to do was have a little faith. I mean, come on, there’s an ordained reverend on this team.

In overtime, when a weary and most likely shell-shocked Arizona team had 11 seconds to erase the best four minutes of come-back basketball ever, they choked.

I could not believe Arizona did not get the ball to Stoudemire. I did not believe they would not get a good look at the basket, not set a screen, not drive to the hole to draw a foul. What they got was a horrible look, a ball careening off the backboard and Illini Nation breathing a sigh of relief and screaming like banshees all at the same time.

The Illini are in the Final Four. The first time since 1989.

“Luther Head still wants to play.”
– Dennis McDevitt, my Dad.

Saturday the team faces Louisville. They can probably beat this team. They can probably make it to the national championship game. They might even win it all. It might be simply fate.

What we will get this weekend is basketball anticipated at a level unheard of. Games will be played, but no one will be playing games.

Cardinals, Spartans, Tar Heels and Fighting Illini. Three Hall-of-Fame coaches going against a coach whose players this time last year had no faith in him. But faith is not what we are talking about here. It’s fate.

And in the end, the one left standing might be more than the best team this year. It will consider itself one of the greatest teams ever. It will be spoken in the same breath as Laetner’s Duke, Smart’s Indiana, Jordan’s North Carolina, Bird’s Indiana State.

Fate will decide who wins. Lets play ball and may the orange-ist team win.

“How did this happen?”
– Dennis McDevitt, my Dad.