Extra-Session Special

Two regional finals, two overtime verdicts - Lousiville-West Virginia and Illinois-Arizona provided one for the ages.

Things you could better spend your time on rather than racking your brain in an attempt to recall a more thrill-packed, can-you-believe-what-we-are-watching day of college basketball than what we were blessed with Saturday:
  • Getting started on at least one of those 500 or so novels and other books of fine literature that you've promised yourself you're going to read "some day . . . soon!"
  • Going through your car's glove compartment, pulling out the two or three dozen gasoline receipts and sorting them by date.
  • Recalling how tasty that late-night, drive-through cheeseburger and sack of greasy french fries (washed down with a large Diet Coke, naturally) were, minutes after promising to anyone in earshot, including the kid handing you the sack of scented cholesterol through the window, "I'm starting my diet tomorrow!"
Like balancing a bag of fries on your lap and that burger in your right hand while navigating a freeway, it doesn't come any better than what we saw in the regional finals played in Albuquerque and Rosemont, Ill., Saturday.

Louisville came from 20 points behind in the first half, and from 10 down with a little more than six minutes to play in regulation, to knock off West Virginia 93-85, in overtime, in The Pit in Albuquerque. Afterward, I was absolutely sure I'd just watched the most stirring NCAA tournament comeback since Duke came from 20-plus down late in the first half to beat Maryland in a semifinal of the 2001 Final Four in Minneapolis.

Yeah, and little did the millions of us parked in front of our televisions late Saturday afternoon and early into the evening realize that the best was yet to come.

I've already watched (thank goodness for TiVo and DVD recorders) the final four minutes of regulation and the overtime of the 90-89 victory over Arizona by Illinois and the same question exists that popped into my head immediately after Hassan Adams' desperate, fall-away 22-footer clanged off the backcourt, ensuring the Illini victory and reserving a spot in St. Louis for Bruce Weber's team:

Was that the most remarkable rally I've ever seen in basketball?

Well, I've seen some whoppers but none during a game that was being played on such a national platform, and with so much at stake, as the game in the Rosemont Allstate Arena.

Trailing by the Wildcats by 15 points with four minutes to go in regulation and by 14 a little more than 30 seconds later, Illinois and its national championship aspirations were more than just "on the ropes," to dip into the world of boxing, as the Motion Picture Academy did in handing out its Best Picture hardware last month, to find the appropriate cliché.

Weber's team was falling through the ropes while being pummeled with left- and right-handed body shots.

It was bleak, folks.

But there are a multitude of reasons why Illinois had won 35 of its 36 games before hooking up with Arizona Saturday.

Stunning perimeter play, the cool leadership of Deron Williams, Luther Head and Dee Brown, and the kind of defensive pressure for which the Illini have never received full-fledged recognition are some of them.

And all of those things kicked into overdrive just when we were beginning to imagine an Illini-less St. Louis next weekend, beginning with Williams' three-pointer with 3:52 to go that started the frantic, almost hypnotic, 20-5 burst that Illinois closed regulation with to send the game into overtime.

In days, weeks, months and, sure, years to come, the game – especially those stunning final nine minutes – will be discussed, debated and replayed, mentally and literally, by those in the building or watching the CBS broadcast. And how appropriate, by the way, that the network's play-my-play announcer on the broadcast was Dick Enberg, of the trademark "Oh, my!" signature remark.

Arizona Coach Lute Olson and his players will be nit-picked constantly by those who want to offer up that the Wildcats "got too negative" (offensively) down the stretch, got too careless with their ballhandling and passing, should have come up with a better executed plan on the final possession that ended with Adams' desperate three-point heave with Williams in his chest or just plain "gagged," like a feline coughing up a fur ball.

And they'll be missing the point completely.

Did the Wildcats help the Illini comeback with some less-than-crisp passing that led to Illinois steals? Absolutely.

But it's praise that should be heaped upon the Illinois players – every guy on the court made both critical defensive and offensive contributions in those frenetic moments of the rally and then overtime – much more than elements of blame tossed at a bunch of Arizona players and coaches who appeared frozen in disbelief afterward.

Come to think of it, maybe it was only the Illinois players who weren't among the disbelievers moments after the buzzer sounded following Adams' miss.

Maybe they were too busy believing while chipping away at that 15-point deficit to give any thought to the concepts of "there isn't enough time" or ""t's over."

The Illinois players, apparently, will let us know when "it's over."

And who is to suggest to them now that it might come before late night on April 4, with them snipping at nets hanging from the rims in the Edward Jones Dome?

Not me, you or anyone else – not after what we witnessed in the only-seeing-is-believing mode Saturday.



Recently elected to the USBWA Hall of Fame, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's National Basketball Expert and also covers college basketball for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at FrankHoops.com

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