"I've never been in that situation before," said Wilkes, the son of former Laker great Jamaal Wilkes. "You always dream about having the ball in your hands at the end of the game. But it's never like that. You dream of making a more orthodox shot."
After Wilkes' stunning shot, Thousand Oaks (27-3) still had a chance to re-claim the lead. With 10 seconds remaining, guard Dave Anderson stormed down court looking for any opening. He attacked the basket aggressively, but lost the handle on the ball and was called for traveling.
"I tried to create a 3-on-2," the senior explained, "but somebody stuck a hand in there and I lost the ball."
After Wilkes was fouled and made two free throws, the Lancers had one last shot but a desperation heave by Kasey Myers was off the mark.
"I felt like the teams were evenly matched – both good shooting, good ball handling teams with a big man inside," said Loyola coach Jim Williamson. "I knew it would be a dogfight."
He was right. Thousand Oaks led a tight affair for most of the first half and would have gone into the locker room up six at the break had Vince Oliver not canned a straight on three at the halftime horn. Behind Wilkes, Loyola (26-4) forged ahead in the third quarter, leading by as many as four points as Lancer big man Ben Olson languished on the bench in foul trouble.
Thousand Oaks got a little run of its own to open the final period. When Kevin Rex put his head down and scored inside, the Lancers led, 52-48. But Wilkes hit a triple from the baseline to pull the Cubs within one and the teams traded points until Wilkes' decisive shot with 10 seconds left.
Wilkes finished with 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting, including three-of-six from long range. Chris Rucker added 15 points and 15 boards, but the difference on this night clearly was the sharp-shooting junior.
"Wilkes came up and hit huge shots," said Thousand Oaks coach Rich Endres. "We couldn't stop him. He penetrated and he hit outside shots. Once a player gets his groove, it doesn't matter who's guarding him."
Three Lancers scored in double figures. Myers had 19 to pace the team, while Anderson had 14 and Olson added 10. It was a tough loss for the senior-dominated Lancers, who hadn't lost a close game all season and came into the contest riding a 23-game winning streak.
"The disappointing thing," explained Endres, "is these boys deserved to be champions. They worked so hard."