March Moment: Morrison And The ZagsPosted by jstevrtc on March 17th, 2010
Few college basketball fans are born with their love for the game. For most aficionados, at some point on the way from infancy to college hoops fan, there is a moment. A single play, shot, player, game, or event at which point they say to themselves, “I will always have this in my life.” Because it is the time of the season that carries the most gravitas, these things often happen in March. We asked some of our friends and correspondents: what was the thing that turned you into a lifelong college basketball fan? What was your…March Moment? We’ll be posting some of their answers for the rest of the month.
In this submission, RTC Big 12 correspondent Patrick Sellars illustrates one of the great aspects of being a college basketball fan — how a team with which you have no rooting interest or affiliation can somehow find its way into your heart:
It was my freshman year in high school, and I would say I was a modest college basketball fan at best. I watched the big games, the conference tournaments, and of course the “Big Dance” but I wasn’t a diehard like I am today. The team, but more importantly the player, that changed this all for me was Adam Morrison and his 2005-06 Gonzaga Bulldogs. The first game I watched the Zags play was the 3OT thriller against Michigan State in the EA Sports Maui Invitational, Morrison put up 43 points in the Gonzaga win. After this game I was hooked on Morrison, this shaggy haired, awkward, lanky, peach fuzz mustache flaunting kid with diabetes was draining NBA range threes over athletic guards, and he did it with passion and intensity that I haven’t seen in college basketball since.
Over the course of the season I saw every single game they played, I even talked my parents into buying the Fox College Sports West TV package so I could stay up late for all of their WCC contests. I lived and breathed Gonzaga basketball, and as a kid from Wisconsin with no affiliation to the school all my peers called me a “fair-weather-fan”. However, I didn’t care, because I was so enticed by the Gonzaga team.
As the rest of the season unfolded there were many great moments. Everyone remembers the Oklahoma State game with Morrison’s bank in three, Gus Johnson screaming at the top of his lungs “LARRY BIRD!!!! BABY!!!” I was euphoric, ironically Gus Johnson would make another call later in the year that still haunts my dreams to this day.
It was the Sweet 16, #3 seed (even though they probably deserved a 2 in a different bracket) Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. #2 seed UCLA Bruins. It was the battle of the two best teams from the west coast, the Cinderella story that turned into a national powerhouse against THE national powerhouse. Adam Morrison vs. Aaron Afflalo, Derek Raivio vs. Jordan Farmar, J.P. Batista vs. Ryan Hollins and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. I remember having an orchestra concert earlier that evening and getting constant score updates about the Duke vs. LSU games on my cell phone and after Duke lost, my least favorite Duke team of all time, I thought it was going to be a great night.
After my concert I rushed home just in time for tip-off, I didn’t even bother to change out of my tuxedo until halftime. The first half could not have gone any better for the Zags, who at one point were up 17 points behind tremendous play from Morrison and Batista. UCLA seemed as if they were done, they couldn’t hit a shot from the field, and they didn’t have any answer for Morrison. At half it was Gonzaga 42 UCLA 29. The second half was back and forth, but Gonzaga maintained a sizable lead, up 9 with three minutes to go. As a naïve college basketball fan I though this game was over, and I quickly started writing a song to sing to my friend who was a Duke fan, I believe the first words were something like “Duke was sweet, but Gonzaga is elite,” it would have been on Billboard top 40. Then disaster struck. UCLA cut it to three with 40 seconds left to go, I was a little worried, but I knew with Gonzaga’s great free throw shooting and ball handling skills that we would come out victorious. The Zags had the ball, and after Morrison missed a contested jumper form the corner, Batista was called for a loose ball foul with just 19.7 seconds to go. It was a pretty bad call, and it probably decided the outcome of the game, but nonetheless Gonzaga still was in a good position to win, even after Hollins hit two free throws. The rest pains me to put into words, but I’ll try my best. David Pendergraft inbounded the ball to Morrison just off the baseline, after being trapped he threw it cross court to Batista who held onto the ball too long and got it stolen by Farmar who then found Mbah a Moute cutting to the basket for a easy layup. Gonzaga quickly inbounded, down one, and Raivio brought the ball over mid court and had it stolen with 2.6 seconds left. Aaron Afflalo was fouled and made 1 of 2 free throws, and on the Zags inbound they got a pretty good look for Batista but the shot sailed long, not even drawing rim.
I was in shock, and as I watched Morrison lay at midcourt, tears pouring down his face I couldn’t help but join in with him. This was my team, my player, and to lose in this fashion was like having somebody kill your puppy. The rest is history, Gus Johnson became famous for calling this game, Morrison went to the NBA where he hasn’t been “the next Larry Bird”, and Gonzaga has never held the place in my heart that the 2005-06 team did. Sure, this wasn’t the greatest “March Moment” for me, but it defines everything I love about college basketball. You can’t take anything for granted in this sport, even as a fan. Ever since that season I’ve been a diehard college basketball fan, the worst time of year for me is April to November when nothing is going on in the sport. That moment crushed me, but it also captivated me into loving the greatest sport on earth.