Sweetest NCAA Memories #8: Illinois’ Scintillating Comeback

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2009


RTC asked its legion of correspondents, charlatans, sycophants, toadies and other hangers-on to send us their very favorite March Madness memory,  something that had a visceral effect on who they are as a person and college basketball fan today.  Not surprisingly, many of the submissions were excellent and if you’re not fired up reading them, then you need to head back over to PerezHilton for the rest of this month.  We’ve chosen the sixteen best, and we’ll be counting them down over the next two weeks as we approach the 2009 NCAA Tournament.

Deron Williams Will Not Go Quietly  (submitted by Josh of Big Ten Geeks)

Who can forget Illinois’ 2005 comeback against Arizona?  This game certainly made Deron Williams a lot of money, but what strikes me about this contest is how everything had to go right for the Illini, and everything had to go wrong for Arizona in the final four minutes of regulation.  Illinois hit just about every shot they put up, even if it was from 30 feet, and every gamble they made on defense paid off.  There are more “what ifs” in this game than any other I’ve seen.  What if McClellan made both of his free throws, what if Hassan Adams was just a step quicker to block Dee Brown’s layup, and Arizona fans probably wonder what if the refs didn’t swallow their whistles in the last 4 minutes?  While I’ve never seen a better comeback, I have seen the same kind of furious rally at the end many times.  It happens when the better team suddenly realizes that there’s only a couple minutes to play, wakes up, and tries to mount a furious comeback.  The fans will later reflect on why the team didn’t play like this all game, but in the midst of the comeback, they’re just excited that the team might just pull this one off.  Inevitably, the gap shrinks, and it’s really just a matter of whether the underdog can avoid making a couple of mistakes that open the door.  Arizona left that door open, and the Illini marched right through it.


Illinois of course had a historic season from a results standpoint, but they were also very entertaining to watch because of how they diced teams up on offense.  They didn’t have the most NBA players on the team, but they were unselfish and everyone played to their strengths.  A part of me thinks that while the Illini certainly wanted to win and go on to the Final Four, they also weren’t ready to stop playing together on that fateful evening in Chicago.

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