College basketball fans over the age of 20 undoubtedly remember the 1997 Kansas Jayhawks, a team that was 34-1 (its only loss coming on the road at rival Missouri) heading into its Sweet 16 match-up against a 21-9 Arizona team. That Jayhawk team was coached by Roy Williams (back when he was known for his inability to win the big game) and featured Jacques Vaughn, Raef LaFrentz, Scot Pollard, and a talented sophomore named Paul Pierce. Coming into the game the Jayhawks were heavily favored with good reason having compiled that record despite having Vaughn sit out most of their non-conference schedule with an injury.
As you know things didn’t work out Roy’s Jayhawks. That night Lute Olson and the Wildcats pulled off one of the great upsets of the decade. In retrospect, looking at the talent on the Arizona team it shouldn’t have been that shocking since the underdogs had the eventual tournament MOP (Miles Simon) along with future NBA stars (Jason Terry and Mike Bibby). Still at the time the result shocked the nation. Despite a valiant effort from Pierce who had 27 points (on just 13 FG attempts) and 11 rebounds, the Jayhawks needed a flurry of late 3s to cut into the Wildcats lead. After Bibby hit a couple of late free throws to extend the lead to 3, the Jayhawks were forced to attempt several desperation 3s to try and force OT.
When LaFrentz’s 3 from the corner fell short Roy Williams was dealt one of the most devastating losses of his career. To this day, many Kansas fans still have a hard time getting over the game. Ironically Roy may have had the one player capable of hitting a 3 to earn a trip to the Final Four sitting on his bench. . .