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Kragthorpe: NCAA title-game memories stick with Utahns

Published April 7, 2013 6:08 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

North Carolina State's Dereck Whittenburg catches Thurl Bailey's pass and lofts a 35-foot shot.

Butler's Gordon Hayward grabs a rebound, takes four dribbles to the half-court stripe and launches a desperate attempt.

Utah's Herb Wilkinson sets his feet at the top of the key and delivers.

An unintentional assist, a bank shot that falls away and a ball that hits the front rim twice before settling into the net — dramatic sequences that involved current Utahns — are among the endings of championship games that have defined the NCAA Tournament.

As another Final Four is staged in Atlanta, determining a 75th champion, the moments resonate with them. "Those kinds of stories just don't happen that often," Bailey said. "We got to live it."

And relive it — as will forever happen with Hayward's memorable miss in 2010 and Wilkinson's successful shot in 1944.

North Carolina State's tale goes much deeper than the iconic ending. But that's always the best place to start, with Lorenzo Charles grabbing Whittenburg's shot out of the air and dunking the ball as the Wolfpack upset Houston in 1983. A series of improbable victories, including a win over Virginia in the West Region final at Ogden, was topped by what happened at Albuquerque, N.M.

In a tie game, Sidney Lowe — now a Jazz assistant coach — passed to Bailey in the left corner. With a defender covering him, Bailey fired the ball past Lowe, out to Whittenburg. Houston's Benny Anders nearly intercepted the ball, but Whittenburg caught it and fired quickly,

"From my angle, it looked like it was good," Lowe said.

Bailey moved into rebounding position, left of the basket. "It wasn't until it got close that I could see it was falling short," he said. "For [Charles] to have the wherewithal and the instinct to just go up and grab that thing and put it right back in ..."

Houston's players were stunned. Dave Rose, now BYU's head coach, remembers watching from the bench as Whittenburg's shot sailed toward the basket and immediately thinking about overtime — with some degree of disappointment, considering the Cougars had lost a seven-point lead.

"Still, it had been such a long time since we lost, I figured it'd just be another five minutes," Rose said.

Instead, just like that, it was over. Thirty years later, boosted by a recent ESPN documentary, N.C. State's achievement is being celebrated even more than usual.

"It's been fun to relive it," said Bailey, who played 10 seasons for the Jazz and is now a team broadcaster.

Hayward enjoys reflecting on Butler's run, right until the last five seconds. Asked about his enduring memory of 2010, he both smiled and cringed. "Oh, man. I still see the shot when they play the commercial on CBS, so that's obviously the thing that still is in my mind — just because we lost," he said.

That shot, the 46-footer that banked off the front rim and fell away, would have given Butler a win over Duke and rivaled Charles' dunk as the signature moment of all 75 years of NCAA Tournaments. Yet the shot that most sticks with Hayward is his second-to-last attempt — a tough, 12-foot, fallaway shot from the baseline that hit the back rim.

"It looked dead on," said Hayward's father, also named Gordon, whose seat in Indianapolis was aligned with the ball and the basket.

As for the last shot, how much the player's life may have changed if it had gone in is difficult to say. To his father, Butler's coming that close confirmed that Hayward had done all he could in college basketball. Not so for his mother, Jody, who said during the ride home from Lucas Oil Stadium with her husband and daughter, "If God wanted him to go to the NBA now, he would have hit that shot."

A lively, friendly discussion ensued. Hayward soon declared for the draft as a sophomore, and went to the Jazz as the No. 9 overall pick.

Wilkinson's game-winner against Dartmouth in overtime in 1944 also became his last shot for Utah. Pursuing dentistry, he transferred to Iowa and became a three-time All-American. Yet nothing in his career distinguishes him like Utah's championship — because of what the NCAA Tournament has become.

"It seems like it's gotten bigger every year," said Wilkinson, speaking both of the event and his role in it. "You don't realize at the time what the effect is going to be in your life."

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt Utahns' Final Four connections

Highlights of NCAA Final Fours involving the University of Utah and the Utah Jazz:

1944 • Herb Wilkinson's basket gives Utah a 42-40 win over Dartmouth for the NCAA championship in New York. Freshman Arnie Ferrin is named the Most Outstanding Player.

1961 • Utah loses 82-67 to eventual champion Cincinnati in the semifinals, then falls to St. Joseph's 127-120 in four overtimes in the third-place game at Kansas City, Mo. (St. Joseph's later vacates the win).

1966 • Utah loses 85-78 to Texas Western in the semifinals and falls 79-77 to Duke in the third-place game at College Park, Md., but Jerry Chambers is named the MOP with 70 total points.

1980 • Darrell Griffith, about to become the No. 2 overall draft pick by the Jazz, leads Louisville past UCLA for the title and is named the MOP.

1983 • Thurl Bailey, about to become the No. 7 overall pick by the Jazz, helps North Carolina State upset Houston in the title game.

1987 • Brian Sloan, a son of then-Jazz assistant coach Jerry Sloan, is a senior reserve on the Indiana team that beats Syracuse via Keith Smart's last-second shot.

1998 • Utah, led by Andre Miller and Michael Doleac, takes a 10-point halftime lead over Kentucky but loses 78-69 in the title game at San Antonio.

2005 • Marvin Williams, now a Jazz forward, delivers a go-ahead tip-in and North Carolina goes on to a 75-70 victory over Illinois, led by Deron Williams, who would become the No. 3 overall pick by the Jazz.

2010 • Gordon Hayward, who would become the No. 9 overall pick by the Jazz, misses two shots in the last five seconds of Butler's 61-59 loss to Duke.