NCAA Courtside Memories, No. 5: Rhode Island Blows Lead; Harrick Blows Gasket
It should have been Jim Harrick's crowning post-UCLA moment, a stick-it-in-your face to the university that so rudely canned him only 19 months after Harrick led the Bruins to the 1995 NCAA championship.
Ok, maybe 'ol Jim had it coming for fudging that expense report or, worse, losing to back-door Princeton in the first round of the 1996 NCAA Tournament.
Fast forward to March 22, 1998, St. Louis.
Harrick, now coaching at Rhode Island, is one minute from leading the Rams to the Final Four.
Rhode Island led Stanford by six points in the same tournament where Harrick's former team, UCLA, got boat raced by Kentucky by the score of 94-68.
I was courtside at the Kiel Center wondering if this story was bigger than me.
UCLA administrators who wanted Harrick gone, mainly AD Pete Dalis, retreated to their bunkers to craft heartless preparatory statements like "We're happy for Jim," and "his firing wasn't personal."
When, in fact, they were not happy for Jim and it was personal.
One minute and a six-point lead.
No team of Rhode Island's caliber was going to blow a six-point lead.
I remember looking up at the scoreboard thinking this really was going to happen,
What kind of history-making "lede" could do this justice?
Then, a basketball minute later (considering time stoppages), I rat-a-tatted this first sentence on to my computer screen.
Dateline ST. LOUIS: "The game came apart on Rhode Island like a dime store watch."
That's right, Rhode Island blew it.
Stanford staged a furious rally, scoring 14 points in the final 1:12, to run out of St. Louis with 79-77 victory.
The shining-moment memory was Stanford forward Mark Madsen's rousing slam dunk with 26 seconds left. Madsen, fouled on the play, made the free throw to put the Cardinal up by two.
Leading by three late, though, Stanford stupidly fouled Rhode Island on a three-point attempt, but that Cardinal player (name withheld out of respect for his family) missed all three attempts (the last intentional).
Stanford guard Arthur Lee, after the first miss, reportedly made a "choke" gesture to the Stanford cheering section.
That incensed Harrick and he sailor-cursed an NCAA official on his way off the court.
The dream was over and it was safe for UCLA's AD to come out of his shelter room.
"They cut my heart out," Harrick said. "They cut my team's heart out."
So cruel, yet so true...