NCAA Courtside Memories, No. 4: UCLA Rallies from 17 Down To Defeat 'Zags
Sports at the highest level can bring out the best and worst in people. Moments of petulance and moments that make you proud.
Never in all my NCAA years have I seen anything quite like the scene that played out March 24, 2006, in Oakland. That was the day UCLA played Gonzaga in the West regional semifinals.
It was raw, gut-wrench emotion followed by genuine, authentic sportsmanship. And it all played out in front of me, no more than 20 or 30 feet from my press row seat.
I can still see Zags' star Adam Morrison, the nation's best player that year, dropping to the court at the end. It was like he'd just been informed of a close relative's death. In one of the best tournament games I've seen, UCLA rallied from 17 points down to score a stunning comeback victory. Both teams were lost in the moment, no player more than Morrison, the mop-topped star who was hoping to lead his team to more than a regional semifinal.
The shame of it all was Morrison, with his team down by two, not even getting the a last-second shot with 1.9 seconds. It could have been his Christian Laettner moment. The last heave went to teammate J.P Batista, whose shot clanked off the backboard.
It was then that Morrison fell to the hardwood and unloosened his flood gates. He sobbed like a baby, tucked his head into his knees and then rolled over on his side. Remember, this was all on national television. This is the beauty of unscripted drama combined with intense competition.
"I hate losing, period," Morrison said at the post-game press conference. "Anything, especially basketball."
What came next as Morrison writhed on the court after Gonzaga's collapse was even more special. UCLA star Arron Afflalo, from the winner's side, was one of the first players to help Morrison off the floor. He was soon joined by 7-foot center Ryan Hollins.
UCLA basketball has had a lot of special moments in its illustrious history. The school has 11 NCAA banners hanging in Pauley Pavilion.
Yet, that act of sportsmanship stands with me as a program highlight.
"I just saw him laying there in tears a bit," Afflalo said of seeing Morrison on the floor. "I just felt for him a little bit. He's a great player, he had no reason to cry, outside of the fact he's a competitor and wanted to win."
In UCLA yore, that's still worthy of an "8-clap."