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NCAA Tournament Greatest Shots: Winners Tell All


Never say never. In the NCAA Tournament, the impossible is within reach. Until the clock strikes zero, there’s still a chance — whether you’re rooting for a one-bid conference’s Cinderella story or a bracket-busting underdog or even a budding dynasty full of NBA talent.

And if a last-second miracle does happen, then the clock never strikes zero. The play, the moment, the “March Madness” lives on, long after the buzzer sounds.

Cinderella Story

The play was called “Pacer,” but it could’ve been out of the movie Hoosiers. In 1998, coach Homer Drew and his son, Bryce Drew, led No. 13 seed Valparaiso against No. 4 seed Ole Miss.

Trailing 69–67 with 2.5 seconds remaining, Coach Drew called a play for Bryce that ranks among the most memorable in NCAA Tournament history. Against all odds, Valparaiso’s Jamie Sykes threw an on-target three-quarter-court pass to Bill Jenkins, who jumped to catch the ball before turning in mid-air and dishing to Bryce.

“We had a senior who threw it to a senior who threw it to a senior,” says Bryce, 43, now the head coach at Vanderbilt. “We had a lot of experience out there.”

The coach’s son caught the pass with 1.9 seconds left, launching a leaning 3-pointer before diving to the floor to celebrate a thrilling 70–69 upset win — and one of the greatest Cinderella shots in Big Dance history.

“We were so thrilled we had won the game,” Bryce says. “We had lost in the NCAA Tournament the previous two years in the first round. We just wanted to advance and win a game. We were just so happy.”

For Bryce, it was a celebration to share with his father and brother, current Baylor head coach Scott Drew, then an assistant coach at Valpo.

“When you work really hard together with the people you love and you have a moment like that, it makes it even more special,” Bryce says. “Thank God it worked to perfection.”

Survive and Advance

Jim Valvano passed away from cancer at age 47 in 1993. But his legacy of perseverance lives on through his V Foundation for Cancer Research and the inspirational run of his 1983 NC State squad. The “Cardiac Pack” followed Jimmy V — and his mantra of “survive and advance” — all the way to an improbable national title.

“We got to the point where we just believed,” says Dereck Whittenburg, 57, an NC State guard and the school’s current Associate Athletic Director for Community Relations and Student Support. “We never questioned him. We didn’t want to disappoint him. He just knew how to get you ready, to really believe in yourself.”

In the national title game, Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler had no answer for NC State’s underdogs, who hung around long enough to make a play for the ages.

With the game knotted at 52–52, Whittenburg launched a desperation heave from between half court and the top of the key with four seconds to play. An airball has never looked so good, as NC State’s Lorenzo Charles turned the miss into an alley-oop dunk.

“The perfect alley-oop pass,” Whittenburg says. “I never saw the clock, but I knew the time was winding down. I’ve got to make an attempt.”

Not only did the 54–52 come-from-behind win cause Jimmy V to famously run wild around the Pit in Albuquerque that night, but it established a national persona Valvano would later use for the greater good.

“If it wasn’t for the 1983 team, there might not be a V Foundation for Cancer Research,” Whittenburg says. “I’m not saying there wouldn’t be. But the publicity, and the name of Jim Valvano, was really spearheaded by the championship.”

Dynasty Undeterred

It’s hard to get to the top of the mountain, but it’s even harder to stay there. In 1992, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s reigning national champions were on the verge of losing in the Elite Eight to Kentucky coach Rick Pitino’s “Unforgettables.” But with 2.1 seconds on the clock, Duke’s Grant Hill threw a perfect pass roughly 80 feet to Christian Laettner.

“There’s no shot without the pass,” says Hill, host of NBA Inside Stuff and color commentator for CBS/Turner NCAA Tournament coverage. “I have to remind Christian of that every once in a while.”

Kentucky went five-on-four rather than guarding Hill’s inbounds pass from the far baseline. Pitino’s strategic move was a poor one, as Hill tossed a spot-on pass to Laettner, who caught the ball cleanly, faked right, turned left and released a fade-away game-winner from the free-throw line with 0.3 left on the clock. The ball swished as time expired, giving Duke a 104–103 overtime win over Kentucky.

“Even in that moment when we hit that shot, I don’t think we understood just what exactly we accomplished,” Hill says. “That it would go down as one of the real iconic moments in college basketball history. And the crazy thing is we get to relive it every year during March Madness. It has a life of its own in some weird way.”

Thanks to Laettner’s late-game heroics, Coach K’s club advanced to the Final Four and went on to win its second straight national title, cementing Duke’s dynasty (and the bitter Duke-Kentucky rivalry).

“It really is amazing,” says Hill, 45. “People still remember it. They still talk about it. It doesn’t feel like [26] years. I don’t feel that old.”