No. 6 Louisville 75, Memphis 74
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—Memphis freshman Darius Washington slumped to the court, covering his head in anguish over his two missed free throws.
Nobody, not his coach, his teammates or the guy who fouled him, could console him.
Washington missed two of three free throws with no time left on the clock, allowing No. 6 Louisville to escape with a 75-74 victory and the Conference USA championship Saturday.
Even the opposing coach—Louisville coach Rick Pitino—took a moment out of his team’s celebration to express compassion for Washington.
“The drama was incredible. What was at stake was enormous, and the whole team feels obviously elated that we won. We all feel bad for Darius Washington,” Pitino said. “They wouldn’t have been in that situation if not for his spectacular play.”
Brad Gianiny hit one of two free throws with 6.7 seconds to give Louisville (29-4) a two-point lead. Washington was fouled by Francisco Garcia while shooting a 3-pointer at the buzzer. He hit the first, prompting his teammates to dance on the court, but then bounced the next two off the rim.
Memphis coach John Calipari said Washington looked at him after hitting the first one and indicated that the game was won.
“The second one went da-ding. He’s probably off a quarter inch, and he was so stunned that he missed it he looked at me. ‘I missed it.’ The last one you think about it the pressure on him to make that shot, I mean it’s amazing he hit the rim,” Calipari said.
Washington dropped to the floor at the free-throw line, prompting the Cardinals to swing immediately from dejection to celebration.
Pitino said Washington probably would have hit all three if the players had lined the lane instead of everyone standing behind him, waiting and watching.
Cardinals forward Ellis Myles was at the scorer’s table, waiting to check in for overtime, expecting Washington to hit the third free throw. He kept remembering Dec. 18, when Kentucky’s Patrick Sparks hit three free throws to beat the Cardinals.
Then Washington missed the third free throw.
“It’s over,” Myles said with a grin. “We won. Let’s party.”
Louisville won its second C-USA tournament title in three years. The Cardinals will go into their 32nd NCAA tournament on their longest winning streak of the season, with victories in their last nine games and 18 of their last 19.
Garcia finished with 19 points, Taquan Dean and Juan Palacios each had 14 and Palacios had 11 rebounds. Larry O’Bannon finished with 13 for Louisville, including 3-of-3 from 3-point range.
The Cardinals shot 51 percent for the game, including 15-of-23 from 3-point range.
Washington had to be helped off the court by his teammates. He didn’t speak with reporters and was being consoled by his mother and friends.
Calipari said he told his point guard that the Tigers only had a chance to win because of his play down the stretch, scoring eight points in the final 4:52.
“He wants to hear none of that right now,” Calipari said.
Memphis (19-15) had been the only team to beat the Cardinals in the 19-game stretch, and the Tigers’ best hope of playing in the NCAA tournament was winning the conference’s automatic bid by winning the tourney.
They nearly pulled it off after winning three games to reach their first C-USA tournament final.
Memphis’ Jeremy Hunt tied the game at 71 by hitting a free throw, but missed the second. Louisville got the rebound, but Duane Erwin tipped the ball away from Dean to Washington, who scored on a layup for a 73-71 lead with 42.7 seconds left.
O’Bannon answered with a 3-pointer from the top of the key and was fouled, but missed the free throw for a 74-73 lead with 27 seconds to go.
Hunt was called for a charge with 7.7 seconds remaining. Gianiny was fouled and hit his first free throw.
Washington had 23 points and six assists. Anthony Rice added 20 points for Memphis.
The Cardinals became only the second C-USA team to win both the regular season and tournament titles in the same season.
Pitino did his best to lobby for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
“Right now we’re the sixth-ranked team in the country playing great basketball on a terrific run. No matter what we are, we’re going to celebrate what we’ve just accomplished in terms of two championships,” Pitino said.