In honor of the 25th anniversary of the three-point line, we reached out to all 344 D-I men's programs for their most significant shots. Illinois has a rich history of clutch threes, but none was bigger than Deron Williams' game-tying dagger that helped Illinois beat Arizona in the Elite Eight. We break it down from every angle
Deron Williams was a junior guard for the Illini on his way to becoming a first-round NBA draft pick:
"That's probably the biggest shot I've ever hit so far in my life, just because of the magnitude and what it meant. It capped off the big run — we had come back from 15 down with three minutes left, and that sent it to overtime and was a big reason we were able to win that game and go on to the Final Four. It was just a big shot."
Stephen Bardo, a former Illinois player, was calling the game for the Illini Sports Network:
"It had been a magical run for Illinois. They were a No. 1 seed. They'd only lost one game. The kids were so competitive, and they didn't want to quit. They weren't going to lose. You had to beat them. Deron Williams stepping up and hitting that three, it kind of went along with the whole season. It was a huge national stage. I just said, 'Oh, my goodness.' I tried to maintain composure because it was something I had never seen. It was unbelievable in there."
MICAH JOHNSON is a 1997 Illinois graduate in economics living in Palatine
"I was almost literally crying with excitement watching (Luther) Head and (Deron) Williams bring us back from the brink. As soon as the ball left Williams' hand, my buddy next to me said, 'GOOD!' We were behind the basket on the Illinois side — GREAT view. ... Only minutes before I had been sitting (head in hands) as it looked like the game was getting out of reach. I had that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach (luckily, the Illini didn't). ... My buddy (an avowed Wisconsin fan) taps me on the shoulder and says, 'You really need to stand up and start watching again!' Best. Advice. Ever."
Bruce Weber was in his second season at Illinois and coming off his second straight Big Ten title:
"The crazy thing was, I switched Jack (Ingram) off of somebody. And I don't know why. And Jack ended up being the guy that deflected it. I don't know why that happened. Jack makes a great play. And Luther (Head) got the ball. Ironically, we showed the kids this (in February): Anything can happen, believe in the unbelievable. I still am dumbfounded in how we won. But on that play I thought Deron just kept so poised. He didn't rush it. Luther didn't rush it. And Jack came and ball screened, and the guy got stuck. What I saw was Deron (shooting). We had worked so hard on Deron's jump shot and improving his jump shot — going straight up and straight down and putting his hand through the hoop (on the follow-through). That's what I saw. And now you've got to get a stop (on the other end)."
The beat writer
Brett Dawson, now with CatsIllustrated.com, was in his fourth year covering the Illini for The News-Gazette:
"In journalism, we call it an 'obit,' which we realize isn't the most sensitive terminology. It's the story we write when a season has 'died,' and like a real obituary the most notable seasons get the most thorough post-mortem analysis. I was already writing mine. Arizona was toying with Illinois. The Wildcats were literally counting the minutes until their Final Four trip, and I was as confident as they were that Illinois' remarkable season was about to end. And deadlines demanded that I get started writing. That's what I remember most: getting so deep into that story, then erasing what I'd done and starting over. Deron Williams' game-tying three-pointer still would be a blur if not for my frequent reviews of it — and the CBS call of it — in the days and weeks to follow. In the moment, it was a season-saver. In retrospect, it seems somehow even more important. Illinois basketball fans are starved for success now. It's hard to imagine the level of suffering had that team — arguably the best in the history of the program — failed to advance to the Final Four. Deron Williams made sure it didn't.