EACH WEEK, WE'LL TAKE A LOOK BACK AT A MEMORABLE MOMENT IN ILLINI HISTORY, THANKS TO THE WORDS OF THE NEWS-GAZETTE
This week: Brandon Paul's shot to beat Minnesota on Thursday was the second game-winner by an Illini at the Big Ten tournament. Cory Bradford's three-pointer down Bob Knight's Hoosiers in a 2000 quarterfinal.
Date: March 10, 2000
Headline: Bradford an instant hero
By JIM ROSSOW
CHICAGO – It wasn't until he returned to his downtown hotel room late Friday afternoon that Cory Bradford could digest fully what he did against Indiana.
He certainly didn't have time to himself at the United Center after his three-pointer rescued Illinois in its 72-69 first-round lump in the throat.
Three Chicago radio stations got him on the phone. Another from St. Louis asked him to spend a minute on a cellular. CBS and ESPN miked him for one-on-one interviews.
He finally retreated to the showers in the Illinois locker room – off limits to the media – to escape the fullcourt press.
Feel like a celebrity?
"I feel like a winner," Bradford said. "I think we all feel like winners right now."
Bradford's popularity rating is Gore-like today, even though he won't admit it. His 20-foot baseline jumper with 1.3 seconds left was the first game-winner in Big Ten tournament history, helped Illinois get an edge on Indiana in NCAA tournament positioning and put his name on the front page of every sports section in the Midwest.
Left his voice hoarse, too, for all the times he was asked to describe the feeling.
"First thing on my mind was the ball was coming to me and I was going to have to take this shot," Bradford said. "I prayed for it to go in. It went in."
Bradford was shooting like a Bull beforehand, failing on 10 of his 12 attempts. His last miss, though, had Bradford thinking positively. His three-point try with 1:43 left and Indiana ahead 67-66 skimmed the front of the rim and skipped off the back into the hands of a Hoosier. Bradford wildly swung his arms in disgust when the ball bounced out, yelling words not for print.
"That one felt good," he said. "I was thinking, 'The next one's got to be good.' "
He wasn't necessarily in line to get another shot.
The plan with 7.3 seconds left was to inbounds the basketball to Frank Williams and let the point guard create. But Indiana double-teamed Williams, forcing Lon Kruger and Sergio McClain, who was the UI's triggerman, to improvise.
The coach told McClain to pass to Brian Cook, who quickly passed back to McClain, who drove the baseline and passed to a wide-open Bradford, who ...
"It was all she wrote," McClain said. "I started celebrating when I saw he got it. When it left his hands,I knew it was good. I was walking downcourt."
On the way he bumped into Williams, who usually handles the UI's last second-situations. Not this time.
"In the huddle they were patting me on the back, saying 'Here we go again, Frank, here we go again,' " Williams said. "They made us change our plans. It turned out to be a good play."
Said Kruger: "The play can't score for you. You have to be able to make the play."
Which Bradford did in the nick of time to keep his streak of consecutive games with at least one three-pointer intact (now at 60). He was 0 for 5 before completing McClain's assist.
"He can miss 12 or 15 in a row, and he still has that confidence that the next one's going in," McClain said.
Bradford has struggled this season. The sophomore came to Chicago shooting 38 percent from the field.
But Kruger, who's worked privately with Bradford in the last month, never has lost faith in his leading scorer.
"We've never said, 'Shoot it less,' " Kruger said. "We've said, 'Give yourself a better chance to finish as it relates to shot selection.' It's in the team's best interest for him to stay aggressive but also not to cross the line in terms of taking shots that are tough to make."
Which Bradford did early against the Hoosiers. He was 1 of 6 at halftime.
"In the first half, we rushed some plays," Kruger said. "If he crossed the line, you don't say, 'Stop shooting.' You remind him to slow down and go back to his mechanics."
Bradford's shot tied his own school record for single-season three-pointers (85). It was reminiscent of a late basket he made in last season's upset of Wisconsin at the Assembly Hall, but he didn't receive near the fanfare then as he did Friday.
"It's the biggest," Bradford said when asked if he remembered a more clutch basket. "I'm glad it counted when it did."