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Warrick's block denies final seconds of deja vu

2/27/2004

NEW ORLEANS -- Jim Boeheim had to think this was a cruel joke.

The Syracuse coach finally makes it back to the Final Four and it's back in New Orleans, just like 16 years ago.

His team is clinging to a lead in the last minute, just like 16 years ago.

One of his players is at the free-throw line with a chance to seal the victory, just like 16 years ago.

His guy bricks the two foul shots, just like 16 years ago.

Then, the other team pushes the ball up the floor with their star shooting guard trying to maneuver for an open look, just like 16 years ago.

The dead-eye draws the defense, then kicks it to the open man in the left corner, just like 16 years ago.

Could you blame Boeheim for having "flashbacks" or if he thought the passer was Indiana's Steve Alford (not Kansas' Kirk Hinrich) and the shooter was Hoosier Keith Smart (not the Jayhawks' Michael Lee)?

Boeheim's heart had to stop as he watched Lee spot up. Lord knows everyone on the Syracuse bench's did. After all, this was how Smart put a dagger into Boeheim's title dream 16 years ago to give Indiana a last-second victory.

"We must've seen the highlight of Smart hitting that jumper 1,000 times this week," said Orangemen assistant coach Mike Hopkins.

But, thankfully for Boeheim, this script had a different ending. Just as Lee set up, Hakim Warrick, Syracuse's pteradactyl of a power forward -- and the guy who missed the two free throws with 13 seconds left Monday night -- sprinted out from under the basket with four long strides and then took off. He swooped out at the 6-foot-3 swingman and swatted the shot as it left Lee's finger tips.

"Honestly," said Lee, "I didn't even know he blocked it. I thought it was still going towards the rim."

Instead, the ball caromed out of bounds as the clock ticked down to 0.7 seconds. The officials put 1.5 seconds back on the clock after looking at the replay.

Hinrich, who was 3-for-11 from 3-point range at the time, says he dished because he had two men on him. "I saw (Lee) out of the corner of my eye," Hinrich explained. "I thought he was open. They just did a great job of closing on him."

Earlier in the game, Lee -- Kansas' defensive stopper, had drained a trey from the exact same spot in the second half to spark a Jayhawk rally. Lee said he was surprised that Hinrich (Kansas' best 3-point shooter) didn't take the deep 3.

"I really thought he was gonna shoot it," Lee said . "But he swung it."

And Warrick swatted it.

"I mean, I did see (Warrick) coming, but I felt I had more time," Lee said. "I guess I should've been more ready to get that shot off quicker. He just made a great hustle play."

Warrick's heroics didn't happen by accident.

"In our system, guys get yelled at if someone hits a 3 on your side," Hopkins said.

And how many times had Warrick been yelled at by Boeheim and his staff for surrendering open 3s from the deep corner?

"A lot," the sophomore said with a smile. "But I've got a lot better about it this year."

"In that situation, we're going to all the 3-point shooters," Boeheim said. "(Warrick) saw that. That was a pretty good read to see that."

Warrick said he felt miserable after missing both foul shots 12 seconds earlier, with Syracuse nursing an 81-78 lead.

"I definitely wanted to go out there and make a play," he said, adding that he had visions of Derrick Coleman, the other Syracuse power forward who didn't make the foul shots. "I was like 'Oh man, this can't happen again.'"

At that moment, everything morphed into slow motion for Warrick.

"Once I got the block, everything felt soooo good," he said.

After the game, as Boeheim hugged his wife and players, his cell phone went off.

It was Coleman.

"I couldn't hear him," said Boeheim. "There was static. I said, 'You're off the hook finally.'"

So, apparently is Boeheim.

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine