Another frustrating end for Foster

Updated: March 22, 2006, 2:28 AM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

Jim Foster is an unlikely guy to feel bad for himself, to think he has been unlucky. Foster has always been the type who notices the true unfortunates in the world, the people whose lives are hard, those who have far worse problems than losing basketball games.

Kathrin Ress
AP Photo/Darron CummingsKathrin Ress scored 12 points and was one of four Eagles in double digits Tuesday.

For Foster, this sport has always been about teaching kids lessons on life that are much more long-lasting than what out-of-bounds play to run.

However, when you're at the level Foster is -- and has been for some time -- winning it all is, if not an obsession, a daily thought.

Foster has won a ton of basketball games, but never a national championship. Tuesday's 79-69 loss to Boston College in the NCAA Tournament's second round marked the fourth time in Foster's career he has had a No.1-seeded team but fell short of an NCAA title.

"I think sometimes the NCAA Tournament comes down to one or two individuals who have to make that huge run themselves," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said Tuesday, when asked about his friend Foster's "misses" in the postseason. "I think Jim -- whether he's been at St. Joe's, Vanderbilt or Ohio State -- his style of play, system and philosophy gets them a lot of wins in the regular season. But he just hasn't had the good fortune of having a couple of really big-time players who were able to take it to the next level.

"Ultimately, that's what you need. Your team and your philosophy and all that good stuff can only take you so far. Then, individuals have to do it."

The closest Foster has come to an NCAA title was in 1993, with a team of smart overachievers at Vanderbilt that made the Final Four. Texas Tech's Sheryl Swoopes -- talk about your big-time player taking it to the next level -- ended Foster's hopes that year in the national semifinals.

  Jim Foster left Vandy for Ohio State, receiving a better salary, inheriting fertile recruiting ground in the state of Ohio and -- this is no small thing -- getting away from playing Tennessee twice a year. 

Vandy was also a No. 1 seed in 1995, and lost in the regional semifinals to Purdue, 67-66.

Longtime Purdue and Vandy fans surely remember how that one ended in Los Angeles: The Commodores were up 66-64 and missed the front end of a one-and-one with 8 seconds left. Purdue's Tonya Kirk got the rebound, Jennifer Jacoby raced the ball upcourt and then kicked out to Jannon Roland for the 3-pointer. Roland drained it with 1 second left, and then got nominated for an ESPY award.

Foster and Vandy had to swallow another "not quite."

In 2002, Foster's last season at Vanderbilt, the Commodores were again a No. 1 -- but in the same region as their kryptonite: Tennessee. You know who won that regional final.

There were two other times that Vandy under Foster fell a step short of the Final Four, and in both cases the Commodores were a No. 3 seed: to UConn in 1996 and to Notre Dame in 2001.

As a No. 2 in 1994, Vanderbilt fell in the regional semis to North Carolina. Another regional semifinal loss came to Georgia, when Vandy was a No. 6 in 1997.

And then there were Foster's NCAA Tournament teams at St. Joseph's from 1985-1990. They all lost in either the first or second rounds.

Foster left Vandy for Ohio State, receiving a better salary, inheriting fertile recruiting ground in the state of Ohio and -- this is no small thing -- getting away from playing Tennessee twice a year.

Kindyll Dorsey
AP Photo/Darron CummingsKindyll Dorsey had plenty to celebrate Tuesday: an NCAA Tournament single-record six treys and a trip to the Sweet 16.

It's weird, though, how the Orange Phantom seems to haunt Foster. This year, when Tennessee complained about not getting a No. 1 seed -- and several observers agreed -- all eyes then turned to … Ohio State.

So the Buckeyes lost Tuesday, while earlier in the evening, Tennessee had cruised into the Sweet 16. It figures, doesn't it?

Ohio State had entered the tournament 28-2, the Big Ten champions on a 20-game winning streak, the longest in the nation. But, as Auriemma said, Boston College is a hard team to play.

"They make you play their way," Auriemma said.

The Eagles did, and Ohio State couldn't respond well enough. It was the second time Boston College has defeated Foster's Ohio State team in the second round, having done it in 2004, too.

Still, consider that for a 10-year span after Ohio State's Final Four appearance -- in 1993, the same year Foster was there with Vandy -- the Buckeyes went to the NCAA Tournament just twice, losing in the early rounds both times.

Foster has had Ohio State in the NCAA field all four of his seasons there.

The Buckeyes went to the regional semifinals last season. The program is still looking for that final, huge breakthrough. And, after all these years, so is Foster.

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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