All anyone will remember is the timeout that wasn't NCAA TOURNAMENT

JOHN EISENBERG

April 06, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

Chris Webber was dribbling upcourt to the tune of 64,000 shouts, his Michigan team two points behind North Carolina, a national championship hanging in the balance, 17 seconds to go, 16 seconds to go, 15 seconds. . . .

"No timeouts! No timeouts," Michigan's Jalen Rose shouted over and over as his gifted, immense childhood buddy from Detroit came closer and closer.

Michigan coach Steve Fisher had warned his players about it at full volume during the previous timeout, which Fisher had called with 45 seconds left. The team had no more timeouts. This was the last. Don't call another one, Fisher had said. Puh-leeze don't call another one.

"We all knew about it, we all heard him [Fisher] say it," Rose said later. "I don't know how many times he said it in the timeout. I didn't count on my fingers or anything like that. I just know I was thinking it and so was everyone else."

Almost everyone else.

What Webber was thinking will be anyone's guess today and forever. He was being harassed as he crossed half-court and dribbled toward the Michigan bench. Was he panicking? Maybe. He had appeared to travel as he began his dribble in the backcourt, having rebounded a missed free throw. The officials had not called it, but Carolina coach Dean Smith had leaped to his feet in an instant, screaming, the veins in his neck gone purple. Things were wild. Sixty thousand shouts, 14 seconds to go. . . .

"Sometimes," Fisher said later, "when you get in the heat of battle, some things happen that you just can't believe."

Rose and the other Michigan players, even those on the bench, were yelling the same thing: "No timeouts, Chris! No timeouts!"

What happened? "I think," said Michigan guard Jimmy King, "that with all the noise and craziness going on, just craziness, that maybe he heard us saying the 'timeout' part and not the 'no' part."

Maybe. Maybe not. Webber never said what he did or didn't hear, or what he was or wasn't thinking. He just said this: "I made a terrible mistake. An awful, awful mistake."

He did. He called a timeout.

The timeout Michigan didn't have.

The timeout that guaranteed Carolina a win in the NCAA title game last night at the Superdome.

Webber had played magnificently, compiling 23 points and 11 rebounds despite a constant double-team that made it almost impossible for his teammates to deliver him the ball inside. He had still found a way to score and rebound, outplaying his heralded Carolina counterpart, Eric Montross, who had 16 points and five rebounds.

But now he was over by the Michigan bench with two Carolina defenders around him, pestering him, arms up, chests in his face. And he reacted instinctively. He doubled over, cradled the ball and put his hands together, signaling for a timeout.

"My first thought was that I hoped the refs didn't see it," Rose said. "I thought we were getting ready to win the game."

Dean Smith, who had been screaming about the non-call on Webber's apparent travel, kept screaming -- but in joy now, as the refs stopped play and went to the scorer's table to explain what was happening.

Webber stood there for a moment, stunned at what he was hearing, at what had happened, at his enormous mistake. He hung his head. His eyes glazed over. How could this happen?

Calling a timeout with none left is a technical foul. Carolina got two free throws and possession of the ball. With Michigan down two, that was essentially the game. Carolina's Donald Williams made the two technicals, then made two more free throws after a foul to finish the 77-71 win.

Move over, Fred Brown.

"People are going to remember this a long, long time," Rose said. "Chris will be OK. He can take it. He knows we never would have been in the game without him. But it's rough. It's gonna be rough."

Webber left the court immediately after the buzzer. He didn't stop to shake hands with any Carolina players or hug his teammates, as did the other members of the Fab Five. He just took off for the locker room as the Carolina players were jumping into each other's arms at midcourt.

It was an ending that will lead to inevitable conclusions, of course, with Michigan's reputation as a talented team lacking in offensive discipline.

"People are gonna say a lack of discipline," Rose said, "but sometimes things just happen."

A brilliant player. A horrible mistake. A splendid game. An indelible ending.

"Sometimes things just happen," Rose said, repeating himself. "So be it."

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