Did he walk or didn't he? That was the question after Alabama's Terry Coner made a 14-foot jumper with one second left to give the Crimson Tide a 58-56 victory over Illinois today in the second round of the Southeast regional at the Charlotte Coliseum.
Alabama's opponent in Thursday's regional semifinal in Atlanta will be the top-seeded Kentucky Wildcats, who got 32 points from Kenny Walker and survived a late run by Western Kentucky to beat the Hilltoppers, 71-64.
With Louisiana State advancing, there will be three Southeastern Conference schools joining Georgia Tech in the regional. Kentucky (31-3) is 3-0 this year against LSU and against Alabama.
Illinois -- mostly on the outside shooting of Tony Wysinger, who had 12 of his game-high 18 in the second half -- had come from nine down at halftime to lead by three with six minutes left.
But Coner tied the score at 56-56 with a drive through the lane with 53 seconds left. Then Illinois' Efrem Winters took a shot with 19 seconds left on the 45-second shot clock and 26 seconds left in the game that was blocked by Buck Johnson. Alabama (24-8) got the ball and called a timeout with 19 seconds remaining.
After the inbounds, Coner, the point guard, waited until seven seconds remained to begin his move. Starting high on the left wing, he dribbled to the right of the key, spun, pulled up just inside the free throw line and let fly with Illinois' Bruce Douglas in his face.
The basket went, Illinois (22-10) had no chance to call time and Coner was mobbed.
The argument involved whether Coner walked on his spin move.
Illinois Coach Lou Henson: "Well, sure he walked. There's no question he walked. Walking is a violation and they should call it. I want the referees to look at that film. It takes guts but they've got to look at those calls."
The officials spoke with Henson immediately after the buzzer went off, but he wouldn't repeat the conversation when asked if the officials said they missed the call.
"All I'll say is that they missed it and they know it," Henson said. "Check with them."
A pool reporter asked the lead official, Tim Higgins of the Atlantic Coast Conference, what the response was when Henson asked if Coner traveled, and Higgins replied: "It was a judgment call."
Douglas, who was out front in Illinois' 2-3 zone, had no doubts. "It was a tough shot, but he definitely shot it after he traveled," he said. "I forced him right and forced him to turn back, and that's when he hopped, and the hop freed him for the shot."
"I don't know if I did," said Coner, who, along with Johnson, had 12 points. "I couldn't really tell because I was in the act of shooting."
Alabama swing man Jim Farmer, who led the Crimson Tide with 13 points, was on the wing at the time, yelling to Coner to shoot. Asked if he thought Coner walked, a broad, sheepish grin came over his face, and he said: "I couldn't tell."
Kentucky's win over Western Kentucky was not quite as exciting, but it was a chance to see Walker, an all-America, shine.
In 40 minutes, the 6-foot-8 senior made 11 of 11 from the field -- setting an NCAA tournament game record for accuracy -- 10 of 13 from the line, grabbed eight rebounds and had two assists. It was one point short of his season high (33), which he achieved against Hawaii.
"Kenny Walker is by far the best player I've played against in my four years at Western Kentucky," said Kennard Johnson, who led the Hilltoppers with 20 points. "He works so hard down low in getting open, it's tough to defense him. We were going to let him have his points and try to contain the others."
The others were Winston Bennett, who had 13 points, and sophomore center Cedric Jenkins, who had nine points in the second half.
Although Kentucky led most of the time, the first 15 minutes were close. Kurk Lee scored on the break to make it 28-24 with 4:49 to go in the half, but the Hilltoppers went scoreless the rest of the half, as Kentucky built a 36-24 lead.
After Bennett made a free throw to make it 61-49 with 6:23 left, Western Kentucky outscored the Wildcats, 8-1, over the next two minutes. Billy Gordon (14 points), who was hampered by foul trouble, made two jumpers in a row in that run. After Walker hit a free throw with 4:15 left to make it 63-57, Fred Tisdale scored with 3:52 left to cut the lead to 63-59, the smallest margin since Kentucky's first-half run.
But Kentucky showed its poise and the Hilltoppers got no closer. Point guard Roger Harden hadn't made a basket all day, but he came through with a 15-footer with 3:05 left and Kentucky ran out the clock.
"My jumper has been on spring break for the last two games," said Harden, who was one for six from the field. "But it's supposed to be back before we get to Atlanta."