PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Donta Bright shrugged off the significance of the open 15-foot jumper, but in his free time in hTC Atlanta this week, he'll appreciate it for what it was, maybe the most important basket he's ever made.
Massachusetts was up by 13 on Stanford with seven minutes to go in the second round of the East Regional yesterday, but junior guard Brevin Knight juked the Cardinal to a 21-9 run that shaved the difference to one in the last minute and had the nation's No. 1 team teetering on the brink of elimination.
Bright's basket from just inside the free-throw line with 32 seconds left ended the momentum shift and the upset bid, however, as the Minutemen escaped with a 79-74 win at the Providence Civic Center.
UMass (33-1) will face Arkansas in the third round Thursday night at the Georgia Dome, and if the Minutemen want to leave there with a berth in the Final Four, they're going to need more of the same from Bright.
Coach John Calipari said that "Donta has been there all year," but the senior forward from Dunbar High hasn't exactly been Mr. Reliable in NCAA play. He had three points in the East Regional final last year, when the Minutemen misfired against Oklahoma State. In Thursday's tournament opener against Central Florida, he played 16 minutes, mired by foul trouble and tape that joined his index and middle fingers.
Bright shed the tape yesterday. He's still searching for his shooting touch, as he made only four of 12 shots before the big jumper, but Bright did score 14 points, his most in eight NCAA tournament games.
"They say the knuckle at the base of my index finger is bruised real bad, but it feels like it's broken," Bright said. "I hurt it in the Atlantic 10 championship game, hit one of those big Temple guys. I've got to fight through the pain, but it's no big deal. It might've been my last game."
UMass appeared headed for a second straight second-round rout of Stanford (20-9) with 7: 05 left, after Carmelo Travieso's three got its lead up to 66-53, but Knight went off on the Minutemen. The 5-foot-10 junior from East Orange, N.J., scored 10 of Stanford's last 24 points, and assisted on 12 of the other 14.
It all came just minutes after a warning from All-American center Marcus Camby, who had 20 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks.
"I was giving him one of those stares," Camby said after his third rejection of Knight in the first nine minutes of the second half. "It told him, 'I'm going to be here for the rest of the afternoon. You better take it to the perimeter.' "
Less than two minutes later, however, Camby took it to the bench with his fourth foul and Knight seized the opening. On most Stanford possessions down the stretch, Knight dribbled off a screen on the wing, scored himself or drew the defense and set up an open teammate.
"Knight was unbelievable," Calipari said. "We had no answers for him, and a lot of our problem was my confusion over how to handle the screens. He goes through his legs and then through your legs. He goes through you and up and under you. He was fabulous."
Knight penetrated and kicked the ball back out to senior guard Dion Cross and freshman forward Peter Sauer for threes that got the Cardinal within 75-74 with 54 seconds left. After Bright rolled off a screen by Dana Dingle for his jumper, Knight set up Sauer on the left side, but his three-pointer that would have tied it wasn't close.
Sauer had made five of his previous six shots, but he was also working off seven three-pointers for the entire season. The Cardinal's first option was two guard Dion Cross, even if he was 6-for-16 against the defense of Edgar Padilla, who also had 12 assists and directed an offense that made 66.7 percent of its shots in the second half.
"Next time, I'll take the extra dribble and see if I can get something better," said Knight, who, with 27 points and nine assists, figured in 17 of Stanford's 27 field goals.
Pub Date: 3/17/96