JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Before Saturday, Tremont Waters had already penciled his name into LSU basketball lore with two seasons of his prolific scoring and magician-like passing.
But after his winning basket with 1.6 seconds left to propel the Tigers past Maryland and into the Sweet 16 with a 69-67 victory, Waters stamped his name in there with permanent ink.
LSU has lived an up-and-down basketball existence throughout its history. If you picked the program’s all-time starting five — mine would be Pete Maravich and Chris Jackson at guards, Bob Pettit and Rudy Macklin at forwards and Shaquille O’Neal at center — you could go toe-to-toe with just about any program in the country.
Other times, LSU has lived a hardscrabble hardcourt existence, as evidenced by the fact this is just the Tigers’ third trip to the NCAA regional semifinals since going to the Final Four and Elite Eight in 1986 and 1987, respectively.
Waters’ winner, a scooped shot that kissed off the backboard going upward before gravity completed the play and dropped it through the net, was one of the best moments in LSU's NCAA tournament history. Waters and his shot will take their place along these other great moments from years past:
• Darrel Mitchell, second round, 2006: The most memorable moment Saturday might have belonged to Skylar Mays and his 3-point shot with 36.8 seconds left for a 67-64 lead. But Maryland’s Jalen Smith re-tied it seconds later with a 3 from in front of his bench with 25.9 left. Still, Mays’ shot was uncannily similar to the winning 3-pointer Darrel Mitchell hit with 4 seconds left to beat Texas A&M 58-57, also in Jacksonville. The only difference was Mitchell’s 3 came at the other end of the court. LSU went to Atlanta in 2006 and beat Duke and Texas en route to the Final Four.
• Anthony Wilson, second round, 1986: This was the last year men’s teams were allowed to play on their home court in the NCAA tournament. As a result, the Pete Maravich Assembly Center erupted into a frenzy when Wilson grabbed a loose ball and rattled home an 8-foot jumper as time expired to beat Memphis State 83-81. LSU also went to Atlanta that year and beat Georgia Tech and Kentucky to earn a trip to the Final Four.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — With eight players all considered to be starters, the LSU basketball team has relied all season on a lot of bench scoring.
• Ricky Blanton, regional final, 1986: It wasn’t a last-second shot, but Blanton’s reaction was priceless when Don Redden fed him a pass and he banked a shot off the glass for a four-point LSU lead with 15 seconds left in what ended up a 59-57 victory over Kentucky. Blanton ran up the court, pedaling his arms in delight as the Tigers beat the Wildcats for the first time that season in four tries.
• Stromile Swift, second round, 2000: This one was not a winning shot but a decisive blocked shot against Texas in Salt Lake City for the right to go to the Sweet 16. Torris Bright made a basket to put LSU up 62-60 with just over two minutes left. Moments later, the 6-foot-9 Swift rose up to block a potential tying shot from Longhorns’ 7-footer Chris Mihm. Swift then went down to the other end for a bank shot that put LSU up four with 1:35 left in a 72-67 victory.
The 2000 Tigers’ odyssey ended in the next round with a 61-48 loss to Wisconsin. One wonders how many more memorable shots it would take to carry LSU past Michigan State on Friday and beyond for them to return to the Final Four.
The Tigers will be a decisive underdog against the Spartans (30-6), who have the consistent basketball pedigree that LSU does not.
But if the Tigers are in it as the final seconds wind down? Well, Waters or Mays or another LSU player may add a memorable moment to join the list.
After punching their ticket to the Sweet Sixteen Saturday morning, the LSU Tigers now know who they will face next weekend in the NCAA Tournament.