March Madness Memories: Derrick Williams

Editor’s Note: prepares you for this year’s NCAA tournament by taking a look back at four Wolves’ memorable March Madness runs. In Part 1 of this four-part series, Derrick Williams helps Arizona oust defending champion Duke in the Sweet 16 of the 2011 NCAA tournament.

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Nolan Smith could see it coming from the opening tipoff, not that is surprised him.

Smith, a starting guard for the Duke men’s basketball team a year ago, understood that each time the defending champions played, they got their opponent’s best game. He could tell that Arizona forward Derrick Williams was about to have a special night as the Wildcats and Blue Devils squared off in the Sweet Sixteen on March 24, 2011.

For Williams, it was his moment to shine. He scored 32 points on 11-of-17 shooting, netted five 3-pointers and catapulted himself into the top two spots of the upcoming NBA Draft in a 93-77 win over Duke in Anaheim, Calif.

“When you have a player like that, you know in the back of their mind they want to kill Duke,” Smith said. “That’s the game everyone is going to remember. Now I’m sure in Arizona everyone will forever remember him for knocking out Duke.”

Williams, now in his rookie season with the Timberwolves, was excited to get the opportunity. The Wildcats were a No. 5 seed in the West Regional and rode an emotional rollercoaster to the Sweet Sixteen. They topped Memphis 77-75 and upset No. 4 Texas 70-69 before getting a shot at Duke—one of two teams Williams said he wanted to face before he left college.

“When I got to college I wanted to play either North Carolina or Duke before I left,” Williams said. “I wasn’t sure when I was going to leave, but within those four years I had to play one of them. It happened to be in the tournament.”

As soon as Williams hit his first 3-pointer, he said he knew it would be a special night. He was unstoppable on the boards, pulling down 13 rebounds and slamming home offensive put-backs. In the end, the Wildcats earned a trip to the Elite Eight against eventual champion Connecticut—the Huskies edged Arizona 65-63 a week later.

But against Duke, Williams and the Wildcats were unstoppable.

“He made a point in that game to show the world who he was, and he did that,” Smith said. “He did it from the outside and the inside and above the rim, obviously. He put together probably one of the best games in the tournament, not just because it was against us but overall. He had a great game, and that’s the reason his team won.”

Williams said the overall experience of being in the tournament is a rollercoaster. From sitting with his teammates watching Selection Sunday and anticipating which seed his team would get, all the way through coming up just shy of a Final Four berth, the feelings were indescribable.

“Every game we played in the tournament came down to last second shots and stuff like that,” Williams said. “I’m glad they fell our way, but there are a lot of ups and downs. You have to keep your composure out there.”

Smith is probably right that the Wildcats faithful will forever connect Williams with his performance against Duke. Arizona lost the 2001 national championship game to Duke, and its fans had a simple message leading into that game.

Williams delivered.

“The Arizona fans were like, if we win any game this season, let it be that game,” Williams said. “They were really happy about that. Just beating them, again, it was probably the funnest game I’ve played in a long time.”

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