Eric Mika’s jump shot with 1 minute remaining will linger in the minds of Gonzaga fans for a while.
The BYU Cougars went up two points after Mika’s jumper, and the nerve-wracking environment on Saturday became more intense as Gonzaga’s perfect regular season began to slip away.
Along with two free throws to ice the Cougars’ 79-71 victory in the waning seconds, the jump shot to once and for all take the lead was an exclamation point on his overall performance.
The sophomore forward had a double-double against the nation’s last remaining unbeaten, putting up 29 points and 11 rebounds. He scored 17 of his points in the second half.
Mika’s shot his clutch jumper from a few feet above the elbow, which pulled Gonzaga’s 7-foot-1 Przemek Karnowski away from his natural area.
BYU’s forward used a slight ball-fake to his right that backed off Karnowski just enough to sneak the shot over his outstretched arms.
And this was all in BYU’s plan.
“Karnowski’s a big dude and a big reason their defense is so successful. He’s back there in the paint and can alter a lot of stuff,” Mika said. “Our plan was to spread the floor and get me moving, because I’m not going to beat him posting him up and getting into the paint because I’m not strong enough.”
Karnowski matched up 3 inches taller and 70
pounds heavier than Mika. The BYU forward only had 6-6, 235-pound Jamal Aytes to prepare for Gonzaga’s senior center.
“It’s always funny, every time we’re running scout for them we’ve got Jamal Aytes as Karnowski and I can’t even guard (Aytes) and I’m, ‘Shoot, this (Karnowski’s) going to be another foot and a half taller and 150 pounds heavier.’ You need a team to defend that guy,” Mika said.
In a game that had five lead changes, Mika accounted for two of them.
The Cougars’ first lead came with 8 1/2 minutes remaining in the second half – off another Mika jump shot.
“He’s actually being more patient (compared to previous games),” BYU head coach Dave Rose.
“He has to be on attack and he has to be aggressive. Instead of trying to force it through two guys or shoot shots that are a little bit difficult with a hand in your face, he’s throwing (the ball) back out and trusting the other guys, and the guys are getting it back to him.”