Through Their Eyes: Taking the last shot

Through their eyes: Taking the last shot | Vanderbilt

by Noah Moskat

There is one play in basketball that nearly every player dreams about, that kids around the world have relived on backyard hoops too many times to count, that can in an instant bring the purest elation or the most gut-wrenching disappointment: the game’s final shot.
Call it a “buzzer beater” or “heaving up a prayer,” a stroke of luck or the essence of clutch, there’s no denying that it’s one of the most pressurized and riveting moments in sports.

Last-second shots have defined careers and changed basketball as we know it. Fans will never forget Christian Laettner’s 17-foot turn-around jumper against Kentucky, or Lorenzo Charles hammering down the final nail in Phi Slama Jama’s coffin. Other indelible shots range from heartbreakers (Darius Washington Jr.’s missed free throws) to jaw-droppers (Jordan Snipes of Guilford College: a play certainly worth an online view).

But even someone who’s never heard a single one of those names can imagine the pressure of having the ball as the final seconds tick away, with the weight of a game, or even an entire season, on your shoulders.

Having been in this position many times throughout her playing career: not to mention twice in the last month: Whitman women’s senior point guard Jenele Peterson certainly understands the dynamics of a last-shot situation. Only a few weeks ago, against the University of Puget Sound, she attempted a game-tying three pointer as time expired, but the shot went off-target. Earlier in January, however, facing Pacific University, she sank two free throws with only a few seconds remaining to give Whitman a one point win.

“There’s a lot of pressure, that nervousness over your shoulder,” said Peterson. “But you have to rise to the challenge, [and] shoot with confidence.”

Though worries about the far-reaching effects of a single shot may creep into a player’s brain, the objective, she says, is to remain locked-in on the task at hand. To help prepare for this pressure, women’s basketball coach Michelle Ferenz has the team take similar free throws at every practice, as a way to simulate end-of-game scenarios.

“It really comes down to the players keeping their focus and executing in a tough situation,” Ferenz said. “And that comes from practice and experience.”

Since the final shot is, of course, an individual action, the potential for personal blame after a mistake is naturally very high. In an extreme caseÆ’, such as that of the aforementioned Washington Jr., who collapsed in tears on the court, a missed chance to win the game can devastate a player.

Yet despite Peterson’s disappointment after missing the shot, there was no sense that she personally had done something wrong. She contributes this attitude to the tight-knit nature of this year’s team, one the most successful in recent memory.

“We’re very close as a team, so it’s not necessarily my fault,” she said. “It’s all about being a team.”

Of course, that by no means lessens the thrill of being the one to seal a victory.

“It’s always awesome,” Peterson said, as a grin lit up her face.