Wyoming’s Eric Leckner relives shot that buried CSU
LARAMIE -- "It might as well be me."
Benny Dees drew up the play. Clauzell Williams handled the inbounds pass.
There was little doubt who was taking the shot.
With two ticks remaining on the game clock and the score tied at 58-58 in the semifinals of the 1988 WAC Tournament, Eric Leckner slowly strolled onto the court. Inside a deafening Marriott Center, the Cowboys 6-foot-11 senior center placed himself as the far free-throw line.
His mind going a million miles per hour, Leckner told himself, first and foremost, make the catch. Secondly, if the miracle doesn't happen, overtime awaits. Despite Border War rival Colorado State playing the part of pest throughout his Wyoming career, Leckner said, confidence wasn't an issue.
"All the guys on our team would say, 'we'll take them to overtime all day long,'" he said, adding that the Cowboys did not play one of their best games that day in Provo, Utah. "We had no fear.
"We're going to win that game. Period."
Williams, who was an all-state quarterback during his high school days in Detroit, wasted little time after the referee handed him the ball on the far baseline. Before the echo of the whistle faded, the junior threw a perfect overhand pass roughly 65 feet into the awaiting arms of Leckner.
"Once I saw him get the ball from the referee, I thought, 'OK, that's coming to me,'" he said with a laugh. "I mean, that wasn't a lob. He got that thing to me on a rope."
CSU guard Trent Shippen attempted to bat the ball away. He missed.
Leckner, at the top of the key, secured the pass with both hands, quickly turned to his right and let the ball go.
What was going through his mind as that ball sailed toward the hoop?
"Most seven-footers shooting fall-way threes don't know that it's going in, but you do know if it feels good," Leckner joked. "It felt perfect."
Colorado State 58
Wyoming players exploded off the bench after the swish. Leckner, who fell down after the shot, was swarmed. The celebration was on as the stunned Rams slowly shuffled toward the locker room.
The No. 14 Cowboys were heading to the title game. CSU, back to Fort Collins.
Who knew you could have so much fun in Provo?
"It was our home-run play," Dees told the Associated Press postgame. "Tonight, we hit it out of the park."
Even though that shot was taken nearly 34 years ago, the memory is a vivid one.
"We shouldn't have been tied with Colorado State in that game. We were better than that," said Leckner, who scored 14 points and played just 22 minutes because of foul trouble. "I think the game was a stepping stone for us to play well and to get better, but I think that it was probably a sense of relief to get out of that game. I think we knew we didn't play well.
"... So, there's not a lot of pressure on me to hit that shot. But, you know, like I said, why not me?"
Wyoming would go on to knock off UTEP 79-75 in the title game the following day. Leckner was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. The Cowboys, who were making their second straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament, earned a No. 10 seed and faced Loyola Marymount in Salt Lake City.
"It really comes down to the guys," said Leckner, who would go on to become a first round draft pick of the Utah Jazz and play in the NBA for eight seasons. "Our starting five was as good as anybody and to win that and come out and win the tournament was a great time."
CSU made it to the NIT where it won its first three games inside Moby Arena before falling to Ohio State, 64-62, in the finals at Madison Square Garden.
Some say the Leckner buzzer-beater was the greatest moment in this 236-game Border War rivalry. Others point to the triple-overtime thriller the previous season in Fort Collins. Reggie Fox and Turk Boyd hit last-second triples to force extra frames. Wyoming pulled away for the 81-78 victory.
Leckner played in both.
"I mean, if you go player by player, why are we in triple overtime with Colorado State? Not disrespecting Colorado State, what I'm saying is that we hadn't come together as a five yet," he said.
Wednesday night inside Moby Arena, the stage is set for yet another classic in this rivalry. The Rams (21-4, 11-4) are fighting to stay in the Mountain West title race. Wyoming (22-4, 11-2) can sweep the season series, all but dash CSU's hopes of claiming a conference crown and stay atop the league standings with Boise State.
Leckner, who lives in Charlotte with his wife Jessica and four daughters, said he will be keeping an eye on this one. He hasn't been back to Laramie in many years, but added the bond goes much deeper than that.
"I love my teammates and I just love being part of Wyoming basketball," he said. "All my years there and all the years since."