15 Years Later: LaFayette native remembers game-winner against Kentucky

Published 4:14 pm Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Fifteen years ago Thursday, UAB pulled off arguably the biggest upset in school history, knocking off No. 1 overall seed Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

The Blazers, a nine seed, were a 10-point underdog to the Wildcats, who had won 10 games in a row. It’s a game people in Chambers County probably remember well, considering LaFayette native Mo Finley hit the game deciding shot.

The Blazers trailed by one with 19 seconds remaining when Finley, a senior guard and 1999 LaFayette High School graduate, received a pass from Cardell “Squeaky” Johnson on the right wing.  One pump fake allowed Finley to get open for a long two-pointer that gave the Blazers a 76-75 lead with 12.2 seconds remaining.

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“Usually when you’re in the game, you’re not thinking, you’re reacting,” Finley said. “We called a timeout previous to me making that shot. I do remember vaguely that we were trying to do something that we did a couple of plays before. A lot of people don’t realize it, but I hit a three a couple of offensive possessions prior to that shot. That was a much more difficult shot, but we tried to get that same action for the last possession. Kentucky did a good job of guarding it, they were prepared for it, so we had to improvise it a little bit.”

Kentucky had several chances to win the game on the other end, but the Blazers held on to reach the Sweet 16. Finley scored 17 points in the game.

“For the most part, you’re thinking to trust your training that you’ve had your whole life,” Finley said. “There wasn’t a lot of thinking, there was just reacting.”

The Birmingham News headline the next day was “UABelieve,” with a photo of Finley below it.  The Blazers — along with Alabama, who upset Stanford that year — shared the cover of Sports Illustrated the following week.

Fifteen years later, the shot is still a major part of Finley’s life.

“I live here in Birmingham so normally I run into people every week who mention us beating Kentucky or they talk about basketball when they see me,” Finley said. “Quite a few people remember it. It was a great experience for me and my teammates so I always look back on it for fun.”

Finley admitted that he hasn’t filled out a bracket this year, as of Wednesday afternoon, but he is rooting for his nephew Garrison Brooks and the North Carolina Tar Heels to win it all.

Since leaving UAB, Finley played 10 seasons professionally in Serbia, Greece, Belgium, Italy, Turkey, Spain and France.

“That was pretty cool,” he said. “Anytime that you get a chance to do what you love to do for a living, and you get a chance to see the world that you’ve been reading and learning about your whole life, I think that’s a really cool experience.”

Finley is still a big supporter of the current sports in Chambers County, including his alma mater LaFayette, who went 28-5 this season and making an appearance in the state quarterfinals.

“Everywhere that I’ve been in my life, I’ve always made a point to stress to people where I’m from,” he said. “Everyone loves their hometown, and I’m a little biased of course, but I think people from LaFayette say ‘LaFayette, Alabama’ with a little extra pride. We say it with a little extra ‘umph.’ To see them perform as well as they have in the past few years, and to see Coach [Obadiah] Threadgill have success following Coach John T. Woody, that is a huge job. He’s done a tremendous job of continuing the success of previous LaFayette coaches like Coach Woody and Coach Cornelius Reese who was there before I was a player. It makes me extremely proud.”

Finley said that he also keeps in contact with Lanett girls head basketball coach Charlie Williams on a daily basis.

“Being from Chambers County, we love sports,” Finley said. “All of the kids, in some shape, way or form we’re all connected. I try to do my best to follow everyone from that area.”

Now, Finley is looking to help the current athletes from Chambers County gain more exposure through his One Finley Way Basketball Club AAU basketball program. Although the program is based in Birmingham, Finley has been looking to expand out to the Greater Valley Area. The club is hosting a fundraiser at Top Golf in Birmingham on April 7, and the full details can be found on the program’s website at ofwbasket.com.

“Basketball is my thing,” he said. “I love the game. I love the lessons that the game teaches both the boys and the girls. It is our belief that the life lessons learned through the game of basketball help develop the strong character, sense of accountability, integrity and humility that will aid our participants and help them thrive in every arena of life.”