DENVER - Derrick White shrugged as he thought back to his flight pattern.
"I have no idea how high I was," White said.
Let me tell you, Derrick.
You were astonishingly high.
White soared to stupendous heights while carrying his Mountain Lions into the finals of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Tournament.
With 4:22 left in the semis, White and his Colorado at Colorado Springs teammates trailed national power Colorado School of Mines by eight points. The Mountain Lions' revival season looked over.
But then UCCS guard Darius Pardner lofted an alley-oop to White, the Lions sophomore star. Pardner wondered if his pass would fly beyond White's considerable reach.
Pardner shouldn't have wondered. White, flying a foot above the rim, seized the ball from the hands of Mines forward Trevor Ritchie and dunked on his return to earth.
"A hell of a play," Ritchie said in admiration.
"Ah, everyone gets dunked on in this game," White said, dismissing the significance of his extremely significant slam.
The dunk transformed the game. When White took off, the Lions were in the middle of a funk. When White walked to the line to finish this old-fashioned 3-point play, the Orediggers had been conquered. UCCS eventually rolled to a 75-70 victory.
Welcome to one of the best stories in Colorado sports. For years, residents in Colorado Springs could count on the sun setting over Pikes Peak and the Mountain Lions fielding a pitiful basketball team. The victory over Mines lifts UCCS to a 21-7 record. If that doesn't sound like a big deal, consider that UCCS lost 41 of 54 games in its previous two seasons.
White's dunk was gorgeous. The victory was not so gorgeous.
Mines coach Pryor Orser showed grace in defeat, but he clearly was puzzled by his team's performance. The Orediggers rolled into the game with a 24-3 record and the No.?9 ranking. They did almost nothing right in the final five minutes.
That's largely because of the inexplicable exit of Mines star Brett Green. Officials showed tremendous imagination in fouling out Green, who led the state in scoring as a senior at Peyton. Three of the five fouls were utterly bogus. Without Green, Mines was lost.
"He's our personality," Orser said.
UCCS defeated a bumbling, depleted version of the Orediggers. The Lions must play better - much better - in Saturday's RMAC finals if they want a victory and a trip to the NCAA Division II Tournament.
But this team's spirit is impressive. Coach Jeff Culver wants his players to run free. He encourages creativity, and he's wise enough to offer one of college basketball's greenest lights to White. He doesn't mind errors, as long as they are "aggressive" errors.
The Mountain Lions will be underdogs in Saturday's final against Metro State, the nation's No.?1 Division II team. There's no way around this truth.
Next season could be different. White is still discovering the full range of his gifts, and when he masters the art of passing he will be unstoppable. Almost the entire Lions roster returns.
There's no telling how high this program could fly.