Players and coaches make their legacies by reaching the NCAA championship game. No matter what Butler coach Brad Stevens or former UConn guard Kemba Walker do in their careers, their meeting in the 2011 NCAA title game will forever be remembered.
That is not to say that it will be remembered for all the right reasons. Sloppy shooting made last year's title game one of the most unwatchable spectacles in recent college basketball history.
But was it the worst NCAA championship game of the past 50 years?
Conversely, great NCAA title games can be made on a variety of factors. Social significance, juicy pregame storylines, outsized personalities and great in-game moments all make a game a memorable spectacle. Which one was the best?
Come along and let's find out. Then we can talk about it in the comments.
(This slideshow has now been updated to include last night's Kentucky championship win over Kansas. Where does it rank? Go find out.)
The 2011 national championship game doesn't deserve many words.
Butler shot 18 percent. That should sum it up.
Okay, I'll continue if I must.
The Bulldogs made nine of 33 three-pointers, which isn't very good in itself. From inside the arc, though, they were 3-of-31. That's 9.6 percent.
Andrew Smith made just 2-of-9, despite never venturing further than five feet from the basket. Matt Howard shot 1-of-13.
Bill Walton was sitting courtside for this one, and he once scored 44 points in a championship game by himself. He would have beaten Butler single-handedly.
To be fair, UConn's 34 percent shooting didn't torch the net, either. America's newest superstar, Kemba Walker, shot 5-of-19, a testament to Butler's dogged defense.
Still, it's Butler's offense that is being dogged here, and deservedly so. Despite all attempts, it's very difficult to find any way in which this game outshined any other national championship game in the past 50 years.
Let us bury it here and never speak of it again.
At halftime of the national semifinal game between the Elvin Hayes-led Houston Cougars and Lew Alcindor's UCLA Bruins, Houston coach Guy Lewis spoke of "pride, not quitting, hanging tough, those good ol' American principles we'll need if we ever fight the Russians or the Chinese or some of those folks."
Houston lost 101-69. The game was dull enough that even the Cougars mascot, Shasta, slept through the second half.
The championship game was not much better. After his Tar Heels beat Ohio State in their semifinal, North Carolina coach Dean Smith was asked whether he'd rather play UCLA or Houston. His reply: "Getting hit by a train or a truck, it doesn't make much difference."
Houston got the train; Carolina got the truck. While Alcindor's dominance of Dayton the prior year had been mostly psychological, the Bruins decided to turn their big man loose against UNC and allow him to carry them back to the promised land.
Alcindor scored 34 points, nearly as many as any other three men to play that night. He added 16 rebounds and, by most accounts, at least seven blocked shots.
Carolina shot under 35 percent as a team and was outrebounded 39-25. The Tar Heels' All-American forward Larry Miller did make the All-Tournament team, where he was joined by Alcindor, Lynn Shackelford, Mike Warren and Lucius Allen. Yes, those last three players all wore UCLA jerseys, too.
Once again, UCLA's sheer dominance took a great deal of the drama out of the Final Four early. This was especially true after their obliteration of Houston, revenge for the one loss the Bruins had suffered since Alcindor joined the varsity.
As scintillating as watching a great player work can be, there's not a lot of fun in a game that seems to be such a foregone conclusion.
UCLA failed to make the 1966 NCAA tournament, rendering it unable to try for a historic third straight title. Of course, the Bruins' freshman team held a force that had the rest of college basketball somewhere between intrigued and terrified.
When Lew Alcindor arrived in 1967, the rest of the schools in America may as well have saved their basketball budgets and spent them on competitive shuffleboard.
The Dayton Flyers had a nice 25-5 season, and forward Don May was coming off a sensational semifinal game against North Carolina. May scored 34 points and ripped 15 rebounds, at one point making 13 straight shots. A good portion of that damage came against second-team All-American Larry Miller.
Still, May and the Flyers were woefully unprepared for the unstoppable Bruins. Seven minutes in, the score was 8-4. Four minutes later, the Flyers finally scored again...on an Alcindor goaltending violation. That made the score 20-6.
May shot 3-of-12 in the first half, Dayton was down 38-20 and all hope had long been abandoned. With 5:17 left, Alcindor took a seat with the score 70-46. It was 76-47 by the time John Wooden pulled the last of his starters, and Dayton was able to launch a 17-3 rally in garbage time.
Alcindor recorded 20 points and 18 rebounds, but the sheer terror that he generated to keep Dayton from attacking the basket can be only partially quantified by his four blocked shots, all of which came in the first 10 minutes. Alcindor's season-long dominance led to the NCAA banning the dunk.
Three of Big Lew's teammates also scored in double figures, finding little opposition against a defense packed in to harass the giant.
Had John Wooden been a sadist, this game could have ended as a 50-point blowout.
The only serious threat that UCLA encountered in its three Final Four trips with Lew Alcindor was the 1969 semifinal against Drake. The Bruins squeaked by the Bulldogs, winning by only three points with two of those coming on Lynn Shackelford free throws in the final seconds.
UCLA's struggles left final-round opponent Purdue, who had crushed North Carolina in the other semifinal, thinking that it could give UCLA the same difficulty, and perhaps steal the championship.
Alcindor's 37 points and 20 rebounds said, "Nice try." Purdue's own 29 percent shooting said, "Never mind, we'll be quiet now."
Unsung Bruin defensive stopper Kenny Heitz harassed Purdue sniper Rick Mount into 12-of-36 shooting. Herm Gilliam, normally a capable sidekick to Mount, made only two of his 14 shots.
In what may have been one of the more dubious coaching decisions in recent memory, Boilermaker coach George King decided to play straight up man-to-man defense on Alcindor, relying on forward Jerry Johnson to "hold him under 33 points."
Even that failed. Nothing went right for the Boilermakers that night.
Alcindor's Bruins cruised to a record of 88-2 during his monumental career, winning their 12 NCAA tournament games by an average of 21.2 points. The best that Purdue could say was that it lowered that average just a bit.
The Sports Illustrated issue accompanying the Bruins championship featured a cover photo of a rare sight: a beaming Lew Alcindor. In an article elsewhere in the issue, Lynn Shackelford discussed why UCLA was such a businesslike group on the court.
...A lot of it has been boring, sitting on the bench or even playing when the other team was obviously weaker. From the start everybody said we would win three championships. That has taken a lot out of the actual accomplishment. I think it's one reason for our businesslike manner on the court. We were only doing what we'd been expected to do.
If the players were that bored, how could any impartial observer be expected to react any other way to such domination?
Marquette coach Al McGuire had helped sink his own team in both the 1974 championship game and the 1976 regional finals. Two technicals in each game allowed North Carolina State and Indiana, respectively, to pull away in tight matchups.
At least his primary tirade in the 1977 tournament was in the locker room, at halftime and directed at one of his own players. McGuire managed to get through the Final Four without blowing a gasket, and as a reward, he won his first and only NCAA championship.
Marquette stormed to a 39-27 halftime lead, but North Carolina would not go away quietly. Forward Mike O'Koren, who had torched UNLV for 31 points in the semifinal game, scored four straight baskets to trim the lead.
The Tar Heels pulled themselves ahead 45-43 with less than 14 minutes left, and coach Dean Smith signaled for the patented UNC four-corners offense. The stalling technique was one that McGuire had anticipated. He sagged towering big men Bo Ellis and Jerome Whitehead deep to stop the backdoor cuts that had given O'Koren so many of his points against UNLV.
Over the next 12 minutes, Marquette took over the game with a 10-4 "run." (Perhaps "stroll" would be a more fitting term.)
As time began running out, UNC began to foul, hoping the Warriors would choke away points at the line. Of the 17 attempts Marquette took in the final six minutes, it missed one.
Nearly all of the second half was spent with both teams using delay tactics and Marquette repeatedly slogging to the free-throw line. It was 20 minutes of basketball only the players' mothers could love. For everyone else, the shot clock couldn't come fast enough.
When a team with nine future NBA players takes on a team with one, it stands to reason that the pro-heavy squad should be favored. The beauty of March Madness is that conventional wisdom often gets turned inside out, but this was not one of those instances.
The 1996 Kentucky Wildcats should be in anyone's discussion of the best teams in college basketball history. When the No. 1 freshman in the country, in this case swingman Ron Mercer, is coming off a team's bench for a mere 15 to 18 minutes per game, that's unbelievable talent and depth.
All that talent notwithstanding, Kentucky's meeting with Syracuse for the national title was far from a professional-quality game. The 'Cats shot a sickly 38 percent from the floor, the worst since Loyola of Chicago bricked its way to 27 percent back in 1963.
The Orangemen, for their part, contributed 24 turnovers.
Neither team was done any favors by a dripping roof at the Meadowlands, which kept allowing puddles to accumulate on the court. Between the drips and drops, Syracuse's leaky ball-handling would not let it take advantage of Kentucky's shabby shooting.
Mercer played the best game of his career to that point, dropping 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Syracuse's John Wallace tried valiantly to lead his team to the championship with 29 points and 10 rebounds, but too often he found himself swimming upstream.
For the talent on hand, the Wildcats had a miserable night. Only an equally tough game for Syracuse kept "The Untouchables" from ending up all wet.
The 2009 national title for North Carolina almost didn't happen. Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Tyler Hansbrough were pondering bailing for the NBA after a crushing loss to Kansas in the prior year's Final Four.
That game saw KU take a 40-12 lead. Between that being their last college memory and the fact that Lawson and Ellington weren't projected as first-round picks, the group decided to return. They were rewarded for the effort.
This time, UNC got up 36-13 on Michigan State and never looked back. At that point, the Heels had made 12 of their first 18 shots. Considering that the Heels only shot 46 percent for the game, that indicates that they cruised to the end.
The senior trio combined for 58 points. Lawson got 15 of his 21 points at the foul line and set a championship game record with eight steals.
Even in garbage time, MSU couldn't get the lead inside 13 points.
The drama was sucked out of this massacre in a hurry.
Sometime during Cincinnati's run of three straight national final appearances, the university's chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity started a graveyard on its lawn. Markers inscribed with scores, opponents and dates were hammered into the ground, and space was starting to run out.
Loyola coach George Ireland was determined that his team would not earn a marker in the pantheon of Bearcat mauling victims. He and assistant coach Nick Kladis treated Cincy like their personal Moby Dick, scouting the Bearcats in person 10 times over the course of the 1962-63 season.
Cincinnati coach Ed Jucker would later confess to only having seen Loyola play twice.
The Runnin' Ramblers lived up to the name, a stark contrast to the slow style of Cincinnati. Their 111-42 thrashing of Tennessee Tech in the first round remains the largest winning margin in tournament history.
The final's box score gives credence to their frenetic reputation, as Loyola attempted 84 shots from the field to the Bearcats' 45. Unfortunately for Loyola fans, they didn't get to see many go in, as the Ramblers shot a mere 27 percent.
For all of Loyola's pace, however, it was remarkably careful with the ball, only committing three turnovers. Also, in spite of the high tempo, Ireland was able to get the full 45 minutes of play out of all five of his starters.
Loyola All-American Jerry Harkness was held scoreless in the first half, and the Bearcats led 45-30 with 12 minutes left. From there, fouls and turnovers mounted for Cincinnati and shots dried up as it went to its patented stall offense.
By the final 10 seconds, Loyola had trimmed the lead to one, and a pair of free throws would clinch the game.
Cincinnati's Larry Shingleton—a reluctant shooter at the best of times—made the first foul shot, then missed the second. The ball quickly got into Harkness' hands for a tying layup. Cincinnati failed to call timeout, although Jucker later claimed that he simply could not be heard over the electric crowd.
Loyola borrowed a page from Jucker's book (literally) and wore down the final two-plus minutes of overtime, trying to get Harkness a shot. When he finally saw an opening, it closed quickly and Harkness dished off to Les Hunter. Hunter missed, naturally, but Vic Rouse was there to rebound and score for the winning margin.
Aside from the drama of the overtime finish, the game was also noteworthy from a social perspective. Loyola started four black players in the title game and Cincinnati featured three, making this the first time that the teams in the national final had a majority of black players.
Earlier in the season, Loyola's one white starter, Johnny Egan, had fouled out of a game, forcing Ireland to make a rare substitution. The introduction of another black player, Pablo Robertson, made the Ramblers the first major Division I school to play with an all-black lineup.
Ireland later said, "The unspoken rule then was two blacks at home, if you had to play them, and one on the road." He played four extensively, demonstrating that in the end, the only color that mattered to him was the gold on the championship trophy.
Indiana led for all of eight seconds against Maryland in the 2002 NCAA final. For the other 39:52, the Terps imposed their will.
Hoosier star Jared Jeffries was held to a mere eight points, slightly more than half his season average. Terrapin forwards Lonny Baxter, Chris Wilcox and Tahj Holden clamped down on any inside game Indiana could have mustered.
Jeffries and fellow big men Jeff Newton and Jarrad Odle shot a combined 6-of-22 and totaled 16 rebounds. Baxter ripped down 14 by himself to go with his 15 points.
As a whole, Indiana shot 34 percent from the field and made only two of its seven free throws. The Hoosiers were 10-of-23 from three-point range, but staggered home with 5-of-15 in the second half. A pair of threes were the only points IU mustered in the final 8:53.
The Final Four MOP award was won by Maryland guard Juan Dixon, who scored 11 of the Terps' first 21 points, then didn't score again until Indiana took that brief second-half lead.
A 12-point scoring margin belies the fact that this game was a classic dismantling—one team not allowing the other to execute any of its game plan on either end of the court.
Joakim Noah's interviews before and after the 2006 NCAA title game occasionally got a bit racy. The week prior, he was asked about pictures of him wearing a full-length blue muumuu around the Florida campus.
"I always wear it when I just want to relax," Noah explained. "You don't have any underwear on, and the air's going up there. It's a great feeling."
After beating UCLA, Noah exclaimed, "This is better than sex! And trust me, I'm doing it right." After the pounding that his Gators put on the Bruins, Florida fans would fully agree. UCLA fans merely felt screwed.
The game was essentially over just past halftime. Florida led 36-25 at the break, then launched a 9-2 run in the first four minutes of the second half. The Bruins would never get closer than 12 points again.
UCLA's guards, Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo, could usually be relied upon to shoot the Bruins back into the game, but not this time. The pair were a combined 11-of-31 from the field, 3-of-15 from long range.
Noah and his low-post colleague Al Horford shot a combined 12-of-17 on the way to 30 points, 16 rebounds and eight blocks—six by Noah. They made the Bruins as ineffectual inside as they were outside.
Luckily for Florida fans, this dominating game was no mere one-night stand. The Gators would call back the following year.
It was a rare problem for 6'10", 252-pound UConn center Emeka Okafor to face an opponent bigger than him. In the 2004 title game, though, that's what he was up against in Georgia Tech's 7'1" Australian import, Luke Schenscher.
The difference between the two was that Okafor brought backup—not that he needed it.
Okafor crushed Schenscher for 24 points and 15 rebounds, compared to Schenscher's nine and 11. The Aussie was only able to get off seven shots, while Okafor took what he wanted when he wanted it 17 times.
UConn also had two other 6'10" bigs to throw at the Ramblin' Wreck: Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong combined for 10 points and 12 rebounds in 36 minutes of action. No other Georgia Tech player taller than 6'6" saw significant minutes.
What Tech had were guards. On a normal night, the trio of Jarrett Jack, Will Bynum and B.J. Elder would be good for 37 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and 42 percent shooting. The first three figures were well met against the Huskies, but the trio only hit on 11-of-34 shots.
As a team, Tech shot only 38 percent, its second-worst effort of the season. It was only appropriate against a UConn team that led the nation in field-goal percentage defense and blocked shots.
The Husky lead was 15 at halftime and ballooned from there, reaching 25 before Georgia Tech was finally allowed to chip away. Still, this game was by no means close.
A nameless assistant coach at the 1962 Final Four said, "You get to the semifinals on talent, but after that, you are in the hands of God."
Few could deny that Ohio State had the talent advantage over Cincinnati in the 1962 title game. Future Hall of Famers Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek led the Buckeyes, and were supported by future NBA players Mel Nowell and Gary Bradds.
Ohio State's problem was that Lucas suffered a knee injury against Wake Forest in the semifinals. As Nowell put it, "The guy we ran our offense through had his leg all bandaged and could barely walk straight."
Lucas still managed 11 points and 16 rebounds in the championship game, but shot 5-of-17 to do it. Havlicek and Nowell were little help, going 9-of-30.
The 6'9" center Paul Hogue was named the tournament's MOP on the strength of his 22-point, 19-rebound effort in the final. Guard Tom Thacker added 21 points, including a 9-of-11 night from the foul line, as Cincinnati won its second straight title.
Ohio State's stars played for the final time as Buckeyes that night, suffering only their third loss in three years. Two of those came to Cincinnati, both in national championship games.
The Bearcats' repeat is not an achievement to be minimized, but how would this rematch have turned out if Lucas had been in prime condition?
UCLA coach Jim Harrick felt that a short bench was a solid philosophy, and his 1995 Bruins usually went only seven deep. Heading into the national championship game, that plan looked suicidal against the depth and pace of defending champion Arkansas.
Especially troubling for UCLA was the loss of star point guard Tyus Edney to a wrist injury. Backup Cameron Dollar would have to steer the ship against a team that feasted on starters, never mind backups.
What no one understood at the time was that the Hogs had struggled to burn the competitive fire as hot as they had on their march to the 1994 title. Scotty Thurman said, "There were a lot more distractions on and off the court. It makes it a lot harder to keep that hunger going."
UCLA's Ed O'Bannon played a game that placed him into the stratosphere of title game heroes like Danny Manning and Jack Givens, recording 30 points, 17 rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Perhaps even more impressive was the UCLA defense clamping on Arkansas stars Thurman and Corliss Williamson. A year after shooting a combined 16-of-37 in a final win over Duke, the two went a miserable 5-of-25 against the Bruins.
Dollar dished out eight assists against only three turnovers. Guard Toby Bailey supported O'Bannon with 26 points and nine boards, and Czech center George Zidek scored 14 of his own while muscling Williamson out of his preferred low-post home.
Even if the Hogs were ripe for the slaughter, the Bruins have to receive some respect for working hard enough to turn conventional wisdom on its head.
Duke's ninth trip to the Final Four finally had the desired result. But all anyone wanted to talk about was the Devils exorcising the demons of UNLV's dominating 1990 win. Kansas was essentially a team of extras in the 1991 Final Four highlight film.
Roy Williams didn't take long to dig the Jayhawk program out from NCAA sanctions, but the squad he ran out was not like the star-powered units that he was assembling by the mid-'90s. Mark Randall, Adonis Jordan and Alonzo Jamison were no Paul Pierce, Jacque Vaughn and Raef LaFrentz.
At least they made an NCAA final.
Meanwhile, Duke was just beginning to reach its early-'90s peak. Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill combined for 40 points, 19 rebounds and 12 assists. Laettner was a metronomic 12-of-12 from the line.
There was a great sense of relief from college hoop fans nationwide, with Duke actually being a sentimental favorite after so many failed Final Fours and the vanquishing of the brutal UNLV machine. Twenty years on, it's inconceivable to picture Duke as the crowd favorite, but it was.
Kansas was just there for a truly unremarkable championship game. Not a great game but not a bad game, this one was simply...there.
For the second straight season, Duke's upstanding, plucky bunch were seen as the defenders of the purity of basketball, under attack from some hip-hop-addled, swaggering nuisance. Or something.
Michigan's Fab Five demolished the notion that a team had to be experienced and businesslike to succeed in college basketball. To boot, they wore shorts that players in their parents' generation would have tripped over after every dribble.
All Duke did was win. And occasionally stomp on chests. Fate seemed to be riding on its shoulders after the classic Hill-to-Laettner hookup to deny Kentucky a Final Four trip the previous week.
Michigan led by a point at halftime, but came out overexcited about that fact and quickly found both Chris Webber and Jalen Rose in foul trouble. The kids reacted like they had been disciplined for raiding the cookie jar, sheepishly wilting on defense.
Duke scored on 12 of its last 13 possessions of the game, smashing the Wolverines 41-20 in the second half. Webber was the only Michigan player able to consistently crash the boards, with Rose, Juwan Howard and seven-footer Eric Riley combining for 12 boards to Webber's 11.
Before Michigan's semifinal win over Cincinnati, Webber said, "Our strength is that we don't respect anyone." Duke reacted like a team that knew what winning championships was all about, taking the Fab Five behind the woodshed and teaching them that taking the game seriously was not a weakness.
Team chemistry can be a funny thing. Reactions after the 1984 national title game reflect one team with an abundance of chemistry and one team seriously lacking it.
John Thompson's Georgetown Hoyas spread the ball around so effectively that five different players scored in double figures. Patrick Ewing's comment about playing against Akeem Olajuwon: "I play against a lot of good players, especially in practice."
Olajuwon's comment about not getting the ball: "We play selfish. I was open and my teammates said they missed me. But how many times can they miss me?"
Cougar reserve Benny Anders on coach Guy Lewis' substitution patterns: "How can the man forget the athletes he has on the bench?" Thompson got 75 minutes out of his bench; Lewis used his for 30.
Lewis on his players' complaints: "I told Akeem we were trying to get him the ball. Damn! He still doesn't know the game. Benny? We don't pay attention to that."
Once again, there are people wondering why Guy Lewis isn't in the Hall of Fame.
Georgetown's greater balance led to a 10-point halftime lead. After the break, the Cougars' frustrations boiled over—none more so than those of forward Michael Young. Young attempted 21 shots, making only eight. Leaving aside freshman Reggie Williams, no two Georgetown players attempted 21 shots combined.
Guard Alvin Franklin nearly rallied Houston by himself, scoring 14 of his game-high 21 points in the second half. The problem was that Olajuwon could not bare his teeth defensively, since Lewis left him in long enough to pick up his third foul just before the half and his fourth shortly after. Williams, Ewing and Michael Graham were able to drive on and shoot over Akeem with impunity.
Phi Slamma Jamma may have been exciting to watch, but all their weaknesses left them ripe for the picking against a team like the Hoyas, who held their opponents to an NCAA-record 39.5 percent shooting for the season.
For the second straight year, the Kentucky Wildcats were involved in a national championship game in which the winner shot 38 percent from the floor. Unfortunately for them, this time they were the ones letting a scattershot opponent off the hook.
Rather than committing the turnovers that Syracuse did last season, Kentucky instead committed fouls—lots of them.
Kentucky bailed Arizona out of a terrible shooting night by allowing it to shoot 41 free throws, making 34 of them. Four Kentucky players fouled out of the all-Wildcat final, including starting forwards Ron Mercer and Scott Padgett.
Mercer could be excused for being happy to get away from the relentless defensive pressure of Arizona's Michael Dickerson and Miles Simon, who harassed him enough that he could only take nine shots and committed five turnovers. Padgett wasn't quite so blanketed, putting up 16 shots and only knocking down five.
Simon seemingly spent the entire night at the free-throw line, going 14-of-17 to account for almost half of his 30 points. Freshman Mike Bibby produced 19 points, nine rebounds and four assists in becoming the first rookie point guard to lead a team to a national title.
Arizona did commit 18 turnovers, but Kentucky didn't take as much advantage as it could have, pulling up for three-pointers on 30 of its 72 shots.
The Wildcats (Tuscon vintage) displayed shaky ball-handling and poor shooting against sloppy, reaching defense and questionable shot selection. This game stayed within six points from the beginning to the final 14 seconds, but primarily because it seemed like a game no one wanted to win.
Just before halftime of the 1990 title game, Duke forwards Brian Davis and Christian Laettner tried to celebrate a rare good play. The attempted high-five ended in Davis slapping Laettner in the face. It was that kind of night.
UNLV's 30-point pounding remains the most lopsided championship game in history, but it wasn't dull. The backcourt pressure of Anderson Hunt and Greg Anthony likely gave Duke freshman Bobby Hurley nightmares for weeks. The flu that Hurley was battling didn't help, as most of his quickest moves were reserved for dashes to the can.
An 18-point Rebel streak ended the last chance Duke had at contending, taking the score from 57-47 to 75-47 in a span of less than three minutes.
Of Duke's 23 turnovers, 16 were UNLV steals. Easy transition dunks make it a simple matter to shoot 61 percent from the floor, as UNLV did.
Several title games have featured one or both teams simply playing terrible basketball. Duke didn't acquit itself all that well, but there's a difference between a team playing badly and its opponent forcing it to do so.
Duke didn't curl up and die so much as Vegas bludgeoned it into submission.
The effects of tournament expansion were plain to see in the 1980 Final Four, as Louisville was the only semifinalist to finish better than third in its conference. The 30-3 Cardinals had to face off with a UCLA team that bore little resemblance to the teams that had steamrolled to 10 national titles under John Wooden.
The Bruins had to rely on the smooth shooting of Kiki Vandeweghe and a group of steady, but unspectacular supporting players like Rod Foster and Mike Sanders. There was no Walton or Alcindor, and Vandeweghe may have been the closest this team got to even a Richard Washington.
Still, the Bruins battled into a 28-26 halftime lead that had Louisville coach and former John Wooden assistant Denny Crum accusing his team of choking in the first half. Led by scoring machine Darrell Griffith and rugged rebounder Derek Smith, the Cards outscored their opponents by better than 10 points per game in the regular season, but could never shake UCLA.
The Bruins held Griffith without a point for more than 10 minutes in the second half, forging their biggest lead—five points—in the process. In the final five minutes, however, Griffith was responsible for 11 straight points. Two dishes to wide-open guard Jerry Eaves and seven points for Dr. Dunkenstein himself put the Cards ahead 56-54, a lead that they would never lose.
Griffith finished with a game-high 23 points, impressively shooting 9-of-16 by not forcing up bad efforts under UCLA's defensive scrutiny. No other Cardinal scored in double figures, but their efforts showed up in other ways.
Sophomore Rodney McCray yanked down 11 rebounds. Jerry Eaves knocked down the two late shots from Griffith and made a key defensive play by altering a Vandeweghe layup that could have put the Bruins up six.
Perhaps the most heroic performance may have come from Louisville guard Wiley Brown, who played with an artificial thumb. He left the appendage on the breakfast table and had to have it fished out of a hotel dumpster.
UCLA's defensive performance was commendable, but the Doctor would not be denied.
Another year of the UCLA Bruins' fierce pressing style allowed them to perfect it, although the 1965 edition did lose two games. Without distributor Walt Hazzard, Gail Goodrich was free to do his own thing offensively to the tune of nearly 25 points per game.
Once again, the Bruins were an undersized bunch, although 6'6" Edgar Lacey and 6'7" Mike Lynn gave them a bit more length than they'd had the previous year.
Michigan wasn't an imposing team vertically, at least not the way Duke had been the year before. However, forwards Bill Buntin and Oliver Darden combined for nearly 500 pounds of interior beef. Star guard Cazzie Russell was a tough matchup, standing 6'5" himself.
All three performed respectably in the box score, with Russell scoring 28 points, Darden 17 and Buntin 14. Unfortunately, the other end of the court was an adventure as long as Gail Goodrich was on the court.
Goodrich tore through the Wolverine defense for 42 points, including 18-of-20 from the free-throw line. His drives went right at Michigan's big men, who were an integral part of coach Dave Strack's game plan. Both Buntin and Darden fouled out, and despite an early lead, Michigan had no answers by the end of the first half.
A vintage 10-1 UCLA run just before halftime sent the Bruins into the locker room with a 47-34 lead.
Despite Goodrich's dominant effort, Princeton's Bill Bradley beat him to the Most Outstanding Player award. Bradley unleashed a 58-point thrashing on Wichita State in the consolation game.
Kenny Washington once again saved his best efforts for the final, scoring 17 points in support of Goodrich. Assistant coach Jerry Norman quipped after the game: "Well, all we have to do now is get to the finals next year, and then just bring in Kenny Washington to see that we win a third one."
Strack's refusal or inability to change from a power-based game plan allowed him to be thoroughly outfoxed by John Wooden and the relentless Bruin players. While the score was respectable, this may have been one of the bigger coaching blowouts in NCAA championship game history.
A year after Lew Alcindor took his talents to the NBA, his alma mater finally met up with a team whose size could have forced even him to fight for his points. The Jacksonville Dolphins boasted 7'2" Artis Gilmore, 7'0" Pembroke Burrows III and 6'10" Rod McIntyre—21 feet of athlete capable of winning games that looked like track meets.
One writer called junior college transfers Gilmore and Burrows "Rent-a-Goon."
Gilmore scored 26.5 points per game and ripped down 22.2 rebounds a night, the latter figure tops in America. The Dolphins scored at least 100 points in each of their first three tournament games, including a 106-100 tornado of a win over Adolph Rupp's Kentucky Wildcats. They were the first Division I team to average 100 points per game for an entire season, and this was still in the pre-shot clock era.
UCLA's response was, at first, a collective yawn. After all, several of the Bruins had practiced against an otherworldly seven-footer for years.
Then, JU jumped up 14-6 early in the first half. John Wooden abandoned his plan to press the perimeter players, instead moving 6'8" forward Sidney Wicks behind Gilmore and sagging other defenders in to help. Wicks recorded four blocks on Gilmore, and the other swarming defenders bothered nearly every shot Gilmore took. UCLA ended the half with nine straight points to lead 41-36.
The situation never really improved for Gilmore and the Dolphins, as the lead stretched as far as 16 points. Gilmore ended with 19 points and 16 rebounds, but shot 9-of-29 from the floor.
Wicks, aside from a sterling defensive job, outrebounded Gilmore by two and also scored 17 points. He was one of four Bruins to score at least 15 points, the kind of offensive balance that had been absolutely inconceivable during the Alcindor years. Topping it all off, the Bruins managed to outrebound the nation's tallest team, 50-38.
Curtis Rowe, who led the Bruins with 19 points, summed up the feeling in the winning locker room when he said, "Every time somebody mentions the three in a row they say Lew did it. Now we just proved that four other men from that team could play basketball—with the best of them."
For once, UCLA had to look at the other bench to see a Goliath, but the battle-tested Bruins still packed a big slingshot.
With no Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer or Tony Delk on the 1998 roster, Kentucky had a rare lack of star power. Even new coach Tubby Smith was a relative unknown compared to the sizable reputation of his predecessor Rick Pitino.
Still, Kentucky won 34 of 38 games coming into the NCAA tournament final, even if the last few were nail-biters. The 'Cats rallied from double-digit deficits in the regional finals and their Final Four matchup with Stanford. To continue the pattern, they fell behind Utah by 12 early in the second half of the championship game.
Big Blue Nation didn't have a whole lot of reason for optimism at the halftime break other than that habit of rallying. Utah had a 24-6 rebounding edge and a 41-31 lead on the scoreboard. The real history buffs would know that no team had ever come back from a double-figure halftime hole to win the title.
The Utes simply wilted in the second half, making only four field goals in the final 16 minutes, one of those a meaningless score with 10 seconds left. Kentucky ended the game on an 18-5 run, making 11-of-12 free throws during that span after attempting only five over the first 35 minutes.
Utah coach Rick Majerus admitted after the game, "I felt that I should have worked a couple of players in earlier." The drained Utes had to console themselves with the knowledge that they weren't the only teams to give away the game in the final minutes to the Comeback Cats.
In the 1972 title game, Bill Walton had seemingly demanded perfection from himself and his team. One year later, he nearly got his wish.
Walton put forth one of the most ruthlessly efficient performances in college basketball history in UCLA's win over Memphis (then known as Memphis State). A 21-of-22 shooting night would seem to indicate that MSU rolled over and died for the large redhead, but in reality, Memphis stayed in the game much longer than anyone would have expected.
The game was tied at halftime, Memphis took a brief lead early in the second and the game was tied again at 45 before Walton led a 12-2 run to finally put the Tigers in the dirt.
Larry Kenon—the Memphis star who would later team with Julius Erving to form the "Dr. J and Mr. K Show" with the New York Nets—picked up three early fouls trying to guard Walton one-on-one. Larry "Little Tubby" Finch, who would later become his alma mater's coaching wins leader, picked up the slack on his way to 29 points, including going 11-of-13 at the foul line.
Still, the Tigers couldn't keep UCLA from running away. Walton left the game with three minutes left after hurting his ankle and the lead at 15 points. The final margin of 21 indicates that Memphis had long before run out of fight.
The Tigers were convinced, and many remained so 30 years later, that Walton had been doing a great many illegal dunk shots and goaltending blocks. Memphis coach Gene Bartow estimated that seven or eight of Walton's scores were dunks.
The referees actually took away four of his baskets for that very reason, prompting Walton to laugh: "Realistically, I was 25 of 26."
Closing in on halftime, it looked like North Carolina coach Dean Smith had concocted a plan that would deliver his first NCAA championship. Indiana's star sophomore guard Isiah Thomas was struggling through a 1-of-7 shooting half. Tar Heel center Sam Perkins had dropped in seven points in less than 10 minutes.
The Tar Heels got themselves off to a 16-8 lead.
Hoosier coach Bob Knight chose that moment to insert sophomore guard James Thomas—no relation to Isiah. James entered and set his defensive sights on Carolina shooter Al Wood. The 6'10" Landon Turner moved over to guard Perkins, leaving Ray Tolbert to cover James Worthy. Shooting guard Randy Wittman drifted out to the wing, looking for open shots.
He found them. Wittman made four jumpers in the final minutes of the first half to give Indiana a 27-26 halftime lead.
In the second half, Indiana tightened the defensive screws even further. Wood, Perkins and Worthy combined for all of five field goals and six rebounds. Worthy and Carolina point guard Jimmy Black would eventually foul out trying to contain Isiah.
The Hoosiers kicked off the second half with an 18-8 run and never let Carolina get closer than seven points again. Isiah recovered to go 7-of-10 in the second half, finishing with a game-high 23 points. Wittman added 16 on 7-of-13 shooting. Tolbert outrebounded Worthy 11-6 and held the future Hall of Famer to 3-of-11 from the floor.
James Thomas didn't make an impact on the box score the way Kenny Washington did for the first couple of UCLA championships, but his move to guard Al Wood visibly turned the tide of the game.
The undefeated 1976 Hoosiers beat their five tournament opponents by a total of 66 points. The 1981 squad blew its NCAA opponents off the court, to the tune of 113 points in total.
The 1971 UCLA Bruins gave a somewhat vulnerable appearance, running to a 29-1 record but sweating through seven wins by five points or fewer. They lacked anything resembling depth, as four starters played at least 77 of the possible 80 minutes in their two Final Four games. They even shot 29 percent in a two-point squeaker over Jerry Tarkanian's Long Beach State squad in the regional final.
Added to all that was a strange setting for a Final Four, with the games being played on a raised platform in the middle of the Houston Astrodome. Only 10 feet separated any sideline from the edge of said platform, resulting in several players tumbling off the court like a heavy sleeper rolling right out of bed. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt.
Still, the Bruins survived and claimed their fifth straight championship. They won their four games by a combined 34 points, a margin that would have been typical for one game's work in the Lew Alcindor era.
In the final, Villanova decided to borrow a page from Tarkanian's playbook and started off in a 2-3 zone.
Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe struggled early and never really got on track, but center Steve Patterson had no such problems. Patterson shot 9-of-13 in the first half and went into the locker room with 20 points. The Bruins held an eight-point lead at the break, and decided to play some stall-ball in the second half to drag the Wildcats out of their zone.
That approach nearly backfired, as UCLA could only score three baskets in the first 15 minutes of the second half against the Wildcat man-to-man defense. Villanova star Howard Porter kept his team in the game, finishing with 25 points on 10-of-21 shooting.
The 'Cats clawed to within three points on several occasions, but could never get closer. Porter achieved the rare feat of winning the Most Outstanding Player award for a losing team.
A UCLA team that played with a chip on its shoulder proved it could still survive without its dominant big man. Still, it was set to bring up another one, just in time to hold off the barbarians at the gate.
For the second straight season, the Florida Gators held an opponent to a miserable night from outside the three-point arc. Ohio State's 17 percent from deep was no better than UCLA's the previous year.
The biggest difference was that Ohio State had a freshman inside hammer named Greg Oden, and he was nearly enough to keep the Buckeyes in the game against the veteran Gators.
Oden pounded Florida for 25 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks, while also forcing Gator intimidator Joakim Noah to the bench with early foul trouble. Despite all Oden's efforts, the Buckeyes still trailed by 11 at halftime.
With Noah a non-factor and Al Horford (18 points and 12 rebounds, but 6-of-15 shooting) struggling to handle Oden on either end, the perimeter game had to open up for Florida—and it did.
Taurean Green—whose 0-of-7 long-range effort the previous year may have been the only ugly number in the UF box—dialed in for 16 points, hitting all three of his deep shots. Lee Humphrey, whose entire job description consisted of hitting threes, made 4-of-7.
Just like last season, the Gators knocked down three straight triples to put their opponent on the ropes close to halftime. This time, the barrage started with Ohio State down two with less than six minutes to go in the first half. Two minutes later, the lead was 11 after Humphrey, Corey Brewer and Green each buried one from deep.
Oden and classmate Mike Conley combined for 20 points from halftime to the 5:03 mark, at which point the Buckeyes had pulled within six. Once again, Green drained a three and in doing so drained the life out of Ohio State. The lead never dipped back below seven and got as high as 14.
Florida showed that it could win from outside when an opponent was able to dominate inside. Ohio State gave it a much better game than UCLA, but still lacked answers when it mattered most.
If Georgetown's Patrick Ewing started the era of freshman big men leading their teams to NCAA championships, Louisville's Pervis Ellison may have perfected it.
In 1982, Ewing's destructiveness turned out to be more painful to his own team than to his opponents, giving away 10 points on goaltends. Ellison simply made the plays that his team needed him to make, and all he gave Duke was chronic foul trouble.
The Blue Devils' solid front line of Mark Alarie, David Henderson and Jay Bilas finished the game with more fouls (14) than rebounds (13). Only Bilas was actually on the court at the final horn.
Both teams had talented scoring guards, but both endured serious field-goal droughts. Duke's Johnny Dawkins scored 24 points on the night, but didn't make a field goal for the final 15 minutes. Louisville's Milt Wagner didn't make a basket until more than 34 minutes had elapsed, but he had a pair of scores in the late going as the teams traded the lead.
The dagger, however, could come from no one other than "Never Nervous" Pervis. Ellison snared an errant shot from Jeff Hall—one which Hall would claim was a pass—and laid the ball home for a 68-65 Cardinal lead with 38 seconds left.
An eerie sense of deja vu set in among viewers of the 2012 NCAA championship game, especially Kentucky fans who knew a little history.
Four years prior, Bill Self's Kansas team trailed John Calipari's Memphis team by nine points with 2:12 to go, then rallied to force overtime. Monday night, Kansas launched a 9-3 run to pull within nine with 4:17 to go. Plenty of time, especially by Self-Calipari standards.
The lead would eventually dwindle to five, but Kentucky's freshmen were made of sterner stuff than Memphis's players had been. Tyshawn Taylor beat Michael Kidd-Gilchrist badly on a back door cut, but MKG rallied to stuff the shot. A shaken Taylor then hummed a pass into the stands, and Kansas was never again able to challenge.
John Calipari's first national championship took away a lot of the ammunition from detractors of his one-and-done recruiting methods. It also started an annoying cottage industry of "how long until it's vacated" jokes on Twitter.
Calipari deserves commendation for recruiting players with more desire to win a title than to show off for NBA scouts, players who understand that doing the former allows many more opportunities to do the latter.
Anthony Davis delivered a Patrick Ewing-caliber performance, scoring only six points but dominating every other area of the game. He rattled Kansas's inside duo of Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey into a combined 8-for-25 night from the floor.
Credit must still be given to a Kansas team that was athletically overmatched, but still rallied to avoid a disheartening blowout.
The rest of college basketball must cope with a Calipari-led Kentucky program that has now proven it can send players to the NBA and win championships in the process. Good luck with that.
North Carolina State beat Marquette to win the 1974 national championship. And no one cared.
The main event was two days prior, when the Wolfpack worked double-overtime to knock off the seven-time defending champions from UCLA. Still, this is a discussion of championship games, so back to State vs. Marquette.
NC State had served a probation period the previous year, missing the tournament despite an undefeated record. David Thompson, whose recruitment had caused the sanctions, proved that his services were worth the short-term sacrifice.
Thompson drew a charge in the first half on a basket that put Marquette up 28-27. Warriors coach Al McGuire was livid, and made it plainly clear to the officials. McGuire was whistled for a technical foul, and it took less than a minute before he followed it with another.
The Warriors trailed 39-30 at the half, and were down by 19 five minutes into the second. All told, the middle eight minutes of the game were scored 24-4 in favor of the Wolfpack. In a boxing match, this would have been where humanitarians would cry for the fight to be stopped.
Coach Norm Sloan ordered the Wolfpack into a delay offense from there, which allowed Marquette to come back within nine. The lead never shrank any further.
Rivers was the only member of the Wolfpack to shoot below 50 percent, and the team finished at a solid 56 percent. Marquette, conversely, made only 36 percent.
McGuire remains a divine figure among the Marquette faithful, but his inability to contain the devil inside gave NC State all the opening they needed to blow this title fight wide open. Had McGuire cursed silently to himself, this could have been a much closer game.
Or perhaps David Thompson would have gone off for 40 instead of 21.
Sports Illustrated's Alex Wolff used an account of the 1964 UCLA championship team as a de facto obituary for coach John Wooden when he passed away in 2010. The first of Wooden's 10 national championship teams, these Bruins did not have a low-post juggernaut a la Alcindor or Walton.
Instead, the 1964 team made do with a starting lineup with no player taller than 6'5", employing a harassing 2-2-1 zone press. Turnovers and transition baskets led to horse races in which no opponent could keep up. The team rode this system—which one horse-conscious writer called the "Glue Factory"—to an undefeated 29-0 record.
Its final opponent, the Duke Blue Devils, had all the size that UCLA lacked. Bill Buckley and Hack Tison were both double-digit scorers who happened to stand 6'10". Also, 6'4" swingman Jeff Mullins was a tough assignment for any defender, averaging more than 24 points per game.
Not a bit of it mattered. Despite Duke managing to get Bruin stars Walt Hazzard and Keith Erickson into foul trouble, their backups excelled. Doug McIntosh and Kenny Washington combined for 34 points and 23 rebounds; their combined season averages were 9.7 points and 8.6 rebounds.
By contrast, while Buckley would go on to have a solid game (18 points and nine rebounds), Tison was of little use (seven and one).
With about seven minutes left in the first half, Duke led 30-27. Two-and-a-half minutes later, it found itself shell-shocked victims of numerous turnovers and blocks, trailing 43-30.
The halftime score was 50-38, and UCLA never looked back. For Duke, 29 turnovers were simply too many to overcome.
Michigan State's bitter rivals from Ann Arbor made two Final Fours in the early '90s with a group of freshmen who didn't know the meaning of pressure. The Spartans took the opposite path, riding a group of upperclassmen to a pair of Final Fours themselves.
And unlike Michigan, State was able to close the deal in the final.
MSU found several different ways to break Florida's full-court press, forcing Gator coach Billy Donovan to call it off shortly before halftime. UF did start it back up early in the second half, closing an 11-point halftime deficit to six.
With 16 minutes left, Spartan point guard Mateen Cleaves crumpled to the floor on a fast break, gruesomely rolling his ankle. Cleaves had been lighting up Florida with smooth passes, effortless drives and three-bombs from outside. After he hobbled off, his backcourt mate Charlie Bell had to assume the point, which he had run when Cleaves missed time with injuries earlier in the season.
Not only did Sparty survive with Cleaves in the locker room, the lead was expanded from six to nine by the time Cleaves returned. MSU then cranked up a 21-9 run that put the game on ice, much like Cleaves' ankle.
Cleaves' fellow seniors A.J. Granger and Morris Peterson combined for 40 points, including six three-pointers. Shooting 56 percent from the floor, Michigan State would have had to make serious errors to allow Florida to stay in the game.
Once Cleaves went out, the Spartans' focus remained razor-sharp, and those errors simply weren't bound to happen.
Houston's Phi Slamma Jamma teams had the freedom to run as wild as they wanted on the court. They never won a national title.
Michigan's Fab Five had similar free rein during their brief time as a unit. No championships for them, either.
The Sports Illustrated feature on Duke's 2001 championship win discussed how coach Mike Krzyzewski let his players play and shooters shoot in the wake of a February injury to star big man Carlos Boozer. The confidence that came from NBA-caliber players (the starting lineup boasted four players who are still in the NBA and one that likely would be) knowing that their coach would let them play their way out of a slump served them well against Arizona.
Mike Dunleavy had made only 6-of-19 from beyond the arc during the NCAA tournament's first five rounds. Against the Wildcats, he found his stroke again, hitting 5-of-9 for the game and scoring 18 points in one seven-minute stretch.
Jay Williams and Chris Duhon blanketed Arizona's backcourt duo of Jason Gardner and Gilbert Arenas, holding them to 6-of-28 from the floor.
Arizona pulled it to 71-68 with about five minutes left. Then Shane Battier went to work; he scored six of Duke's final 11 points and set up three more with a screen to pop Jay Williams open from deep.
There were a few future pros on the Arizona roster as well, but Duke's crew got out and played their game as freely as they had all season.
It's been 36 years since a team ended an undefeated season with a national title. The 1976 Indiana Hoosiers had only one regret—that they hadn't done it the year before, as well.
All-American forward Scott May had suffered a broken arm late in the 1975 season, causing him to miss several games and leaving him ineffective in the 1975 regional-final loss to Kentucky. Recovered, rejuvenated and refocused, May and his teammates had no such bad luck in '76.
Big Ten rival Michigan stood in the way of Hoosier history, and it was determined not to suffer a third defeat in one season. Indiana guard Bobby Wilkerson drew the first brunt of that determination, being knocked to the floor with a head injury just two minutes into the game.
While the Hoosiers tried to get their offense back in sync after the injury, Michigan also managed to pick apart their defense. The Wolverines ended the first half with a 35-29 lead, shooting better than 60 percent.
Jim Wisman had nearly had his jersey ripped off in one of coach Bob Knight's first memorable tirades. As Wilkerson's replacement, Wisman began feeding his big dogs in the second half. Scott May and Kent Benson combined for 51 points on the night, with 33 coming in the second half. Michigan's solid big men Phil Hubbard and Wayman Britt struggled with foul trouble throughout the second half, and both were eventually disqualified.
The game was still tied at 51 with 10 minutes to go. With about seven minutes left, the Wolverines trailed by only four points, 63-59. Things fall apart.
Michigan guard Rickey Green led his team with 18 points, but there were simply no answers for May's 26 points and eight rebounds or Benson's 25 and nine.
Four of IU's five starters would be high NBA draft picks. Today, teams like Kentucky make that kind of feat look easy, but going undefeated takes more than just an army of future pros.
John Wooden's retirement announcement came at the end of an overtime battle with Louisville in the 1975 Final Four. It was the second overtime game that Wooden's UCLA Bruins had survived in the same tournament, to say nothing of a three-point escape against Montana in a West Region semifinal.
With no Alcindor, no Walton and not even a Sidney Wicks, these Bruins played a balanced game in which four players averaged double figures and all three frontcourt starters averaged at least seven rebounds per game. Wooden's short bench contrasted sharply with final opponent Kentucky's youthful rotation, augmented by freshman gunner Jack "Goose" Givens and a pair of burly 6'10" rookies, Rick Robey and Mike Phillips.
The first half of the championship game was a tight battle all the way, featuring 15 lead changes and five ties. UCLA built a 10-point lead in the second, then watched Kentucky star Kevin Grevey drag the Wildcats back within one with less than seven minutes to go.
A charging foul and a technical on UCLA captain Dave Meyers gave Grevey a chance to put Big Blue in front, but he missed the technical foul shot and the one-and-one that followed. A foul on the ensuing possession left Kentucky still a point back when it could have taken a four-point lead. No lead of any size ever came.
Grevey finished with 34 points, but didn't get much support. The 'Cats shot less than 39 percent as a team.
For the Bruins, Richard Washington and Dave Meyers combined for 52 points and 23 rebounds. Guard Pete Trgovich scored 16 points and frustrated Kentucky guard Jimmy Dan Conner all night. Point guard Andre McCarter dished 14 assists, while the Bruins' lone reserve, forward Ralph Drollinger, contributed 10 points and 13 rebounds in only 16 minutes.
Rather than ride one dominant talent, these Bruins got tremendous contributions from sources both likely and unlikely. McCarter summed up the feelings of many former Bruins and their fans when he told the departing Wooden, "Coach, I hope you have a nice life."
The college basketball world missed its opportunity to snap the UCLA championship streak. A team led by the likes of Sidney Wicks and Steve Patterson had talent and desire, but could never be as destructive as a team led by Lew Alcindor or his Westwood low-post heir, Bill Walton.
Walton was good for 21 points and 15 rebounds per game in his sophomore season. As strong as he was at scoring, rebounding and passing, according to many of his opponents, he was as even better at whining. Louisville's Al Vilcheck, whose team lost to UCLA in their 1972 semifinal, said, "The officials put him in a cage. He cries a lot, constantly, and he's too good a man to do that."
Crying or not, Walton intimidated his opponents. Florida State's Lawrence McCray, a man every bit as large as Walton at 6'11", missed six straight layups during pregame warmups when he spotted Walton watching him from the other end of the court. McCray would make 3-of-6 during the game, but only played 23 minutes due to foul trouble.
Walton was likewise hampered by foul trouble, but still played 34 minutes—enough time to put up 24 points and 20 boards. Fellow sophomore Keith Wilkes helped to put away the pesky Seminoles.
Wilkes had 23 points and 10 rebounds himself, taking full advantage of the overbearing attention being paid to Walton. Late in the game, he made other plays that would not show up in a 1972 box score, like a steal and winning a crucial jump ball with 1:05 left.
Ron King led all scorers with 27 points for the Seminoles. FSU cut the lead to 79-72 with four minutes left, but three straight turnovers allowed UCLA to burn the clock down and slowly close the door on Florida State.
Bill Walton was sorely disappointed with both his own effort and his team's. The growing pains were only temporary, though, as both Walton and the Bruins would prove the following year.
Sean May certainly did not follow in his father Scott's footsteps. Sean chose North Carolina over Indiana because he had no desire to live in his dad's shadow. Nor did he have any illusions about echoing Scott's game.
Sean said, "I knew from the way I ate that I wouldn't be a small forward [like him], shooting jump shots." Against Illinois in the 2005 national title game, May didn't need to take jumpers. He made Illinois miserable with a steady stream of seemingly effortless layups and dunks.
May shot a strong 10-of-11 from the field en route to 26 points and 10 rebounds. Containing him was too much for Illini center James Augustine, who fouled out in only nine minutes of action.
The Illini trailed by 13 at halftime but managed to rally behind a barrage of three-point shots. Five of their first six treys of the second half were good, bringing them back from 15 down to within three.
UNC stretched the lead back out to 10 with 8:51 to go, but only attempted two shots over the next 3:41, allowing Illinois to get back into a tie. The shots deserted Illinois in the final minutes, as it made its last shot with 2:41 to go.
Illinois went 15-of-30 inside the arc, but settled for a lot of long bombs. The Illini threw up a whopping 40 three-point attempts, making only 12. Luther Head was 5-of-16 by himself.
Carolina, being more able to grind for points inside, shot 52 percent to Illinois' 38 percent.
The Illini showed great tenacity in the comeback, but the rally may have drained them since four of their starters logged 37 minutes or more. Carolina's superior depth and rotation served it well in a very competitive game.
In most cases, a team that boasts three 20-point scorers and shoots 30-of-34 from the foul line in a national championship game has an easy road to the title. In 1978, Duke proved the exception, getting cooked by a rampaging Goose.
Jack "Goose" Givens was the easy choice for Most Outstanding Player after dropping in 41 points on 18-of-27 shooting. He torched a zone defense that Duke was reluctant to abandon, even as Givens continued to score at will.
Eugene Banks paced the Blue Devils with 22 points. Jim Spanarkel scored 21 and Mike Gminski added 20 to go with 12 rebounds. Duke made a living on its transition game throughout the season, but Kentucky shut it down for most of the night.
In the final minute of the first half, Duke reduced the Kentucky lead to one point. Unfortunately, the Devils were unable to shut off a torrid run from Givens, who scored 16 of Kentucky's final 18 points in the first half. He dropped in the final six of the half to send his 'Cats into the break up 45-38. Givens had already scored 23 at halftime.
A technical on Duke coach Bill Foster allowed UK to convert a four-point play and launch a 15-4 run that left the Devils trailing 66-50.
Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall was nearly guilty of counting his chickens (geese?) before they hatched. Pulling each of his starters to allow them to soak up the applause, Hall was forced to hurriedly send Givens, Rick Robey, Kyle Macy et al. back into the game. Duke had scratched back to within four points at 92-88 with 23 seconds remaining.
UK found big senior James Lee with a long pass to beat the Blue Devil press, and Lee flushed a dunk at the opposite end to seal the final margin.
Duke's balance and decent shooting would normally have kept it in the game against anyone. Leaving too many holes in its zone for Givens to exploit, though, dug a hole so big that even Hall's faulty substitution patterns couldn't help dig out the Blue Devils.
Arkansas was no longer playing every possession in a "40 Minutes of Hell" frenzy, but every possession still held the potential to start a run that would make opponents feel they had been forsaken. Just ask the 1994 Duke team.
After the Blue Devils took a 10-point lead early in the second half, the Razorbacks turned up the heat. Over the next nine minutes, the Hogs outscored Duke 21-6, forcing nine turnovers and turning the deficit into a five-point lead.
Duke managed to stem the tide, and even took the lead back momentarily. Still, the energy expended during the Arkansas rally left both teams somewhat lagging. Head Hog Nolan Richardson actually had his team spreading the court in the final two minutes, when Duke was able to tie the game once more.
In the last minute, Dwight Stewart fumbled a pass, blowing a chance at a wide-open shot. He smartly sent a pass to the wing for Scotty Thurman, whose shot was true despite tight defense from Antonio Lang.
The Razorbacks accomplished a rare feat in winning a game while shooting 39 percent from the floor, considering that Duke shot nearly 45 percent. The entire game wasn't a thing of beauty, but those nine minutes of hell for Duke gave Arkansas players and fans a taste of heaven.
Akeem Olajuwon is a Hall of Fame player. Ed Pinckney is not.
However, there are two things that Pinckney can say he did and Olajuwon did not: One was winning a national championship; the other was standing up to Patrick Ewing (and a stomach virus) in the process.
Villanova's win over Georgetown in the 1985 title game is remembered mainly for Villanova's insane 22-of-28 shooting night. Six missed shots? A normal evening for Patrick Ewing involved that many shots getting swatted into the seats, sometimes before the half.
For all the snarling and ferocity of Georgetown's defense, the bullies were unable to hang when they were battled with equal fury. The Wildcat zone allowed Ewing to make only two shots in the second half. He only attempted one shot in the final 13 minutes and change.
The Hoyas' physicality drove Villanova to 17 turnovers, so the night wasn't all wine and roses. That same physicality, though, was used against them in the end. Villanova made 22 free throws to Georgetown's six.
In the end, there was just no intimidating the 'Cats. Hoya swingman Reggie Williams tried, slapping 'Nova's reserve center Chuck Everson just before halftime. All it seemed to do was put more steel in the Wildcats' resolve.
The 1966 title win for UTEP, then known as Texas Western, is the one immortalized in the film Glory Road. Earlier in the season, Don "The Bear" Haskins became the first coach in Division I history to start five black players in any game; he set the same milestone for championship games that March.
In that pre-Internet age, few observers had any knowledge of how the Miners played, so reporters were free to resort to racially tinged stereotypes. The Baltimore Sun's James Jackson wrote, "The running, gunning Texas quintet can do more things with a basketball than a monkey on a 50-foot jungle wire."
Jackson's dubious phrasing aside, the Miners were the farthest thing possible from the freewheeling, chaotic dervish that basketball observers assumed an all-black team would be. They walked the ball up and ran a strict, disciplined offense. It was Kentucky's lily-white group that liked to get out and push the tempo.
While the Wildcats attempted 70 shots to Texas Western's 49, Kentucky's 38.6 percent success rate ensured that they never got the lead back after Nevil Shed put the Miners up 12-11 midway through the first half.
Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp always had an alibi for the loss, even toward his deathbed days. He tended to either hint that Haskins had used ineligible players or that the referees were biased.
The 23-12 foul discrepancy was certainly a factor, as two of Kentucky's starters fouled out and two others finished with four personals. Texas Western drained 28-of-34 attempts at the line, making up for the relative lack of shooting opportunities.
Shifty guard Bobby Joe Hill paced Western with 20 points, while rugged center David Lattin added 16 along with nine rebounds.
The game itself appears highly unremarkable taken outside of the social context. Still, Rupp's reputation for intolerance stood out in its clearest form in this game. It was that reputation that may have hindered some of his later teams.
Players like Butch Beard and Wes Unseld were highly reluctant to come to Kentucky. If Rupp had followed the current of the times and integrated his roster sooner, Kentucky would likely be even with (or ahead of) UCLA in national championships today.
In 2003, Syracuse got to go back to the scene of its last NCAA championship appearance, as if to exorcise the demon that had guided Keith Smart's final jumper into the net. Freshmen Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara proved to be capable ghostbusters, but it took a vicious fight late.
Kansas trailed by 11 at halftime, but clawed its way back by owning the offensive glass. The Jayhawks rebounded 24 of their 40 missed shots on the way to an overall 49-34 rebound advantage.
Nick Collison ripped down 21 boards to go with his 19 points and fellow big man Jeff Graves pulled down 16, a whopping 11 of them on the offensive end.
Still, KU had so many offensive rebound chances because they missed quite a few shots. As a team, Kansas shot 43 percent from the floor—not a terrible figure, but not a great one. Star guard Kirk Hinrich was no help, making only six of his 20 shots.
Compared to their free-throw shooting, however, that 43 percent looked pretty good. Kansas went a scary 12-of-30 at the line, which helped to short-circuit a few comebacks. Collison was 3-of-10 on the night before fouling out.
In the end, it was all about Syracuse's underclassmen. Melo earned the Final Four MOP award by stuffing the stat sheet with 20 points, 10 boards and seven assists.
Gerry Mac was draining shots from halfway to Baton Rouge, hitting six bombs in the first half for all of his 18 points. Sophomore guard Josh Pace helped fight Kansas off from a few more offensive rebounds, scoring eight points and pulling down eight boards, more than any Orange player save 'Melo.
Sophomore center Craig Forth had more fouls (five) than rebounds (three), but he also blocked three shots. Finally, freshman guard Billy Edelin scored 12 points and made the play that fouled out Kansas swingman Keith Langford. Langford was KU's co-leader in scoring with 19 points, and he was also the player assigned to shadow 'Melo.
The New Orleans voodoo that struck down Syracuse in '87 chose a new victim in '03, and the Orange had a whole team of priests to chant the incantations.
Similar to the 1996 Kentucky team, Duke's 1999 squad featured a host of future NBA players. Five future first-round picks suited up when the Blue Devils faced UConn for the national championship, but only one really played up to that status. A rabid pack of Huskies harassed the rest into submission.
Trajan Langdon's 25 points, including five baskets from long range, led Duke on a night when consensus National Player of the Year Elton Brand could barely catch his breath, let alone get off shots.
Brand scored 15 points, but only got off eight field-goal attempts, four fewer than point guard William Avery and only one more than role players Chris Carrawell and Corey Maggette. The rest of the night, UConn's lumbering center Jake Voskuhl and a rotating cast of helpers made sure that Brand always had two white shirts between himself and the basket.
The Blue Devils were seen partying on a St. Petersburg beach in the early hours of Sunday morning after making the title game, and a Sunday practice was cancelled because coach Mike Krzyzewski felt his team was already prepared to play UConn.
The Huskies' repeated drives to the basket against Duke's vaunted half-court man-to-man defense proved otherwise.
Richard Hamilton took home MOP honors after scoring 27 in the championship game, but teammate Ricky Moore deserved a piece of the trophy. Usually a defensive stopper, Moore torched Avery for 13 points in the first half, then forced Langdon into a travel with less than 10 seconds left and UConn up one.
UConn coach Jim Calhoun's first national title came with what might have been his best coaching job, outfoxing Coach K at several turns. Duke's pregame overconfidence may have started the ball rolling toward the arrogant Goliath reputation the program carries today.
The UCLA teams of Alcindor and Walton may have been derided as one-man teams, but those labels sold great players like Shackelford, Wilkes and Rowe short. The 1988 Kansas Jayhawks looked like a team that could earn the "one-man band" label, but the backing group hit almost no sour notes.
Senior forward Danny Manning sent himself out in style, accounting for 36 percent of his team's scoring and more than half of the Jayhawks' rebounds. The rest of Kansas's starting five, however, set a level of efficiency that would have made Villanova's 1985 championship team envious.
Kevin Pritchard, Milt Newton, Jeff Gueldner and Chris Piper combined to shoot 17-of-21 from the floor. Reserve Clint Normore, plucked off KU's football team, made all three of his shots.
When dealing with a defense that forces a ton of turnovers, as Oklahoma's was notorious for doing, the shots need to fall or a team gets blown off the court. Kansas turned the ball over 15 times in the first half alone, and somehow the game was tied at 50.
With about 12 minutes left, Oklahoma led by five and Kansas coach Larry Brown decided it was time to stop running with the frenetic Sooners. Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs only used one bench player for seven minutes, and he called off the defensive pressure to fall back into a zone.
OU's interior duo of Stacey King and Harvey Grant scored only two points in those last 12 minutes after scoring 29 to that point. Guards Mookie Blaylock and Ricky Grace were in foul trouble after forcing a multitude of turnovers. Blaylock alone accounted for seven steals at game's end.
Similar to Guy Lewis' boneheaded maneuvers with his Phi Slamma Jamma Houston teams, Tubbs abandoned what made his team special, but still nearly rallied to win.
Manning finished the virtuoso performance with a smooth solo of four free throws in the last 14 seconds. The Jayhawks survived Oklahoma's intense pressure, playing almost as well at the Sooners' tempo as their own.
Lorenzo Charles threw down the $11 billion dunk. Without Dereck Whittenburg's air ball, Charles' putback stuff and Jim Valvano frantically in search of a hugging partner, March isn't nearly as mad as we know it to be today.
Without the NC State Wolfpack realizing this impossible dream, the NCAA doesn't have four TV networks ponying up the aforementioned 11 figures to broadcast every minute of the tournament. So, as dripping with significance as this game is, why isn't it higher in these rankings?
Because the game itself was among the strangest of all time.
Advocates of Houston coach Guy Lewis' candidacy for the Basketball Hall of Fame are still struggling to find answers for his strategy in this game. Clyde Drexler found himself in foul trouble, but Lewis left him in until almost a minute after he picked up his fourth. This was still in the first half.
The Cougars yawned through the first half, trailing by eight at the break. The altitude of Albuquerque was surely a factor, as two Louisville players had to be hospitalized for dehydration after their semifinal loss to Houston. Houston did launch a 17-2 run coming out of the locker room, then put its high-performance machine in first gear.
Lewis put the Cougars into a delay offense and pulled center Akeem Olajuwon, ostensibly to give him oxygen. NC State didn't bite, remaining in its tight zone defense and daring Houston to take shots from outside, a skill that few of its dazzling dunkers possessed.
The Wolfpack fought back to tie the game at 52 with two minutes left, and there was no more scoring until Charles snagged that deficient jumper.
Neither team shot 40 percent from the floor. Olajuwon was a deserving winner of the MOP award, but his teammates Michael Young, Clyde Drexler and Larry Micheaux combined for 14 points on 6-of-21 shooting. The trio averaged 46 points per game for the year.
Many coaches will tell their players that there is no tomorrow during a championship game. Guy Lewis demonstrated an admirable concern for his players' well-being, but many of those players would have gladly spent the night in the hospital if they'd been able to place the trophy next to their beds.
The 1979 NCAA championship game is remembered as Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson, not Indiana State vs. Michigan State. The collision of two Hall of Fame players who defined basketball's next decade works to keep the significance of this game fresh in fans' minds today, but the star power also obscures that the game was a bit of a mismatch.
Announcer Dick Enberg would later describe the Sycamores, who entered the game at 33-0, as "this big blond guy and four chemistry majors." While Bird was scoring nearly 30 points per game, guard Carl Nicks was the only other ISU player averaging double figures at 19.3.
Magic averaged more than eight assists per game, getting more than capable support from Greg Kelser (18.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg) and Jay Vincent (12.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg).
In the championship game, Magic and his supporting cast played their typical balanced game. Bird, however, couldn't even rely on himself. He scored 19 points, which would have been a fine game for anyone else, but he needed 21 shot attempts to get there.
Magic scored 24, Kelser scored his usual 19 and other unheralded players stepped into the spotlight to help. Guard Terry Donnelly scored 15, including an eight-point burst early in the second half that extended the Spartans' lead to 16. Forward Ron Charles, who would finish his career as a 64 percent field-goal shooter, contributed seven points and seven rebounds.
Michigan State practiced against Magic to prepare for Bird's passing skills, and Larry spent the day in abject frustration with both his shooting and his passing. The Sycamores had multiple opportunities to climb back into the game after cutting the lead to seven in the second half, but could never execute.
As an event, Magic vs. Larry was top notch. As a game, Michigan State vs. Indiana State could not possibly live up to the hype.
Blame it on voodoo. Weird endings seem to be part and parcel of playing Final Fours in the Louisiana Superdome. Michael Jordan's myth-making dagger, Freddie Brown's errant toss to James Worthy or Keith Smart's magical second half—all decided championships and made games and players legendary.
Chris Webber can understand better than anyone what Brown felt after his turnover. In a game where the Fab Five seemed to have learned from the previous year's title-game manhandling, one where Webber was headed for a likely Final Four MOP award, forgetting that his coach had warned him not to call timeout made a famous player infamous.
The Wolverines and Tar Heels were actually staging a game that resembled the overly dramatized fights at the end of every Rocky movie. Carolina would take a five-point lead, then Michigan would battle back to lead by 10. UNC by eight, Michigan by four.
For every rugged inside score that Webber managed, it seemed that UNC's Donald Williams (a game-high 25 points) was there to respond with a bomb from deep.
What seemed like a meaningless incident early in the second half would turn out to be highly significant in the end. Juwan Howard couldn't find anyone to receive his inbound pass and was forced to burn a timeout, one that would have come in quite handy later.
The Fab Five played a much better game in 1993, but one moment of panic undid a year's learning and improvement.
Gordon Hayward's wayward half-court heave will forever be the defining moment of the 2010 NCAA championship game, a game that certainly lacked style but packed plenty of drama.
The storyline coming in was delicious, with tiny Butler, a school whose entire campus could seemingly fit inside nearby Lucas Oil Stadium, taking on Duke, the Microsoft of college basketball.
Neither team could ever capture a lead bigger than six points. Duke only led by one at the break, and didn't help its cause by making only 4-of-9 first-half free throws.
It would improve with 6-of-6 in the second half before Brian Zoubek's intentional miss that led to Hayward's desperation shot.
Hayward shot only 2-of-11 on the night, emblematic of Butler's scoring difficulties. The team shot only 34 percent, with reserve Avery Jukes (4-of-6) being the only player who shot over 50 percent on multiple attempts.
Zoubek ripped down 10 rebounds—six of them offensive—blocked two shots and altered many more, proving to be the inside beast that Butler lacked.
From outside, Kyle Singler struck efficiently, shooting 7-of-13, including 3-of-6 from long range. His 19 points led all scorers and helped earn him MOP honors.
There are games that are so intense and grinding that you forgive them for their relative ugliness. Butler would play another title game that was simply hideous, but their loss to Duke packed too much excitement to be dismissed.
Desperation fouling often does little but prolong a game that's well out of reach. When you're down nine with 2:12 to go against a team that ranks third worst in America at 59 percent free-throw shooting, though, it's just crazy enough to work.
It did for Kansas, as Memphis bricked 4-of-5 freebies in the final 75 seconds, allowing Mario Chalmers to hit one of the tournament's all-time classic shots and force overtime. Oddly, the Tigers were 9-of-12 before those misses.
Memphis wilted in the extra session, missing seven of eight field-goal attempts while allowing four baskets either classed as layups or dunks. Four of the Tigers starters logged more than 39 minutes.
It took a Herculean effort for Kansas to even reach the overtime. The Jayhawks missed only one free throw all night, shot 52 percent from the floor and held Memphis to 40 percent shooting themselves.
Burly forward Darrell Arthur abused the Tigers for 20 points and 10 rebounds, scoring six of those points during the final rally and overtime.
Future NBA MVP Derrick Rose went for 18 points, six rebounds and eight assists, but was instrumental in allowing Chalmers to tie the game. Memphis coach John Calipari ordered Rose to foul Sherron Collins before he could hit Chalmers for the tying shot, but Rose didn't get there in time.
Calipari has often worn the black hat, skirting around NCAA regulations and getting two Final Four appearances—this one and one with UMass—vacated. Still, one could almost feel sorry for him after seeing a certain championship disappear.
Normally, there's an adjustment period when a coaching change is made. Sometimes, it derails a team's season. Six games into Steve Fisher's head coaching career, he and the Michigan Wolverines won a national championship.
Some people just make it all look easy.
The championship game was far from easy, though. Seton Hall scored six straight points to pull ahead with 2:13 remaining. A minute later, Final Four MOP Glen Rice (31 points, 11 boards in the final) put Michigan back up. With 25 seconds, John Morton, whose 35 points in the final had to make him MOP runner-up, tied the game.
The way Rice had been shooting, everyone was surprised when his last-second three-pointer bounced off the rim.
In overtime, Seton Hall had two possessions with a three-point lead, but came up empty. Junior point guard Rumeal Robinson drew a foul with three seconds left and the Wolverines down one. Few Michigan fans had cause for confidence, since Robinson was a 64 percent free-throw shooter.
Somehow, Robinson dialed in both of his shots in this most stressful of situations, and Michigan claimed a national championship in what qualified as one of the tournament's most harrowing finishes.
If you object to the idea of a referee's whistle deciding the outcome of a game, you're likely not a fan of this particular championship. Even then, it's hard to disrespect the backbone that it takes for a player like Robinson to finish the job that the call sent him to do.
The 1987 title game, held in New Orleans, had no shortage of potential heroes.
Indiana's senior sharpshooter Steve Alford wanted the chance to cement his status as a Hoosier State legend with a national title. Syracuse's muscular freshman Derrick Coleman was certainly a fierce opponent for IU forward Daryl Thomas. The Orangemen also could lean on sophomore point guard Sherman Douglas, who had lit up opponents for 17 points and seven assists per game.
So, if you had put down a Benjamin on former Superdome usher/Baton Rouge burger-flipper Keith Smart as the guy who would make the last-second dagger to win Indiana the national championship, you might have been able to afford a night of opulent partying in the Big Easy.
Not only did Smart knock down the game-winner, he kept tying the game repeatedly. Including the winner, 12 of Smart's 21 points came in the final seven minutes of the game; five of those six baskets either tied the game or put Indiana in front.
With Alford being harassed by Douglas in an unorthodox box-and-one defense, IU's primary perimeter option was shut off. Alford had made seven three-pointers in the first 30 minutes, but was taken completely out of the game while Smart went to work.
Syracuse shot only 11-of-20 from the foul line, including misses by Howard Triche and Derrick Coleman that cost the Orange three points of their own, plus a transition basket by Smart that cut a three-point lead to one.
Smart didn't have anywhere near as good a career as the last guy who hit a title-winning jump shot from the left wing at the Superdome, but that night was pretty good as true defining moments go.
Sadly for Syracuse, it was another game that a team handed over because of struggles with shots that were supposed to be "free."
How you remember the 1982 NCAA championship game is all down to your perspective.
Georgetown's Fred Brown had only four points and five assists, but his errant pass to North Carolina star James Worthy cemented his place as the face of the Hoyas' agony. The pass overshadowed the 23 points and 11 rebounds from monstrous freshman Patrick Ewing and the 18 points from guard Sleepy Floyd.
North Carolina's Michael Jordan made a fateful shot, but lost in that highlight-reel moment was the other eight points he scored in the second half, part of 16 that he would drop on the night. Worthy's "steal" is famous enough to make latter-day observers forget that he led all scorers with 28 points, making 13-of-17 shots.
By the end of the night, John Thompson's decision to start the game with Patrick Ewing swatting every shot he saw proved pivotal. Carolina's first eight points came on Ewing goaltending violations, just to put it in the Heels' minds that Ewing was always lurking.
Carolina forward Matt Doherty said, "Thompson wanted to intimidate us, but it was like free money."
As the first black coach in the NCAA championship game, Thompson was breaking new ground, not that he cared to discuss it. "I resent the hell out of that question," he shouted. "It implies I am the first black man to be accomplished enough and intelligent enough to do this. It is an insult to my race."
The 1980s may have been a golden age for the Final Four, balancing star power, dramatic finishes and the anything-can-happen Cinderella factor. While neither the Hoyas nor Heels were Cinderellas by anyone's definition, few finals would contain this much genuine star power again.
And most finals struggled to conjure one classic moment, let alone two.
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