NCAA Basketball Tournament: 25 Most Unforgettable March Madness Shots
March Madness is unforgettable shots.
It's Cinderellas staying alive with buzzer-beaters. It's half-court prayers that somehow find the bottom of the net. It's the shots that you just know are going in. And it's the tears and the chills that follow.
The NCAA tournament is the greatest event in sports, not just because 68 teams battling it out in a knockout tournament is the most ingenious idea ever, but because a lot of collegiate players manage to shine brightest on the big stage.
Through the years, those players have hit unbelievable shots at the perfect times. Here are 25 of the best, arranged in chronological order from oldest to most recent.
1981 First Round: U.S. Reed's Half-Court, History-Changing Game-Winner
This might just be one of the most underrated shots in NCAA tournament history.
Not only did Arkansas' Ulysses Reed hit a magnificent half-court, game-winning shot, but also he did it to knock off defending champion Louisville.
Moreover, as Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden details, that historical shot was part of the moment when the NCAA tournament transformed into March Madness.
Bryant Gumbel masterfully switched to the game just in time, giving us a moment in television history that will never be forgotten.
1981 Sweet 16: Danny Ainge Goes Coast-to-Coast
Sixth-seeded BYU was an underdog against John Paxson, Kelly Tripucka and No. 2 Notre Dame, but that wasn't going to stop Danny Ainge.
With the Bringham Young Cougars down by one with just eight seconds remaining, the First-Team All-American took the ball the entire length of the court, weaving through four Irish defenders and finishing gracefully over the fifth.
The coast-to-coast, game-winning drive that sent BYU to the Elite Eight was so nice that Ainge's teammates started celebrating with three seconds left.
1982 National Championship: The Beginning of Michael Jordan
The 1982 national championship was a battle of the titans: Sam Perkins, James Worthy, Michael Jordan and the No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels against Patrick Ewing and the No. 1 Georgetown Hoyas.
With under a minute to play, Georgetown held the 62-61 lead, but Jordan—a freshman at the time—smoothly knocked down a mid-range jumper from the left wing, sparking a Carolina win.
On the final play, Georgetown's Fred Brown inexplicably tossed the ball to Worthy, who was nowhere near any of his Hoya teammates.
1983 National Championship: Lorenzo Charles' Dunk
I'm guessing you've probably seen this one before.
No. 6 North Carolina State, which made a remarkable run to the finals, stood no chance against No. 1 Houston, otherwise known as "Phi Slamma Jamma."
But the Wolfpack didn't back down. With the game tied in the waning moments, Dereck Whittenburg threw up the best airball ever, and Lorenzo Charles caught it for the game-winning dunk.
On a more lighthearted note, can somebody give Jim Valvano a hug?
1987 National Championship: Keith Smart's Baseline Jumper
With the clock ticking down and Indiana trailing Syracuse by one, nothing was really developing on the Hoosiers' final possession.
That's when Keith Smart decided to take things into his own hands.
Despite being clogged up in the corner, the young guard took one quick dribble to his left, lost his defender and drilled an off-balance baseline jumper.
It was the game-winning shot in a national championship game, and arguably the biggest play in Indiana basketball history.
1990 First Round: Bo Kimble's Lefty Free Throw
Loyola Marymount was one of the most exciting teams in the nation during the 1989-1990 season, averaging a ridiculous 122.4 points per game.
But all of that changed in the WCC tourney, when superstar forward Hank Gathers tragically collapsed during a game and later died.
Bo Kimble, who played high school ball with Gathers before going to USC and then LMU with him, honored his late best friend in the most tear-jerking way imaginable: by shooting his first free throw of tournament left-handed.
And he drilled it.
1990 Sweet 16: Tate George's "The Original Shot"
Shortly before (spoiler alert) "The Shot" from Christian Laettner, there was "The Shot" from Tate George.
Jim Calhoun's No. 1 Connecticut Huskies had just given up a 19-point lead against Dale Davis, Elden Campbell and No. 5 Clemson. There was just one second remaining, and UConn—trailing by one—had to go the length of the court.
Enter Scott Burrell, the inbounder, and George.
Burrell launched a Joe Montana-like strike 85 feet down the length of the court, where George caught it in the corner, faded away and drilled the unbelievable shot, causing Cliff Ellis and the rest of the Tigers to act like they had just seen a ghost.
1990 Elite Eight: Christian Laettner's First Buzzer-Beater
Before Christian Laettner killed the spirit of Kentucky in 1992 with one of the most memorable shots in tournament history, he broke the heart of Connecticut two years earlier.
No. 3 Duke and No. 1 UConn faced off for a trip to the Final Four, and after 40 grueling minutes, the teams found themselves tied at 72 and headed to overtime.
It appeared the Huskies were on their way to the promised land as they led by one with a few remaining seconds, but the sophomore Laettner stepped up and hit a high-degree-of-difficulty, double-pump leaner to win it for the Blue Devils.
It was an unforgettable shot at the most crucial of moments, but the best part might have been Mike Krzyzewski's reaction and his awkward hug with Jim Calhoun that followed.
1992 Second Round: James Forrest's Miracle
In the second round of the 1992 NCAA Tournament, USC took the lead over Georgia Tech with a shot in the final seconds, and the game looked over.
Not so fast.
The Yellow Jackets inbounded the ball at half court with 0.8 left on the clock, and James Forrest did his best Derek Fisher (before Derek Fisher) impression to miraculously send the Trojans home.
1992 Elite Eight: Christian Laettner's "The Shot"
What is there to say that hasn't already been said about this play?
With a trip to the Final Four on the line, Kentucky led 103-102 with 2.1 seconds remaining in a game that saw a 12-point Wildcat rally in the last 33 seconds of regulation and several lead changes in the final seconds of overtime.
Somehow, Laettner managed to cap off the barn-burner in fitting fashion.
Grant Hill launched a three-quarters-court pass perfectly to the All-American, who caught it at the free-throw line, faked one way, took a dribble, faded the other way and drilled it for the win.
1994 National Championship: Scotty Thurman's Rainbow 3
Scotty Thurman's three-pointer against Duke in the 1994 national championship wasn't a buzzer-beater, but it was undoubtedly the biggest shot of the biggest game of the season, and one that we won't soon forget.
With the game tied at 70 and just under a minute remaining, the Arkansas guard caught the ball on the wing. There were just two seconds remaining on the shot clock and the 6'8" Antonio Lang was all up in his personal space.
No worry, though, as Thurman stayed calm and proceeded to knock down the most important shot of his life.
In 1995, Thurman told The New York Times, "I don't want to be remembered for that one shot," but he hasn't gotten that wish.
That's not a bad thing, though. That one rain-making shot was simply too memorable.
1995 Second Round: Tyus Edney Does Danny Ainge Impression in Fast-Forward
Whenever someone now completes a crucial coast-to-coast drive, it is inevitably compared to speedster Tyus Edney.
"That wasn't quite Edney, but it was good," or "Wow, that was nearing Edney-level," or, "On a scale of one-to-Edney, how fast is that Maserati?"
But it's not like it isn't deserving praise. Edney's 4.8-second, 94-foot dash to topple No. 8 Missouri and send his UCLA Bruins to the Sweet 16 is one of the most iconic plays in NCAA tournament history.
What makes Edney's saving-grace play even better is that the Bruins went on to win their next four in fairly easy fashion to take home the national title.
1998 First Round: Bryce Drew's Pacer
The picture of Bryce Drew being dog-piled by his teammates after diving on the floor is arguably one of the most iconic images in NCAA tourney history, and probably the second most famous dog pile behind Ken Griffey Jr. and the 1995 Seattle Mariners.
Thirteenth-seeded Valparaiso trailed No. 4 Ole Miss by two points with just under three ticks left, and head coach Homer Drew decided to run "Pacer" for his son Bryce.
Essentially, the Crusaders ran a full-length-of-the-court, hook-and-ladder type play, and the ball ended up perfectly in Drew's hand, who buried an off-balance three to give his team the magical upset.
Over a decade later, it's simply known as "The Play."
1998 Sweet 16: Richard Hamilton and Connecticut Play Pinball
As a Washington alum, I'd rather not talk about this one, but if I must...
Khalid El-Amin of Connecticut showed why, when you are trailing, you don't wait until the waning seconds to make your move to the basket. You do it with at least 10 ticks left on the clock.
The heady point guard did just that, and fortunately so, as the (UConn) Huskies missed several shots and played pinball over the (Washington) Huskies, before Richard Hamilton finally got his hands on the ball and knocked down arguably the toughest shot of the sequence to send Jim Calhoun's squad to the Elite Eight.
Fun fact: Hamilton's game-winner, which came after a pinball-like sequence, was an amazing fadeaway over Todd MacCulloch, who is now one of the best pinball players in the world.
It was basically fate.
1999 Sweet 16: Casey Calvary, the Slipper Still Fits
Remember when Gonzaga was still a Cinderella?
The Bulldogs' first NCAA tournament appearance in a streak that is now at 14 straight came with an Elite Eight run, three upsets and a game-winner from Casey Calvary that essentially put mid-majors on the map in March.
In case you can't tell from the grainy video, Calvary hauled in an offensive rebound and scored to give the No. 10 Zags the win over No. 6 Florida.
2000 First Round: Mike Miller's Redemption
It didn't take long for Florida to get revenge on a different mid-major.
With the fifth-ranked Gators trailing No. 12 Butler by one in the final moment, Mike Miller received the ball on the wing with about two seconds left, slashed his way into the lane and scored in between five defenders to send his team to the next round.
Florida went on to beat Illinois, Duke, Oklahoma State and North Carolina all by nine points or more before finally falling to Michigan State in the national championship.
2003 First Round: Drew Nicholas Has Left the Building
A year after winning the national championship, Gary Williams and Maryland came one Drew Nicholas miracle away from being upset in the first round of the 2003 NCAA tournament.
No. 11 UNC-Wilmington held a 73-72 lead with the Terrapins inbounding under their own basket with five seconds left.
But Nicholas, who wasn't quite ready to have his career come to an end, zig-zagged down the court and buried an off-balance three from the right wing to send Maryland to the next round.
What made that moment even more memorable was that Nicholas proceeding to run to the locker room after drilling one of the most unforgettable shots in Madness history.
2005 Elite Eight: Was Patrick Sparks' Foot on the Line?
Kentucky ended up falling to Michigan State in double overtime of this game, but that doesn't matter. No one will ever forget the hectic play that ended with a Patrick Sparks three (or maybe two).
The Wildcats trailed by three with 13 seconds left, and chaos quickly ensued.
Sparks air-balled a three. Kentucky got it back, and missed another three, but missed it so perfectly that it bounced back to Sparks at the top of the key. He calmly pump-faked, threw up an off-balance shot against tight defense, and saw it bounce on the rim countless times before finally dropping.
To top it off, it took officials several nail-biting minutes to decide if his foot was behind the three-point line or not.
2006 First Round: Jermaine Wallace's Corner Three
Northwestern State made its second tournament appearance in school history a memorable one.
Trailing No. 3 seed Iowa by two with the clock ticking down, No. 14 NSU took the ball quickly down the court.
Kerwin Forges missed a three, but Jermaine Wallace tracked down the rebound in the corner. As the seconds disappeared, it looked as though the senior had nowhere to go with the ball.
Apparently, that was not the case. He took a dribble, launched the three and buried it. The combination of cold-bloodedness and upset value make this an unforgettable moment.
2006 Sweet 16: Kenton Paulino Tops Kevin Pittsnogle
No. 2 Texas looked like it was going to hold off No. 6 West Virginia in the 2006 Sweet 16, but Kevin Pittsnogle, owner of one of my favorite names of all time, drilled a three from the top of the key to tie the game with 10 seconds left.
The Longhorns came right back down the court, however, and found senior Kenton Paulino, who knocked down a long three to win it at the buzzer.
Fifteen seconds, two insanely clutch shots, one unforgettable finish.
2008 First Round: Ty Rogers Ends a Thriller
Going into the 2008 tourney, not many people picked out No. 5 Drake vs. No. 12 Western Kentucky as a candidate for "Game of the Decade."
After the first half, though, the up-and-down game had our attention.
When Jonathan Cox hit a three-pointer to cap a relentless Drake comeback and send the game into overtime at 88 apiece, it didn't seem like things could get any better.
Then the final seconds of the extra period happened.
Cox hit two free throws to put the Bulldogs up by one with six seconds left, and Tyrone Brazelton, who had 33 points on the night, streaked down the court and handed it off to Ty Rogers, who drilled the deep three to cap off a scintillating 101-99 win.
On a team that featured Brazelton, Courtney Lee and Jeremy Evans, Rogers was the unlikely hero, and we won't forget him for it.
2008 National Championship: Mario Chalmers' Game-Tying 3
Before he was a target for jokes on the Miami Heat, Mario Chalmers was breaking the hearts of Derrick Rose and Memphis Tigers fans everywhere.
In the 2008 national championship, Rose made just one of two free throws to put the Tigers up three in the final seconds.
Kansas' Sherron Collins took the ball up court, and in the most sloppy fashion possible, gave Chalmers a dribble-handoff. The junior guard composed himself and proceeded to bury the dagger, sending the game into overtime.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Kansas will still run that same play, which many refer to as "The Chalmers Play."
Much like getting a sandwich named in your honor, getting a play named after you is a sign that you've done something special.
2009 Elite Eight: Scottie Reynolds Sends Pittsburgh Home
With a trip to the Final Four on the line, Villanova and Pittsburgh battled back and forth in one of the most invigorating games of the last decade.
Junior guard Scottie Reynolds made sure the finish matched the first 39 minutes and 54.5 seconds.
After the Panthers tied the game at 76 with just over five seconds remaining, the Wildcats barely got the inbounds pass off in time. They were forced to throw a lob to Dante Cunningham in the middle of the court, but the big man made a nice catch and handed the ball off to Reynolds, who went nearly the length of the court and hit a clutch runner in traffic for the win.
It wasn't quite Tyus Edney, but the stakes were higher.
2010 Second Round: Korie Lucious Curses Maryland
It looked like No. 4 Maryland was on its way to the Sweet 16 when Greivis Vasquez hit a floater to put the Terrapins ahead of Michigan State by one with seven seconds remaining.
But the Spartans quickly inbounded the ball, do-everything point forward Draymond Green brought it up court and found Korie Lucious for the cold-blooded, dead-on game-winner from long range.
Throw in Delvon Roe's duck under the pass, and it was an unforgettable play.
Maybe even a little too memorable for Maryland, a team that has missed the tournament two straight years since that heartbreaker.
2010 National Championship: Gordon Hayward's Miss
Butler forward Gordon Hayward's buzzer-beater heave that would have knocked off Duke and capped off one of the most improbable championship runs in all of sports barely rimmed off, but that doesn't mean you'll soon forget it.
If Hayward had knocked down that 45-footer, it would have been the greatest play in NCAA tourney history.
It would have been like sinking a hole-in-one to win the Masters, like a 50-yard Hail Mary to win the Super Bowl, a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth to win the World Series.