Ranking the 10 Greatest Individual Performances in Final Four History

Jake CurtisFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2013

Ranking the 10 Greatest Individual Performances in Final Four History

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    A player can plant his name in history with a standout performance on the big stage of the Final Four.

    Our list of the top individual performances in the semifinals and finals of the NCAA tournament features some of the greatest players in basketball history. They are great because they produced when it mattered most and the pressure was at its highest level.

    This countdown of the top 10 individual Final Four performances begins with five notable performances over the past nine years that didn't make our Top 10.

    The No. 10 slot is shared by three players whose teams lost in the semifinals and did much of their best work in the third-place consolation game.

Notable Recent Performances

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    In recent years, teams have relied on scoring balance rather than individual brilliance to have success in the NCAA tournament.

    Nonetheless, five players came up with noteworthy performances in the past nine Final Fours.

    Kentucky's Anthony Davis shot 7-of-8 while scoring 18 points, pulling down 12 rebounds and blocking five shots in a 69-61 victory over Louisville in the 2012 semifinals.

    Derrick Rose had 25 points, nine rebounds and four assists in Memphis' 78-63 semifinal win over UCLA in 2008.

    Greg Oden collected 25 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks in Ohio State's 84-75 loss to Florida in the 2007 title game.

    North Carolina's Sean May hit 10 of 11 shots and scored 26 points to go along with 10 rebounds in a 75-70 title-game victory over Illinois in 2005.

    Emeka Okafor had 24 points and 15 boards to lead Connecticut to an 82-73 win over Georgia Tech in the 2004 championship game.

10. Hal Lear (1956), Bill Bradley (1965), Jerry Chambers (1966)

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    Three players deserve inclusion in the top-10 list, even though they did some of their best work in the consolation game. They are not ranked higher because those third-place games don't mean a lot, which is why consolation games were discontinued after the 1981 season.

    Temple's Hal Lear was named the MVP of the 1956 Final Four even though his team lost in the semifinals. Lear scored 32 points in an 83-76 loss to Iowa in the semifinals, then poured in 48 points in his final college game, a 90-81 victory over Southern Methodist in the consolation game.

    Bill Bradley got Princeton to the 1965 national semifinals, but his 29 points and seven rebounds before fouling out were not enough in a 93-76 loss to Michigan. In the consolation game, Bradley set a Final Four record by scoring 58 points on 22-of-29 shooting while pulling down 17 rebounds in a 118-82 victory over Wichita State.

    Bradley was named the Final Four MVP, even though UCLA's Gail Goodrich scored 42 points in the championship game.

    Amid the historical significance of Texas Western's victory over Kentucky in the 1966 championship game, many people forget that Utah's Jerry Chambers was named the MVP of the Final Four that year.

    Chambers collected 38 points and 17 rebounds while almost single-handedly getting the Utes to the title game in an 85-78 semifinal loss to Texas Western. Chambers then scored 32 points with 18 boards in a 79-77 loss to Duke in the third-place game.

9. Don May, Dayton (1967)

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    Dayton's Don May is probably the least recognizable name on our list. But on March 24, 1967, in the national semifinals, he produced one of the best games in Final Four history to boost unranked Dayton to a 76-62 victory over No. 4 North Carolina.

    May hit 16 of 22 shots while scoring 34 points and hauling in 15 rebounds in the stunning upset of the Tar Heels. 

    He added 21 points and 17 boards in the 79-64 championship game loss to UCLA. But carrying his team to a major upset in the semifinals is what earned him the No. 9 spot on our list.

8. Jack Givens, Kentucky (1978)

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    Jack Givens had a pretty good game in Kentucky's 64-59 semifinal victory over Arkansas in 1978, scoring 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting to go along with nine rebounds.

    However, it was his performance in the Wildcats' 94-88 victory over Duke in the title game two nights later that earned him the No. 8 spot on the list.

    Givens hit 18 of 27 shots and scored 41 points against the Blue Devils.

    "Jack Given played the best game I have ever seen anyone play," Duke's Jim Spanarkel said, according to Sports Illustrated.

7. Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse (2003)

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    Carmelo Anthony played just one season of college ball, but he left an indelible mark with his performance in the 2003 Final Four.

    His performance in the title game was impressive, especially his unexpected playmaking ability. Anthony had 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in an 81-78 victory over Kansas in his final college game.

    However, it was his performance in the semifinals that cemented his name in Final Four lore. In that 95-84 victory over No. 1-seeded Texas, Anthony shot 12-of-19, including 3-of-4 from three-point range, to collect 33 points. He also had 14 rebounds and three steals in one of the best all-around games in a national semifinals.

    "Almost every single one of their scores can be attributed in some way to Carmelo Anthony," Texas coach Rick Barnes said afterward, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

6. Gail Goodrich, UCLA (1965)

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    Gail Goodrich's place in our top 10 was assured with his 42-point performance in UCLA's 90-81 victory over Michigan in the 1965 championship game.

    However, it was his consistent production in all of his Final Four games that boosted him a few spots in our rankings.

    Goodrich had 28 points in the 1965 semifinal victory over Wichita State, and he had 27 points in the Bruins' 1964 title-game victory over Duke.

    The 42 points in his final college game were the crowning achievement, though. Goodrich is one of just three players to score more than 40 points in an NCAA title game, and he's the only guard to do it.

5. Larry Bird, Indiana State (1979)

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    Larry Bird's Indiana State career is most often remembered for his matchup against Michigan State and Magic Johnson in the 1979 championship game.

    Although Bird had a decent game with 19 points and 13 rebounds in that 75-64 loss to the Spartans, he made this list based on his remarkable performance in the 1979 semifinals.

    Bird probably had the best game ever produced in an NCAA tournament semifinal, especially considering it was a pressure-packed game the Sycamores won by two points over No. 6-ranked DePaul.

    Bird hit 16 of 19 shots, scored 35 points, pulled down 16 rebounds and added nine assists in a 76-74 victory. The only mitigating factor was that he also had 11 turnovers, nearly giving him a dubious quadruple-double.

4. Bill Russell, San Francisco (1956)

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    San Francisco played the 1956 NCAA tournament without K.C. Jones, who had played during the regular season as a fifth-year senior. But he was declared ineligible for the postseason by the NCAA because he had played a game in a previous season before missing the rest of the season with appendicitis, according to an Associated Press story.

    So Bill Russell was the lone remaining star for the Dons in their quest to repeat as NCAA champs in 1956.

    Russell had demonstrated his ability to perform in the clutch by scoring 23 and 24 points in the Dons' two Final Four victories in 1955. Those came with Jones providing support.

    Russell saved his best for his final college game. His 26 points and 27 rebounds only begin to indicate the impact he had in San Francisco's 83-71 victory over Iowa in the 1956 finals.

    Blocked shots were not an official statistic then, but, as noted in The House That Russell Built, Russell blocked several shots in succession that seemed to turn the momentum after Iowa had taken an early 15-4 lead.

    Russell's defense was a major reason Iowa star Bill Logan, who had scored 36 points in a semifinal victory over Southern Methodist, scored just 12 points in the finals.

3. Danny Manning, Kansas (1988)

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    No one player is more responsible for carrying his team to a national championship than Kansas' Danny Manning was in 1988.

    Although Larry Brown gave the Jayhawks a coaching advantage, they were not laden with talent on the court.

    They lost 11 games during the regular season, finished third in the Big Eight and figured to have no chance to advance far in the NCAA tournament as a No. 6 seed.

    Manning scored 25 points with 10 rebounds in a 66-59 victory over No. 2-seeded Duke in the semifinals. But it was his effort in the finals against No. 1-seeded and heavily favored Oklahoma that pushed him to No. 3 on our list of Final Four performances.

    The Sooners had beaten Kansas twice during the season and had three players who would become first-round draft choices. Two of those first-rounders, 6'11" Stacey King and 6'8" Harvey Grant, figured to make things difficult in the paint for the 6'11" Manning.

    Manning came up with 31 points, 18 rebounds, five steals and two blocks in the Jayhawks' stunning 83-79 victory.

    The team was dubbed Danny and Miracles for Manning's part in the surprising run to a national title.

    Kansas teammate Scooter Barry told the Lawrence Journal-World:

    Everybody else says it’s a perfect name. Danny always says, ‘It wasn’t me. It was all of us.’ Everybody knows he and coach (Larry) Brown carried the weight of the team. With their experience and ability to communicate and take over games...it gave us the opportunity to be in position to win.

2. Bill Walton, UCLA (1973)

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    UCLA center Bill Walton produced the closest thing to a perfect game ever seen in a national championship game.

    Walton shot 21-of-22 and scored 44 points, the most ever scored in a title game, in the Bruins' 87-66 victory over Memphis State in the 1973 title game.

    He did it despite being in foul trouble most of the game and despite the presence of two quality big men for Tigers, 6'9" Larry Kenon and 6'8" Ronnie Robinson.

    Although the final margin was 21 points, Walton's effort did not come in a blowout. The game was tied at halftime, but Walton made all 10 of his field-goal attempts in the second half to enable the Bruins to pull away.

    Walton might have scored a few more points had he not been forced to leave with just under three minutes left with a sprained ankle. By then, UCLA led by 15 points, though.

    Walton came up big in a critical Final Four game the next season, but his 29 points and 18 rebounds in the 1974 semifinal came in a loss to North Carolina State.

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor), UCLA (1969)

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    Although Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's contributions in his final college game in 1969 were worthy of inclusion among the top Final Four performances, it was his body of work that elevated him to the No. 1 spot.

    In six Final Four games, all UCLA victories, Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) averaged 25.7 points and 18.8 rebounds. His numbers would have been more impressive if blocked shots had been recorded at the time.

    Twice he scored more than 30 points in a Final Four game.  Three times he had 20 rebounds or more.

    On March 24, 1969, in his final college game, Abdul-Jabbar made 15 of 20 shots, scored 37 points and pulled down 20 rebounds in a 92-72 victory over Purdue in the championship game. Twenty-four of Abdul-Jabbar's points came in the first half, when the Bruins built an 11-point lead.

    It's worthwhile to remember that dunking was outlawed by the NCAA during Abdul-Jabbar's final two college seasons. Dunking was allowed back in the game in 1976-77.