NCAA Tournament History: The Top 10 Game-Winning Shots in NCAA Bracket Play
Somewhere in this vast galaxy, in some alternate universe, Gordon Hayward’s half-court heave went in the basket and Butler beat Duke to win the 2010 NCAA men's basketball national championship.
In that other world, it is celebrated as the greatest shot in college basketball history and arguably the greatest shot ever in sports.
Hayward’s shot would have topped this SportsLifer list except for one important detail—in this world, Hayward’s shot rimmed out, and instead Duke held on to win its fourth national championship.
Plenty of other shots did go in and did make a difference, though.
Here are the 10 greatest winning shots in NCAA tournament history:
1. Bryce Drew (pictured above), Valparaiso, 1998, First Round
You remember the play.
Valpo trailing Ole Miss by two, seconds left to play, and—we’ll let CBS broadcaster Ted Robinson, now the 49ers play-by-play man, make the call—“The inbounds pass to be thrown by Jamie Sykes, Carter pressuring. It’s to Jenkins…to Drew for the win…GOOD! HE DID IT! BRYCE DREW DID IT! VALPO HAS WON THE GAME A MIRACLE!”
The leaning three-pointer well behind the arc gave 13th-seeded Valpo a 70-69 win. Cinderella beat Florida State to gain the Sweet 16, where Valparaiso fell to Rhode Island.
2. Christian Laettner, Duke, 1992 East Regional Final
In one of the greatest games ever played and Duke trailing Kentucky by one in overtime, Calvin Hill threw a desperation 80-foot pass to Christian Laettner, who caught the ball, faked and put up a fadeway shot from the free-throw line as time expired.
The Blue Devils advanced to the Final Four with the 104-103 win and went on to win their second straight title.
3. Arkansas, U.S. Reed, 1981, Second Round
U.S. (Ulysses S) Reed, unable to get the ball to any of his teammates and with time running out, took a desperation shot from beyond the midcourt line, left.
The ball went in (this before the advent of the three-point shot) and Arkansas stunned defending champ Louisville, 74-73.
4. Lorenzo Charles, North Carolina State, 1983 National Championship
With the game tied at 52 and four seconds to play, NC State’s Dereck Whittenburg flung a desperation heave.
It was an airball, but Lorenzo Charles turned the miss into a dunk, causing Wolfpack coach Jim Valanvo to run wild looking for somebody to love.
5. Keith Smart, Indiana, 1987 National Championship
The title game was held on Oscar night, and while “Hoosiers” didn’t win in Hollywood, Bob Knight’s Hoosiers did in New Orleans.
Keith Smart hit the winning jumper in the final seconds for the 74–73 win over Syracuse.
6. Tyus Edney, UCLA, 1995, Second Round
Five-foot-10 guard Tyrus Edney went coast-to-coast with 4.8 seconds left and made a game-winning layup as the buzzer sounded, giving the Bruins a 75-74 win over Missouri.
UCLA went on to win its 11th national championship, the only one since John Wooden’s run of 10 titles ended in 1975.
7. Tate George, UConn, 1990, Elite Eight, Regional Semifinals
With only one second left in the game and UConn down a point to Clemson, Scott Burrell threw a full-court pass to George.
George caught the pass, spun around and released a 15-footer that fell through as time expired for a 71-70 win.
Two days later, the Huskies lost a heartbreaker to Duke on a buzzer-beater by Christian Laettner.
8. Michael Jordan, North Carolina, 1982 National Championship
No list of great exploits in basketball history is complete without the obligatory Jordan reference.
The freshman hit a 17-foot jumper from the left side with around 10 seconds left, giving Dean Smith his first national title with the 63-62 win over Georgetown.
9. Vic Rouse, Loyola of Chicago, 1963 National Championship
The underdog Ramblers rallied from 15 points down in the second half to force overtime.
They won the game on a last-second rebound and basket by Vic Rouse.
Loyola’s improbable 60-59 win denied Cincinnati the first three-peat in NCAA history.
10. Richard Washington, UCLA, 1975, National Semifinals
John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins won 10 titles in 12, and most weren’t even close. But this battle against former Wooden assistant and Louisville head coach was.
The Bruins rallied to force overtime and won the game 75-74 on a last-second shot by Richard Washington.
They went on to beat Kentucky for Wooden’s last championship.
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