Each Monday until the national championship is played in Indianapolis on April 5, One Great Season will count down the Top 10 National Championship games since 1979, when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson squared off in Salt Lake City. In observance of President's Day, OGS took last week off, but today's No. 7 is the 2003 title game between Syracuse and Kansas.
That was about my reaction when longtime Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim won that elusive first national championship.
I'd become a fan of Big East basketball in the mid-1980s, shortly after the league's inception, and quickly began to favor the Orange. Boeheim came close in 1987 before losing a heartbreaker to Indiana, then lost again in the title game nine years later to a loaded Kentucky team. The third time in a national championship game proved to be the charm for Boeheim's bunch, which held off a late rally by Kansas at the Louisiana Super Dome.
But it wasn't easy. Star freshman Carmelo Anthony carried the Orange throughout the season, but he was held scoreless in the final 13 minutes of the game. And the Orange let Kansas trim a 12-point deficit to just three in the final minutes, requiring a heroic defensive play to preserve the win.
Syracuse led, 81-78, when Hakim Warrick missed two free throws with eight seconds left. At the other end a moment later, Kansas got a great look for a three-point attempt when guard Kirk Hinrich found Michael Lee alone in the corner. Lee launched his shot, but Warrick came out of nowhere to redeem himself for the missed freebies. He swatted Lee's attempt out of bounds with less than a second left. KU got another chance, but Hinrich couldn't convert and the Syracuse celebration was on.
That game also might be remembered for Bonnie Bernstein's insensitive postgame interview with then-Kansas coach Roy Williams, which you can read about here.
COUNTING DOWN THE TOP GAMES