Jim Valvano leads North Carolina State to a national title in 1983 after beating Houston in one of the greatest NCAA Tournament games of all-time.
We remember the moments from those special games. Where were you when Christian Laettner hit the shot? Did Memphis just throw away the title?
It is the classic games, some of which you wished you could have witnessed yourself such as North Carolina beating Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas in three overtimes or N.C. State ending UCLA’s streak of seven national titles in an overtime thriller.
Here’s our list of the 10 best games in NCAA tournament history. No, the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird final of 1979 didn’t make it, although the historical implications of the game and its hype changed college basketball and March Madness.
1987 National Championship
In a clash of two of the winningest coaches in college basketball history, Bob Knight won his third and final national championship with Hoosiers when he faced Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Syracuse point guard “General” Sherman Douglas led a star-studded Orangemen with 20 points and seven assists. Center Rony Seikaly had 18 points and 10 rebounds and freshman Derrick Coleman grabbed 19 — count ’em 19 — rebounds.
The Hoosiers were led by Steve Alford, who scored a game-high 23 points, including seven three-pointers. But when Syracuse began to deny Alford, Keith Smart took over in the second half and the last two of his 20 points will forever live in tournament lore, when he took a pass from Darryl Thomas on the left elbow, dribbled toward the baseline and skyed for a jump shot as time wound down for the victory.
2008 National Championship
John Calipari made the most of the one season he had with future NBA MVP Derrick Rose to take the Tigers to the championship game against Bill Self and his senior-laden Jayhawks at the Alamodome in San Antonio, but this will be more remembered as the one that got away from Coach Cal’s team. This was the only season all four No. 1 seeds reached the Final Four (North Carolina and UCLA were the other two).
Rose had 18 points and eight assists and Chris Douglas-Roberts had a game-high 22 as Memphis built a 60-51 lead with 2:21 left.
But then the Tigers’ knees went wobbly at the foul line and Kansas did almost everything right on the other end of the floor. Douglas-Roberts missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:15 remaining and then two more free throws with 16 seconds left.
Leading 62-60, Rose made one of two free throws with 10.8 seconds left, giving Kansas time for a tie. Sherron Collins nearly lost the ball, but was able to pass it to Most Outstanding Player Mario Chalmers, who buried a three-pointer from the top of the key with 2.1 seconds left to force overtime and the Jayhawks rolled in the extra period for their first title in 20 years.
1982 National Championship
Dean Smith, John Thompson. Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Eric “Sleepy” Floyd. The Superdome.
Entering the game, Smith had the reputation of being unable to win the big one, having been to five previous Final Fours and multiple national title games without a title. With Ewing in his freshman season, Georgetown was entering an epic era of three national championship games in four seasons and the 7-foot center didn’t disappoint, and despite being called for goaltending five times in the first half, his defense of the rim was undeniable. He finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
Worthy led the Tar Heels with 28 points, but it was a jumper by Jordan, also a freshman, from the left side that put Carolina up, 63-62, with 15 seconds left. Georgetown calmly inbounded the ball and Fred Brown ran the offense from the top of the key. Worthy got caught over defending on Brown’s right, but Brown thought Worthy was a teammate and incomprehensibly passed the ball to Worthy, who dribbled out the clock in Georgetown’s backcourt.
1991 National Semifinal
The drama for this game began a year before when the Runnin’ Rebels thumped the Blue Devils, 103-73, in the national championship game as Jerry Tarkanian’s group rambled through most of the bracket and took the title running away before winning the first 34 games of the 1990-91 season before the rematch at the Final Four.
UNLV eclipsed the 100-point mark 14 times during the regular season with a veteran group led by Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and Anderson Hunt and the closest game the Running Rebels played all season was a 112-105 win at Arkansas.
Duke, still smarting from that loss a year earlier, received a 28-point effort from Christian Laettner and 12 points and seven assists from Bobby Hurley as Mike Krzyzewski had his team prepared this time. The game had 17 ties and 25 lead changes. UNLV took a 76-71 lead on a George Ackles tip-in with 2:32 left. Hurley hit a three-pointer and then Duke forced UNLV into a 45-second shot clock violation. Duke’s Brian Davis converted a three-point play the hard way for a 77-76 lead. Johnson made a one free throw. Laettner made two more and Hunt’s three-pointer from the top of the key to win it didn’t convert, setting off the wild Duke celebration two days before it would win its first national title.
1985 National Championship
When the Big East ruled college basketball and sent three teams to the Final Four, Georgetown’s 77-59 win over St. John’s in the semifinal was supposed the be the de facto national title game, but Rollie Massimino’s Wildcats, who had lost two games by a total of nine points to the mighty Hoyas and Patrick Ewing, had other ideas.
Eighth-seeded Villanova practically played a perfect game, shooting 78.6% from the field, Harold Jensen scoring on all five of his shot attempts and Gary Mclain on all three of his. Most Outstanding player Ed Pinckney (16 points, six rebounds, five assists) took the game to Ewing (14 points, five rebounds) and the rest is history.
1983 National Championship
Jim Valvano’s Wolfpack needed to win the ACC tournament to gain a bid and then survive a first-round overtime game against Pepperdine during a magical run to the final. Houston’s Phi Slamma Jamma of Clyde Drexler, Hakeem (Then Akeem) Olajuwon and Michael Young had beaten Louisville and Milt Wagner and Rodney and Scooter McCray in the semifinal at The Pit in Albuquerque.
With the ball in the hands of Sidney Lowe and Dereck Whittenburg, N.C. State forced the game into a halfcourt game to keep the Cougars from getting into their transition game and the Wolfpack led 33-25 at the half.
Houston then explodes on a 17-2 run and a 42-35 lead, but N.C. State, who continuously puts the poor-free throw shooting Cougars on the line — comes back to tie it at 52. Valvano tells his kids to foul freshman point guard Alvin Franklin with 1:08 left and he misses the front end of the one-and-one. N.C. State calls timeout and holds for the last shot. The Wolfpack gets the ball to leading scorer Thurl Bailey on the left side, who passes to Whittenburg, but the ball nearly gets away from him as the clock is winding down. Whittenburg gathers it, turns and shoots from 25 feet for the win, but it appears as if it will fall short before Lorenzo Charles leaps from nowhere to grab it in front of the rim and slam it at the buzzer for the win.
4. North Carolina 54, Kansas 53. 3OT
1957 National Championship
Frank McGuire’s bunch of New York kids in Chapel Hill, led by Lennie Rosenbluth, were 30-0 when the Tar Heels arrived in Kansas City, Kan., where they proceeded to beat Michigan State, 74-70, in triple overtime and the next day had to face Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain in the Jayhawks’ own backyard. Kansas had crushed San Francisco in the other semifinal.
McGuire knew his kids could beat the favored Jayhawks and sent a psychological message by putting 5-10 Tommy Kearns, another New Yorker, to take the opening tip against the 7-1 Chamberlain. who averaged 29.6 points and 18.9 rebounds per game during the regular season and was averaging 33.3 points and 16 rebounds per game in the tournament. That silenced the home crowd from the start.
So one day after going three extra periods against the Spartans, the Tar Heels went three more extra frames against the Jayhawks. Rosenbluth went for 20 points and Pete Brennan had 11 points and 11 rebounds as North Carolina HELD Chamberlain to 23 points and 14 rebounds.
Rosenbluth, however, fouled out with 1:45 left in regulation, so the heroics were left to Joe Quigg (10 points, nine rebounds), who, while trailing, 53-52, with 13 seconds remaining, drew a foul by Chamberlain and hit both free throws for the 54-53 lead. Then, in the final moment, Quigg tipped a pass intended for Chamberlain to Kearns to seal it.
3. Loyola-Chicago 60, Cincinnati 58, OT
1963 National Championship
Three years before Texas Western’s all-black starting five beat Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky for the championship, little Chicago Jesuit commuter school Loyola started four black players of its own.
The Ramblers’ seminal moment amidst the the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement came earlier in the tournament in the Mideast Regional Semifinal against Mississippi State. Due to a state law that prevented the Bulldogs from playing against schools with black players, Mississippi State had to decline previous tournament appearances. In 1963, however, coach Babe McCarthy and the team snuck out of the state to make it to East Lansing, Mich., for the game and proceeded to lose, 61-51, but not before Mississippi State captain Joe Dan Gold went out to shake Loyola captain Jerry Harkness’ hand.
Loyola then proceeded to make the final against two-time defending champion Cincinnati. In the game, the Ramblers trailed, 45-30, midway through the second half, a near-impossible deficit to overcome in the pre-shot clock era, yet Loyola found a way and Harkness hit a baseline jumper to tie it, 54-54, with six seconds left to force overtime.
With the score tied at 58 in the final moments of overtime, Loyola’s Leslie Hunter forced a difficult shot and missed, but Vic Rouse was there to tip in the winner.
1974 National Semifinal
When Notre Dame ended UCLA’s 88-game win streak earlier in the season, the Bill Walton Bruins finally looked vulnerable in their march for an eighth straight national championship.
The Bruins had a crack opponent in the Final Four in North Carolina State, which was led by athletic freak David Thompson, 7-4 center Tom Burleson and diminutive 5-7 floor general Monty Towe. Plus the Final Four was staged in Greensboro, N.C.
Walton did his part, scoring 29 points to go with 18 rebounds and four assists, and helping the Bruins to a 49-38 lead early in the second half, but Burleson’s strip steal of Walton and layup gave the Wolfpack a 63-61 lead with five minutes left and the teams wound up tied at 65 to end regulation.
A Walton jumper gave UCLA a 71-67 lead, but missed free throws doomed the Bruins down the stretch and Thompson (28 points) hit a jumper for a 76-75 lead and then hit two free throws to for a three-point lead. Burleson then intercepted a pass intended for Walton on the ensuing possession and the Wolfpack had the game in hand to end an era. N.C. State won the title two days later against Memphis.
1992 East Regional Final
Tough not to have a national title game or Final Four game as the No. 1, but Duke vs. Kentucky. Krzyzewski vs. Pitino and a ton of drama.
Defending champion Duke had all the integral parts back — Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, Thomas Hill, Brian Davis — and had gone 31-2 leading up to this matchup with a once-proud program resurrecting its image after a two-year postseason ban for recruiting violations during Eddie Sutton’s tenure.
Four seniors on the 1991-92 team — Richie Farmer, Deron Feldhaus, John Pelphrey and Sean Woods — known as the “Unforgettables” stayed with program through that time and played major roles in getting the Wildcats back on the national stage.
This game had so many elements outside of the storylines. Christian Laettner making all 10 of his shot attempts for 31 total points. A kid from Cardinal Hayes named Jamal Mashburn scored 28 for Kentucky. A moment where the polarizing Laettner gave his haters their No. 1 highlight, when he purposefully stomped on Kentucky’s Aminu Timberlake.
The last moments of overtime could be its own movie. With the score tied at 98, Laettner and Mashburn trade baskets (and a free throw for Mashburn) and Mashburn then commits his fifth foul to put Laettner on the line for two three throws and a 102-101 lead. Woods, an Unforgettable, then hits a wild running floater for a 103-102 lead with 2.1 seconds left.
Then, Pitino chooses not to guard Grant Hill on the inbound pass. Hill tosses the pass to Laettner at the opposite foul. Laettner, dribbles pivots and hits the fadeaway jumper to finish the classic in style.
Michigan vs. Seton Hall, 1989
Michigan State vs. Indiana State, 1979
Illinois vs. Arizona, 2005
Texas Western vs. Kentucky, 1966
North Carolina vs. Michigan, 1993