March 28, 2013

Regional classics: The sweetest 16 in NCAA 64-team history

Picking the 16 best NCAA Tournament games in regional play, dating to the field expanding to 64 in 1985.

We’re down to the final Sweet 16, but it ain’t sweet for everybody. With the South Regional coming to Arlington, we take a look at the top 16 regional tournament games since 1985, when the field expanded to 64 teams.

Duke 104, Kentucky 103

1992 East Region final, Philadelphia: Christian Laettner’s Kentucky back-breaker ended what some call the best game in NCAA history. Sean Woods, who would one day become an assistant on the TCU bench, put Kentucky up one point with a would-be game-winning, running one-hander in the lane with 2.1 seconds to play. But that was before Laettner, coming out of a timeout, received Grant Hill’s 70-foot inbounds pass at the top of the key on the other side of the court. He took one dribble with his back to the basket, turned and let it fly. Pow.

Connecticut 71, Clemson 70

1990 East Region semifinal, Meadowlands, N.J.: The Huskies lived a nightmare in losing a 19-point second-half lead, but their “Dream Season” continued with a dream ending when Tate George received a length-of-the-court pass from Scott Burrell in the right corner, squared and drained the winner from 16 feet.

Illinois 90, Arizona 89 (OT)

2005 Chicago Region final: The greatest comeback in NCAA Tournament history resides with this game in which Illinois erased a 15-point deficit in the last 4 minutes of regulation, including scoring 12 points in the final 50 seconds. Deron Williams and Luther Head each had eight and Dee Brown had four in the Illini’s 20-point surge.

Arizona 85, Kansas 82

1997 Southeast Region semifinal, Birmingham, Ala.: Arizona, which couldn’t even crack the top four of its league, didn’t seem to have any business being in this game against a consensus No. 1 seed. But, that’s what pundits get for thinking. The Wildcats jumped in front early and held off a late 20-8 Kansas run with Mike Bibby’s two free throws with 21 seconds left. Arizona’s improbable run continued by becoming the first team to knock off three No. 1 seeds in a tournament, including North Carolina in the Final Four semifinals and Kentucky in the championship game.

George Mason 86, Connecticut 84

2006 Washington, D.C., Region final: The only George Mason anybody had heard of to this point was the patriot during the U.S. revolutionary period. OK, so maybe no one had ever heard of a George Mason, but the basketball team emerged as a player when the 11th seed overcame disadvantages in every facet of the game, including tradition, to stun its heralded foes from Connecticut, the No. 1 seed.

UCLA 73, Gonzaga 71

2006 Oakland (Calif.) Region semifinal: Gonzaga controlled the game for 37 minutes, but No. 2 seed UCLA capped its comeback from down nine points with 3 minutes to go on Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s v lay-in with 10 seconds to go that left Adam Morrison inconsolable in sweat and many, many tears.

Butler 63, Syracuse 59

2010 Salt Lake City Region semifinal: The little Butler that could (play defense) held the Orange scoreless in the last five minutes of the game and scored 11 straight points on its way to becoming the first Horizon League team to advance to the Final Four. The Bulldogs, led by Gordon Hayward’s 17 points, had seven turnovers to Syracuse’s 18 — that was three fewer than the made field goals for the Orange, which stumbled to a 6-4 finish after opening the season 24-1.

Arkansas 88, Texas 85

1990 Midwest Region final, Dallas: A game between two athletic teams embracing Arkansas’ mantra of “40 minutes of hell” came down to Ron Huery, who made two free throws with 16 seconds left to lift the Todd Day-Lee Mayberry-Oliver Miller-led Razorbacks to the Final Four with yet another close victory against their Southwest Conference nemesis. In a game between the two in February, Arkansas edged the Longhorns in a thrilling 103-96 OT victory after Mayberry’s 30-foot 3-pointer sent the game into an extra stanza.

Indiana 74, Duke 73

2002 South Region semifinal, Lexington, Ky.: The fifth-seeded Hoosiers, led by Jared Jeffries’ 24 points and 15 rebounds, rebounded from 17 down to record their first signature victory in the post-Knight era, a shocker of the top seed and defending national champion. Duke All-American Jay Williams hit a 3-pointer and was fouled with 4.2 seconds left but missed the free throw that would have tied the game.

Memphis 63, Oklahoma 61

1985 Midwest Region final, Dallas: The Tigers made the school’s second trip to the Final Four on the back of Keith Lee, who had 23 points and 12 rebounds at Reunion Arena. Wayman Tisdale had 11 in his final college game.

Connecticut 75, Washington 74

1998 East Region semifinal, Greensboro, N.C.: Richard Hamilton, feeling ill with something like the flu, chased down an offensive rebound and nailed a floating fadeaway jumper as the clock hit “0:00” in a battle between northeast and northwest Huskies, the latter, the No. 11 seed.

Kent State 78,

Pittsburgh 73 (OT)

2002 South Region semifinal, Lexington, Ky.: Perhaps only another Kent, Superman Clark, could have forecast the Golden Flashes’ run to the Elite Eight. Super Antonio Gates sufficed, however, scoring 22 for No. 10-seed Kent State, which smothered Pitt in defense, dictated the tempo and hit six consecutive free throws in overtime to send the Panthers to the house.

Loyola Marymount 62, Alabama 60

1990 West Region semifinal, Oakland, Calif.: The story wasn’t so much that they won but how the prolific Lions could be held to 62 points and still triumph. But that they did, beating Robert Horry and ’Bama, after averaging 130 in the tournament’s first two games (Loyola averaged 122 a game in the regular season) during an emotional run in the aftermath of teammate Hank Gathers’ death. The Lions’ magic ended in a loss in the West final to UNLV.

Indiana 77, LSU 76

1987 Midwest Region final, Cincinnati: The Hoosiers’ outmaneuvered the Tigers’ “Freak” defense, and Rick Calloway tipped in the winning basket to bring Indiana back from 12 down in the second half in a game more remembered for coach Bob Knight’s hysterics, highlighted by lashing out (with his fist) at a court-side telephone. Steve Alford hit all 10 of his free-throw attempts, and his team connected on 5 of 5 down the stretch for the Hoosiers, who would go on to win Knight’s third and final national championship.

Duke 79, Connecticut 78

1990 East Region final, Meadowlands, N.J.: Before “The Shot” against Kentucky, Christian Laettner, then a sophomore, stuck a knife in Connecticut, hitting a 14-footer late in overtime to seal the Blue Devils’ eighth Final Four appearance and fourth in the last five years.

Kansas 69, Duke 65

2003 West Region semifinal, Anaheim, Calif.: Nick Collison, in the role of the Duke of Anaheim, dominated the Blue Devils and each and every one of his 40 minutes played, with a career-high 33 points and 19 rebounds to help Kansas coach Roy Williams to his first victory over Mike Krzyzewski.

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