ten best! March Madness moments

by Keith Barber

UNC defeats Kansas in triple overtime thriller in 1957 national championship game

On March 22, 1957, No. 1-ranked UNC had to go three overtimes to beat Michigan State 74-70. Then, on March 23, the Tar Heels had to go three overtimes to beat No. 2 Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain 54-53 in what many have argued as the greatest NCAA title game in history. In the HBO documentary Battle for Tobacco Road, which aired last month, longtime Carolina broadcaster Woody Durham cited the 1957 national championship contest as a seminal moment in Atlantic Coast Conference basketball. When the UNC hoops squad landed at the Raleigh airport after their momentous victory, they were shocked to find more than 15,000 adoring fans awaiting their arrival. Durham cited that squad’s incredible achievement as the start of “the excitement of ACC basketball.”

Jim Valvano’s ‘Cardiac Pack’ defeats mighty Houston in 1983

The 1983 NC State University basketball squad had to win nine straight games to secure the school’s second national title. If there was ever a bubble team, it was Jim Valvano’s 1983 Wolfpack. Entering the ACC tournament, NC State had 10 losses on the season and had to win the conference tourney just to secure a berth in the NCAA tournament. Once the NC State squad entered the tournament, they quickly earned a reputation for winning close games, and became known as the “Cardiac Pack.” NC State eked out close wins against Pepperdine, Virginia and UNLV to earn a spot in the national title game. On the national stage, the Wolfpack faced future NBA Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Phi Slamma Jamma. Houston was riding a 25-game winning streak and appeared unbeatable. But Valvano slowed the tempo and frustrated Houston’s high-octane offense. In the end, it came down to a miraculous “pass” by Dereck Whittenburg to sophomore Lorenzo Charles, who plucked the errant shot out of the air and dunked it home with one second remaining to give the Wolfpack a 54-52 victory. Charles’ dunk is one of the most replayed March Madness highlights of all time.

Jordan hits ‘the shot’ to give Dean Smith his first national title

Some fans of Michael Jordan might argue that “the shot” refers to Jordan’s miraculous bucket over Craig Ehlo of the Cleveland Cavaliers that lifted the Chicago Bulls into the second round of the NBA playoffs. However, folks on Tobacco Road would beg to differ. If you’ve ever been inside the Four Corners restaurant in Chapel Hill, you know what I’m talking about. There is a gigantic, sepia-toned photo of Jordan taking a jump shot with 17 seconds remaining in the 1982 national championship game against Georgetown. Jordan knocked down that shot to give the Tar Heels a 63-62 lead over the Hoyas. Moments later, James Worthy picked off an errant pass by Georgetown’s Fred Brown to help seal Dean Smith’s first national championship. It is the stuff of Tar Heel legend, and first elevated Jordan to national prominence.

Texas Western defeats Kentucky in 1966 national championship

Don Haskins made history by starting five African American players for the first time in a championship game against Kentucky and its legendary coach Adolph Rupp. Depicted in the film Glory Road, the Miners took the lead midway through the first half and never relinquished it. Despite a second-half run by Pat Riley and the Wildcats, Texas Western held on for a 72-65 victory, and made a statement about equality in sports in the process.

Tyus Edney’s buzzer-beater against Missouri in 1995 tourney

Trailing 74-73 with only 4.8 seconds remaining in their second-round NCAA tournament contest against eighth-seeded Missouri, it appeared the 1995 UCLA Bruins would make an early exit from the tournament. That’s when UCLA coach Jim Harrick called point guard Tyus Edney’s number. The 5-10 Edney took the inbounds pass and flew up the left sideline avoiding defenders before reaching the Missouri key, where 6-8 forward Derek Grimm attempted to block his shot. Edney adjusted his shot around Grimm and banked it in at the buzzer. UCLA won the game 75-74. Edney’s shot offered evidence the Bruins were a team of destiny. UCLA went on to win its 11 th national title with a victory over Arkansas in the championship game.

Christian Laettner’s dagger against Kentucky

Perhaps the most famous buzzer-beater of all time, Christian Laettner’s gamewinning shot against Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional final stands alone as the essence of March Madness. With 2.1 seconds remaining in overtime, Duke trailed Kentucky 103-102. Grant Hill lobbed a perfect pass three-quarters the length of the court to Laettner, who faked, dribbled once and hit a turnaround jumper as time expired. It capped off an amazing game and a perfect performance by Laettner, who went 10-for- 10 from the field and 10-for-10 from the free throw line. Duke went on to win its second consecutive national title that year.

Bryce Drew’s buzzer-beater against Ole Miss

The son of the head coach provided one of the most memorable moments in NCAA Tournament lore. Bryce Drew, a senior point guard for Valparaiso in the 1998 tourney, played for his dad, Homer Drew. Valparaiso, a 13 seed, found itself down to Ole Miss 67-69 with 4.1 seconds to go, and Mississippi’s Ansu Sesay on the free throw line. Sesay missed both shots, however, and the Crusaders came up with the ball with only 2.5 seconds remaining in the game. On the inbounds play, the Crusaders used a play known as the “Pacer,” where guard Jamie Sykes heaved the ball past half-court to teammate Bill Jenkins, who passed the ball to Drew. The moment the 23-foot jumper left Drew’s hand it looked good. “The Shot” as it has become known to Valparaiso basketball fans gave the small school one of the biggest upsets in tournament history. Villanova upsets Georgetown in 1985

Villanova, led by venerable coach Rollie Massimino, had to play the perfect game to defeat Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas in the 1985 championship game. Villanova shot better than 70 percent for the game, and was nearly perfect in the second half. Led by forward Ed Pinckney, the eighth-seeded Wildcats became the lowest seeded team to ever win the national championship. Bo Kimble’s tribute to Hank Gathers

No fan of March Madness could ever forget Bo Kimble and Loyola Marymount’s magical run during the 1990 tournament. Just days after former Loyola standout Hank Gathers’ untimely death during a West Coast Conference tournament game, the Lions were given the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. LMU, an 11-seed, shocked the college basketball world. The Lions advanced to the Elite Eight before falling to eventual national champion UNLV. But no one could ever forget the sight of Gathers’ teammate Bo Kimble, a righthanded player, shooting his first free throw of each game left-handed in memory of Gathers. Kimble made all three attempts and honored his fallen teammate by leading the Lions to an improbable run in the tournament.

Magic Johnson and Larry Bird battle

On March 26, 1979, Magic Johnson led Michigan State past Larry Bird and Indiana State in the NCAA title game. The game, watched by nearly a quarter of US television viewers, is widely credited with sparking an interest in the NCAA tournament that led to the development of March Madness. The 24.1 rating remains the highest ever rating for a college basketball game. Johnson and Bird continued their rivalry in the NBA, where Magic’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics met three times in the NBA Finals, with Magic the best two out of three.