March Madness is arguably the second-largest sporting venue in the United States. The Final Four is the last weekend of the tournament where the last four remaining teams converge to compete. This final weekend brings about some amazing drama. Amazing comebacks, improbable buzzer beaters, and unpredictable events have occurred over the past few years. Then, there are the clutch performances from all types of players ranging from the All-Americans to the unpredicted Cinderellas. Here are the five greatest games in Final Four history.
5) Duke 79 UNLV 77 – 1991 National Semifinal
This was a highly-anticipated matchup due to the fact that the year before that, the Runnin’ Rebels smashed the Blue Devils, 103-73, in the National Championship. Since that game, UNLV ran through the competition and went on a 34-game winning streak before their rematch.
UNLV was a fast-paced team that eclipsed the 100-point mark 14 times during the regular season. They were loaded with talent too, led by Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony, and Anderson Hunt, and this team was looking for a repeat title.
Duke, however, had other plans, and was prepared to have the battle of a lifetime. Led by Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley, Duke was able to play at their pace and grind out the two-point victory. The game had 17 ties and 25 lead-changes. Laettner led the way with 28 points and two clutch free throws at the end of the game to put the Runnin’ Rebels away.
4) NC State 54, Houston 52, 1983 National Championship
The unlikely Wolf Pack had to win the ACC tournament to get a bid into March Madness. Then, they had to survive a first round overtime thriller against Pepperdine to make their magical run. Houston had the Phi-Slamma-Jamma squad composed of Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwan, and Michael Young. It was the classic David vs. Goliath matchup.
North Carolina State’s Head Coach Jim Valvano was able to set his pace in the game and put Houston’s prolific transition offense to a screeching halt. The game was in NC State’s favor in the first half, where they led 33-25 at halftime. Houston then exploded in a 17-2 run putting them back in the driver’s seat. The game was tied at 52 with a little under a minute left. The Wolf Pack held onto the ball for the last shot. The Wolf Pack’s Dereck Whittenburg heaved up the last shot from 25 feet out, but it appeared that it was going to fall short. Then Lorenzo Charles leaps up and grabs the ball to dunk it at the buzzer for the win.
3) North Carolina 74, Michigan State 70, 1957 National Semifinal and North Carolina 54, Kansas 53, 1957 National Championship
North Carolina was led by Head Coach Frank McGuire and they were 30-0 that year before arriving in Kansas City. These two games were both triple overtime thrillers. The National Championship was even more impressive for the Tar Heels, as they were able to take down the unstoppable Wilt Chamberlain in his own backyard. The Tar Heels hit two big free throws in the final seconds to put them at a 54-53 lead, then they stole a pass intended to Wilt to seal the victory.
2) NC State 80, UCLA 77 (OT) 1974 National Semifinal
UCLA was on their way to an eighth-straight National Championship that year. The Bruins ran into the wrong opponent for the Final Four. NC State was led by an athletic freak in David Thompson and 7’4” center Tom Burleson. Plus, the game was held in Greensboro, NC.
The Bruins were led by Bill Walton, and he did his part that game scoring 29 points along with grabbing 18 rebounds and four assists. However, they weren’t able to get it done. Missed free throws doomed the Bruins at the end of the game. NC State’s Thompson hit a jumper giving them the 76-75 lead in the late seconds and they never looked back, thus ending an era of dominance. NC State ended up winning the National Championship the next day.
1) Duke 104, Kentucky 103 (OT) 1992 Regional Final
Though it wasn’t a Final Four game, it still can go down as the best tournament game ever packed with drama. The memorable full-court inbound pass from Duke’s Grant Hill to Christian Laettner, who then turns around and drains the buzzer-beater ended this classic in style. Every time March Madness comes around, this game gets brought up, because it is the poster game for college basketball classics.