5. Michael Jordan beating Georgetown and Fred Brown’s passing gaffe
The 1982 Championship game featured Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Patrick Ewing, Sam Perkins, and Sleepy Floyd, so from a pure talent standpoint, it was as good as any game in recent memory.
Neither teams was able to create separation, and Sleepy Floyd gave the Hoyas a one-point lead with around one minute remaining. The game’s fifteenth and final lead change came when Jordan, a freshman at the time, hit a wing jumper with 17 seconds left to give him 16 points for the game. But the memorable moments didn’t stop there.
Georgetown eschewed a timeout and brought the ball up the floor, where guard Fred Brown mistakenly believed Worthy (who was well out of position on defense) was a teammate and threw the ball directly to him.
Worthy scored a game-high 28 points but missed both free throws. John Thompson used his final timeout before the second free throw, so the Hoyas could only attempt a desperation heave as the clock ran out and Dean Smith won his first National Title.
A quick personal note: In high school I worked at JCPenney’s selling athletic shoes, and a video that we had on continuous loop played out the final seconds of this game among other historical sports moments. Consequently, I may have seen this sequence more than any other game in history, and I still have no idea what Worthy was doing on defense or how Brown didn’t realize he wasn’t on his team.
4. Chris Webber calling timeout
In a game filled with impressive runs by each team, North Carolina led Michigan’s Fab Five by five points with a minute left in the 1993 National Championship game.
The Wolverines reeled off four straight points to close the gap to one point and fouled UNC’s Pat Sullivan with 20 seconds left. After Sullivan missed the second free throw, Chris Webber got away with a blatant travel and proceeded to dribble toward the sideline, where he was trapped in front of the Michigan bench and called a timeout the Wolverines didn’t have.
The Tar Heels converted the technical free throws and wound up winning by six points.
Lost in the mental error is the fact that Webber was outstanding in the game, scoring 23 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. It’s also worth noting that multiple people on the Michigan bench can be seen screaming for the timeout, but he took the brunt of the criticism for a moment he can never live down and basketball fans can never forget.
3. Keith Smart hitting “The Shot”
IU’s run to the Championship game was filled with plenty of excitement in 1987. The Hoosiers won the Regional Final on a Ricky Calloway tip-in with six seconds remaining, and in the Final Four against UNLV, they surprised the Rebels by coming out and pushing the tempo en route to a 97-93 victory.
While Steve Alford’s seven three-pointers propelled him to a team-high 23 points against Syracuse, Smart had 21 points of his own and was one of only four Hoosiers to score in the game.
He made multiple key plays on drives to the basket and wound up with the ball in his hands after Cuse freshman Derrick Coleman missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Smart dumped it inside to Daryl Thomas who couldn’t find room and kicked it back out to Smart, who hit the game-winning jumper while falling toward the baseline.
2. NC State shocking Phi Slamma Jamma
It’s easy to forget that one of college basketball’s greatest moments came from a team that wasn’t a lock to even make the tournament.
The Wolfpack finished fourth in the ACC in the regular season and had to go through a North Carolina team led by Michael Jordan and a Virginia squad featuring Ralph Sampson in the conference tournament just to make the Big Dance. They then needed double overtime just to get out of the first round, and they endured a pair of other one-point games before they even made it to the Final Four.
In the final, the underdog Wolfpack, led by coach Jim Valvano, faced a Houston team with Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon that had won 26 straight games and was a heavy favorite to win the title.
The game was tied in the closing seconds when the tournament’s leading scorer, Derrick Whittenburg, took a desparation shot from about 30 feet away. His airball found the hands of teammate Lorenzo Charles, who dunked the ball as time expired for a 54-52 victory. That play, as well as the image of Valvano running around the floor in its aftermath, will live forever in tournament lore.
1. Christian Laettner stunning Kentucky
Widely regarded as the best college basketball game of all time, the 1992 East Regional Final had everything.
It featured stars like Christian Laettner, Jamal Mashburn, Bobby Hurley, and Grant Hill on the floor, and a pair of great coaches, Mike Krzyzewski and Rick Pitino, on the bench. It featured magnificent shooting performances and countless clutch shots. It had five lead changes in the last 31.5 seconds.
And it had the most memorable finish in tournament history.
Sean Woods, one of Kentucky’s Unforgettables, banked in a shot over Laettner to give the Wildcats a 103-102 lead with just 2.1 seconds to play. Krzyzewski called timeout and drew up the game-winning play.
Kentucky chose not to guard Grant Hill, who was inbounding the ball. He threw a perfect pass 75 feet to a waiting Laettner, who caught the ball near the foul line. With both Mashburn and Gimel Martinez having fouled out, Kentucky had limited height with which to defend Laettner, who took a dribble, turned, and drained the game-winner.
Kentucky forwards John Pelphrey and Deron Feldhaus were both surprised by the precision of the pass and fearful of committing a foul, which gave Laettner a relatively clean look. He finished with 31 points and didn’t miss a shot the entire game.
In the aftermath, Duke’s Thomas Hill also had a memorable and seemingly incredulous reaction to the play, while an exhausted and stunned Kentucky team saw what had been a magical season come to an end.