You know you’re good when you make one shot, and yet everyone agrees: you were the best player, the one who made the biggest impact, in the most important college basketball game of the year. Anthony Davis was on his way to becoming the No. 1 pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, and shooting 1-for-10 in the biggest game of his life didn’t affect his destiny one way or another. That might have had something to do with the rest of his night (16 rebounds, five dimes, three steals and six blocks), which was one of those unique, Rajon Rondo statlines that Kentucky seems so fond of producing.
Doron Lamb‘s outside shooting helped make sure Davis wouldn’t have to spend the summer answering “what if?” questions about his offense, keying the ‘Cats second half offense with 22 points. How can you accurately grade the center for Kentucky’s performance when he barely contributed more than John Calipari on one end? Well, if we’re talking just defensively, it was one of the great games we’ve ever seen at the NCAA Championship level. Too bad we’ve seen players put both ends together before.
Here are the five best individual performances ever in the March Madness finale.
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5. ED O’BANNON, 1995
This run to the NCAA Championship was one of my fonder memories of college ball in the ’90s. From Tyus Edney‘s coast-to-coast runner to save the season in the second round to names like Cameron Dollar and Toby Bailey, the Bruins were as exciting as they were talented (six players on this team would eventually be drafted into the NBA). In the championship game, it was the senior O’Bannon who went off for 30 points and 17 rebounds in his MOP-winning performance against the defending champs from Arkansas.
4. JACK GIVENS, 1978
The best team in America was led by perhaps the best player in 1978, winning in the championship game by six over Duke. How good was Givens that night? He went wild for 41 points, eight rebounds and three assists while shooting 18-for-27 from the field. Givens averaged over 17 points a game for the season, but he took it to an entirely new level on that night in St. Louis.
3. DANNY MANNING, 1988
No his NBA career never really took off. But in March of 1988, Manning went on a month-long run that still hasn’t been touched. In the title game against Oklahoma, Manning led Kansas to a four-point win by throwing up 31 points, 18 rebounds.
2. BILL RUSSELL, 1956
The greatest NBA winner ever was doing it in college as well. San Francisco won two straight titles, and 55 games in a row at one point as Russell was in the process of rewriting the rules of basketball. In his second-straight National Championship game, Russell dominated with 26 points, 27 rebounds and a reported 12 blocks.
1. BILL WALTON, 1973
The big redhead was one shot away from perfection. Walton made 21 of his 22 shots to finish with 44 points as UCLA easily won their seventh-straight championship. When talking individual performances in a championship game, you can’t get much better than this.
What’s the great individual performance you’ve ever seen in the NCAA Championship?
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