Here are the top 10 Final Four games in NCAA Tournament history.
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10. GEORGIA TECH vs. OKLAHOMA STATE (2004)
A matchup that pitted two teams that rarely make headlines in the NCAA Tournament, let alone their own conferences. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets were carried by their dynamic backcourt of Will Bynum and Jarrett Jack all the way to San Antonio. As for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, they had the Graham twins, Joey and Stephen, along with Tony Allen and John Lucas III.
At 31-3 coming into the meeting, Oklahoma State was playing like one of the best teams in the nation. Meanwhile the 27-9 Yellow Jackets received an at-large bid as their ticket to the tourney. That April night in the Alamodome would become an unforgettable game. Georgia Tech was able to hold the lead for most of the game, but John Lucas III and the Cowboys wouldn’t go away quietly. Lucas drilled a three-pointer with 26.3 seconds left to tie the game at 65. Georgia Tech milked the clock down to its last ticks on the final possession and Bynum connected on a layup in the closing moments of the game to propel Georgia Tech to its first and only National Championship appearance.
9. HOUSTON vs. VIRGINIA (1984)
In one of the lower scoring Final Four games, the Houston Cougars went up against the Virginia Cavaliers. Houston had the most dominant force in all of college basketball at the time in Akeem Olajuwon (later Hakeem) — in all three of his seasons as part of Phi Slamma Jamma, the Cougars reached at least the Final Four. Virginia, on the other hand, was the more surprising participant in this game. While they had household names on their roster like Rick Carlisle and Olden Polynice, their 20-11 record said they weren’t the best of teams.
The Cougars took a slight 25-23 lead into halftime and couldn’t put the Cavaliers away for good; a late comeback by Virginia put the game into overtime. In a contest where neither team eclipsed 50 points, both teams fought, tooth and nail. Olajuwon tallied a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, but he wasn’t the Cougars’ most vital player in this game. Forward Michael Young led the team in scoring with 17 points, and it was a put-back by Young’s high school teammate and freshman Ricky Winslow that sealed the 49-47 victory for Houston.
8. DUKE vs. MARYLAND (2001)
One of the most storied rivalries in ACC basketball comes to life whenever the Duke Blue Devils and the Maryland Terrapins face off against each other. In 2001, the fans were treated to this matchup a total of four times. Duke was able to escape three meetings, including a couple of two-point victories. The Blue Devils were loaded with talent — their roster featured Shane Battier, Jason (later Jay) Williams, Chris Duhon, Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Boozer. The Terrapins didn’t lack in talent either, with players like Juan Dixon, Steve Blake, Lonny Baxter and Chris Wilcox.
The Metrodome played as host in the team’s final meeting of that season and Maryland came out firing on all cylinders. The Terrapins held a 22-point lead at one point in the first half and went into halftime with a 49-38 lead. Maryland couldn’t have played any better, but Duke couldn’t have played any worse. The Blue Devils stormed back in the second half and outscored the Terrapins 57-35 to clinch a trip to the title game with a 94-85 win. At the time, Duke’s comeback from an 11-point halftime deficit set a Final Four record.
7. UCLA vs. DRAKE (1969)
From 1964 through 1975, the UCLA Bruins were one of the most dominant basketball teams in the world. Led by Hall of Fame coach John Wooden, the Bruins captured 10 NCAA National Championships in that 12-year span. However, in 1969 they ran into an unexpected road bump in the Drake Bulldogs during the Final Four. Drake almost pulled off the most stunning upset in NCAA Tournament history.
UCLA led 41-39 at halftime, a game closer than any of their 11 other victories in three tournament games — the average margin of victory in those 11 games was 23 points. The Bruins seemed to be sleepwalking through the game, and the Bulldogs stayed close. It wasn’t until 6-8 Drake big man Rick Wanamaker blocked the shot of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then named Lew Alcindor) that UCLA started playing full throttle. Even still the Bulldogs remained close. After the Bruins built a nine-point lead, Drake was able to bring it back down to just a single point with one minute remaining. In the end, UCLA hung on for a three-point win, advancing them to their third-straight National Championship.
6. INDIANA STATE vs. DePAUL (1979)
Before Larry Legend was born, there was Larry Bird from French Lick, Indiana. Bird collected numerous trophies that season (Oscar Robertson Trophy, Naismith Award, John R. Wooden Award, Adolph Rupp Trophy and Eastman Award) but his storied NCAA title game performance against Earvin “Magic” Johnson almost never came to fruition.
In Salt Lake City, Utah, the Indiana State Sycamores ran into the DePaul Blue Demons, who reached the Final Four after defeating the UCLA Bruins. The Blue Demons were lead by Mark Aguirre, who along with DePaul’s four other starters played all 40 minutes of the game. But even Aguirre was no match for Bird on this night. Bird would score 35 points, pull down 16 rebounds and dish out nine assists in order to outlast the Blue Demons 77-74.