By Jason Iannone
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With the NCAA Final Four almost here, it’s common for many a website to look back on the memorable moments that made up Final Fours past. One problem though — nobody actually does that. By and large, if some site writes about their favorite “Final Four moments,” chances are they’re referring to the championship game. Which would be the Final Two. Why everybody who has ever accessed the Internet has not sued for false advertising is beyond us.
But in case you ARE planning to sue the Internet, please leave us out of it. We advertised a list of Final Four moments and by gum we’re gonna give it to you. What amazing things happened in the games just before they awarded that big trophy? Read on and find out!
5. 2011: Butler vs. VCU, the Battle of 8 vs. 11
Cinderella pops up every year in the NCAA Tournament — so often, in fact, that we just wrote a whole article about her wacky exploits. But rarely does she make it all the way to the end of the dance before turning back into a pumpkin or being blown away to Oz or whatever actually happened (bear with us, we haven’t watched the movie in forever).
The 2011 tournament was one of those times. One of the two Final Four games was a fairly standard match-up, in which a No. 3 seed faced a No. 4. No reason to stop the presses with that one, mainly because presses were largely extinct by 2011. However, were they still a thing, they might well have stopped for the other game, pitting the No. 8 Butler Bulldogs against the No. 11 VCU Rams. The game itself was fairly basic; Butler won 70-62, only to lose the championship game to UConn. But the message was incredibly loud and ridiculously clear: seeds are meaningless, and literally anybody can win at any time.
Unless they’re a 16 seed. That still has not changed.
4. 1977: Marquette Beats UNC-Charlotte at the Absolute Last Second
Before the Final Four, legendary Marquette coach Al McGuire announced that he would retire after the tournament was over. In the movies, this would mean Marquette becomes inspired to win it all for their beloved departing coach, and maybe they can film a big slow-motion scene in which the final 1/10 of a second takes a minute and a half to play out, and it looks like the winning shot MIGHT NOT GO IN but then it does and everybody goes bonkers and the coach retires as a champion.
But this is real life dammit, so after McGuire announced his retirement… all of the above actually happened. Facing UNC-Charlotte in the Final Four, Marquette tied the game with three seconds to go, blocked an attempted UNCC pass, and then went for the game-winning dunk. But the dunk was partially blocked and bounced off both backboard and rim, finally going in just as time expired.
It was pretty much a photo finish, so the refs had to debate amongst themselves what happened (like we said, the final 1/10 of a second took forever to play out). Finally though, they deemed the basket good, giving Marquette an incredibly dramatic win. They would go on to the win the title game as well, meaning McGuire did in fact retire as champion.
3. 1974: North Carolina State Snaps UCLA’s Title Streak
The UCLA Bruins were a college basketball dynasty, having won seven championships in a row and seemingly well on their way to an eighth. Just one problem — North Carolina State wanted that title too, and they were going to get it no matter how long it took.
UCLA and NC State met in the 1974 Final Four, in a game that saw the Wolfpack force two overtimes, come back from two major deficits (one late in regulation and another in the 2nd OT) and finally eek out an incredible 80-77 victory that sent UCLA home early for the first time in forever. It was such a dramatic, giant-killing moment that the actual title game meant comparatively little. For the record, NC State went on to win the title, but the true climax of the season had already occurred.
2. 1991: Duke Hands UNLV their First Loss in 45 Games
The 1990 NCAA Championship game saw the University of Nevada in Las Vegas absolutely destroy Duke, 103-73. If that bit of ass-kicking wasn’t enough, UNLV started off the 1991 season by winning, then winning again and then winning some more. By the time they reached the Final Four, they had won a gargantuan 45 games in a row, more than good enough for a perfect regular season.
And who did they meet in said Final Four match-up but Duke once again. This rematch, however, had quite a different ending than the original. For one thing, it was an actual game, a back-and-forth affair that saw the score tied at 77 with under 13 seconds to go. For another thing, while that tie was broken thanks to a pair of successful free throws, it was all Duke’s doing. A major upset was imminent.
A frantic UNLV was unable to make one final shot to force overtime, and Duke had avenged their total humiliation from a year back by snapping one of the longest unbeaten streaks in college hoops history. And yes, Duke went on to win the title. Seems like it’s awful hard to be amazingly dramatic and NOT win it all right after.
1. 2013: Kevin Ware’s Nightmarish Injury Spurs Louisville to Final Four Win, Then a Championship
Our all-time top Final Four moment has little to do with a game, yet still manages to be the most dramatic of all. During the 2013 Elite Eight, Kevin Ware of Louisville suffered one of the worst broken legs in history. It was more unnaturally bent than even Joe Theismann’s, and came complete with his tibia bone jutting out almost six inches. It looked like something out of a horror movie, and no, we’re not showing it. Find it yourself if you’re that twisted (and not eating anything).
Ware’s moment of inspirational awesomeness came a mere six days later, during Louisville’s trip to the Final Four. Nobody would have blamed the kid for staying far away from anything that even resembled a basketball, but he insisted on not only showing up for the game, but dressing in full uniform and sitting with his team on the bench. If not for the giant cast on his leg, you’d think he was already cleared to play.
Motivated by their teammate’s courage, Louisville defeated 9-seeded Wichita (any other year, a 9-seed in the Final Four would be big news, just not this year), and then easily beat Michigan in the championship. Did Kevin Ware cut the net after his team secured the title? Of course he did; Hollywood coming to life wouldn’t have it any other way.
Jason Iannone is a Cracked Columnist who has known the difference between two and four ever since Sesame Street taught him two weeks ago. Congratulate him for being such a smart boy via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and his very own website.
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