By Ryan Mayer
The Final Four this weekend has the potential to be one of the best we've seen with so many story lines heading into each of these games. We decided to take a look back at the best games from the semi-finals in tournament history. Two quick things to note. One, we started with the first year that the tournament expanded to 64 teams (as close to the current format as possible) in 1985 so this list doesn't include any games prior to that. Second, we're NOT talking best championship games. We'll do that before the title game, this is strictly from the Final Four weekend over the years.
10) 2010 - #5 Butler, 52, #5 Michigan State, 50: This game was notable because Gordon Hayward continued to refuse to allow this Bulldogs team to lose. As the score would suggest it wasn't the prettiest of games, but Hayward went off for 19 points and 9 rebounds against one of the best defenses in the country. And Ronald Nored buried two clutch free throws with 6 seconds left to give the Bulldogs the win.
9) 2013 - #1 Louisville, 72, #9 Wichita State, 68: The Cardinals were coming off the devastating injury to Kevin Ware in their previous game, looking to play and win for him. Louisville trailed the Shockers at halftime and were down by 12 with 13:35 left to go in the game before unleashing a 21-8 run to put them in the lead and on their way to the title game. Russ Smith led the way with 21 points and Luke Hancock chipped in 20.
8) 1998 - #2 Kentucky, 86, #3 Stanford, 85 OT: The Wildcats got a huge effort from Jeff Sheppard who had 27 points 6 rebounds and 4 assists in the game. Tubby Smith was a first year head coach and led a team that wasn't expected to be a national title contender to the national championship game. Kentucky trailed by 5 at halftime, forced OT and were able to do just enough to win.
7) 2012 - #2 Kansas, 64, #2 Ohio State, 62: The Jayhawks trailed the Buckeyes by 9 at the end of the first half. In the second, Thomas Robinson took over putting up 11 of his 19 points and establishing himself as an anchor defensively. Speaking of defense, Kansas held Ohio State to only one field goal in the final 2:22 of the game.
6) 2011 - #3 UConn, 56, #4 Kentucky, 55: This was part of UConn's, actually let me rephrase, this was part of Kemba Walker's ridiculous end of the season run. Walker carried the Huskies to victory again in this one with 18 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds. The magical tournament run was continued and...I'll just let you watch:
5) 1987 - #1 Indiana, 97, #1 UNLV, 93: This was a notable tournament for a couple of reasons. First off, this was the first tournament incorporating the three point line, which I think you'll agree is a pretty big part of basketball today. Secondly, this particular game featured Freddie Banks who hit a Final Four record 10 three pointers in the game....and his team lost. Another fun fact before we hit the video? This was the first tournament that featured the "One Shining Moment" montage at the end of the tourney.
4) 1993 - #1 Michigan, 81, #1 Kentucky, 78 OT: The famed Fab Five of Michigan had some big tournament moments (good and bad) and this was one of the good ones. The next game featured one of the most infamous plays in NCAA Tournament history. In this game, however, the Wolverines got huge numbers from Chris Webber (27 points), Jalen Rose (18 points), and Juwan Howard (17 points). Jamal Mashburn did everything he could for the Wildcats with 26 points, but Michigan escaped in OT.
3) 2004 - #2 UConn, 79, #1 Duke, 78: Emeka Okafor, the consensus best player in the nation, played only 4 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble and the Huskies were trailing at the half. In the second half? That was a little bit of a different story. Okafor scored all 18 of his points and the Huskies went on a 12-0 run to close out the game, win by one and advance to the Championship.
2) 2014 - #8 Kentucky, 74, #2 Wisconsin, 73: Why is this game on the list you ask? Well, let's just allow Aaron Harrison to answer that for you shall we?
1) 1991 - #2 Duke, 79, #1 UNLV, 77: The Runnin' Rebels entered this game 34-0 and hadn't lost since prior to the NCAA Tournament the previous season. They had also whipped, and I mean whipped, basically the same Blue Devils team the year before 103-73 in the national title game. There was no way that the Blue Devils could win this game right? Well, Christian Laettner had other ideas scoring 28 points and dominating throughout. Don't believe me? Here's the proof:
Let's hope that this year's Final Four can knock off some of these games by giving us a couple classics to watch. Enjoy the games everybody.
Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that's where you'll find him.
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