HOUSTON — Isn’t it great to be mentioned in the NCAA Final Four record book?
Well, not always.
It’s easier to get over tough losses and bad days when there’s not a permanent line in a book as an unwanted souvenir of what happened. Permanent, until someone comes along to top it, anyway. So before there’s a chance for new entries this weekend in NRG Stadium, we’ll look back at an unsweet 16 — Final Four records that the holders don’t exactly savor.
Actually, this record is a glass half full or half empty. The Cougars advanced to their sixth Final Four, which is a great feat. The bad news is they went home without a trophy for the sixth time. No other program has come so close on so many occasions and is yet to finish the job.
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Wichita State 1965
The defense must have been a tad soft for this third-place game. Bill Bradley’s 58 points are still the most any player has ever put on a Final Four opponent.
Whatever the Tigers’ plan was to contain UCLA’s Bill Walton didn’t work much. He took 22 shots. He missed one. A half-century later, it is still the finest shooting exhibition in the history of the Final Four.
Congratulations, Utes. They’re the only team to ever score 120 points in a Final Four game and lose. Saint Joseph’s scored a record 127 in the four-overtime track meet for third place. Bradley’s 58, this shootout with 247 combined points... apparently not a lot of defense was played in those third place games.
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Villanova scored early and often and never stopped, and eventually the snowball buried the Sooners 95-51, the worst loss ever in a Final Four. “We didn’t have any answer for them,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said that day. “We would have liked to, but we didn’t.”
With 6:37 left in the first half, the Terps were all over Duke 39-17 in their semifinal, with an open road to the championship game. It took them a year to forget what happened next. Duke rallied to win 95-84, making Maryland the victim of the biggest comeback ever in a Final Four. Fifty-two weeks later, the Terps were 2002 national champions. “People have asked me, was the Duke game on my mind?” Maryland’s Lonny Baxter said the night the Terrapins secured the title. “I was like, no, it won’t be until I win a national championship. Now it is.”
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The Bulldogs’ run to the championship games in 2010 and ‘11 was like a stirring story played to dramatic music. But it ended with a clang. Butler’s 18.8 field goal percentage against Connecticut’s stern defense remains the most futile shooting game in Final Four history. The Bulldogs went 3-for-31 in 2-pointers in the 53-41 defeat. “We kept thinking the shots were going to go in,” Butler’s Matt Howard said. “It just wasn’t happening.”
Michigan 1993, LSU 2006
The 3-point shot came along 36 years ago. Only two teams since then did not make a single 3-pointer in a Final Four game. One was Michigan in 1993 but the Wolverines beat Kentucky anyway, taking only four attempts. The Fab Five were not big on the 3-pointer. But LSU lost, going 0-for-6 against UCLA.
Probably a safe guess that Jerry Tarkanian was chewing on his towel especially hard after some of the whistles, in this 84-83 loss. The Tar Heels attempted 28 free throws, the Rebels five. They made only one, the lowest free throw total for a Final Four game. So they were outscored 18-1 at the line but lost by one point.
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There was nothing wrong with the two Final Four records the Rebels set this night, which still stand: Freddie Banks’ 10 3-pointers, Mark Wade’s 18 assists. The startling thing is UNLV was able to run up both of those mighty numbers and lose, 97-93 to Indiana.
Before Mike Krzyzewski could start collecting championship trophies, he had to endure a fearful pounding that broke a variety of records. The 103-73 rout by UNLV remains the most lopsided championship game ever, The 24 Rebel assists and 16 steals are still tops as well.
Patrick Ewing and the guys at Georgetown turned up the heat on the defense in the second half of this semifinal game and it wasn’t pretty for Kentucky. The Wildcats went 3-for-33 after halftime and their 11 points remain an all-time Final Four low for a second half. Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall called it “some kind of extraterrestrial phenomenon.” Matter of fact, of the six lowest scoring halves — first or second — in Final Four history, five came by 1949. And this one.
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It was quite an underdog story when Penn showed up at the Final Four. Michigan State wasn’t so sympathetic. The Spartans blasted off with no mercy and the 50-17 halftime lead is the largest ever for a Final Four. Magic Johnson had more pressing matters. Larry Bird was waiting in the championship game.
In the end, Arizona denied the Wildcats a repeat title in overtime. But a lot of the Wildcats weren’t around by then. The four who fouled out set a championship game record.
It must be nice to be associated with something unprecedented; the three-overtimer with North Carolina that remains the longest championship game. But making history is not as much fun when you’re on the wrong side of it.
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North Carolina 2022
Ah, Tar Heels. This weekend is the first anniversary of letting that 15-point lead get away against Kansas, the largest halftime advantage ever to vanish in a Final Four. They’ll want to treasure the long run they made last spring and forget how it ended. Perfectly sound strategy.
Just don’t look in the record book.
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