BOZICH | As Streak Ends, My 10 Favorite NCAA Final Fours - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | As Streak Ends, My 10 Favorite NCAA Final Fours

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Jimmy Valvano and N.C. State won the 1983 Final Four in a basketball gym. Jimmy Valvano and N.C. State won the 1983 Final Four in a basketball gym.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The number 33 isn't the greatest number in basketball. But it's in the conversation.

Larry Bird wore it. So did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Ditto Patrick Ewing.

Don't forget Charles Jones (Louisville), Ron Mercer (Kentucky), Tom Abernethy (Indiana) and Kannard Johnson (Western Kentucky).

For me, 33 has a different meaning -- 33 consecutive Final Fours.

I covered my first in 1981 in Philadelphia -- and contrary to local legend I was not the guy that Bob Knight stuffed in a trash can.

I skipped the 1982 gathering in New Orleans for the birth of my son and started a 33-year streak the following season in Albuquerque. Yes, boys and girls, the rumor is true: Once upon a time, they played the Final Four in actual basketball gyms.

The streak ends this weekend in Houston. (If ever there was a Final Four venue to skip, it’s deep in a bland and hideous NFL stadium in Houston.)

Rather than rank all 33 championships I've covered, I went Google Search friendly and ranked my 10 Favorite Final Fours. Thanks for playing. Here goes:

10. New Orleans, 1993 -- This spot was actually a 24-moment tie for 10th because I don't remember a terrible Final Four.

But I gave the advantage to what unfolded in the Superdome. Despite the magnificent play of Jamal Mashburn (26 points), Kentucky lost to Michigan in overtime in the semifinals. In the title game, Dean Smith got his second title at North Carolina, Chris Webber asked for a timeout he didn’t have. Hey, in Ann Arbor he was used to getting things for free.

Oh, Yo, Fish, the Fab Five secured its legacy as the greatest group of players who won … nothing.

9. New Orleans, 1987 -- If you've got a picture of the four coaches who made it to the Superdome, I'd frame it because they're all Hall of Famers -- Jerry Tarkanian (UNLV). Rick Pitino (who did his best work at Providence), Jim Boeheim (Mr. Sunshine for Syracuse even then) and Bob Knight (whose dominance at Indiana was about to end).

Syracuse was wise to deny Steve Alford Indiana's final shot, but not Smart. Yep, it was Keith Smart's jumper that went in and the Indiana Hoosiers won their fifth (and last) NCAA title.

8. Atlanta, 2013 -- Spike Albrecht couldn't miss. Tim Henderson couldn't miss. Luke Hancock couldn't miss. (Did anybody miss?)

Peyton Siva, Russ Smith and Gorgui Dieng wouldn't quit. And Louisville made certain that Kevin Ware got his piece of a championship net as the Cardinals took down a Michigan team with five NBA Draft picks. And Pitino became the first coach to win titles at two schools.

7. Indianapolis, 2010 -- I tracked Gordon Hayward's shot from the instant it left his hand near mid-court. The ball was going in.

In.

In.

In.

Until it just missed. Somebody estimated that if Heyward had shot the ball with .5 mph less velocity and aimed it three inches to the left, Butler would have been the unlikely national champion. Instead, Duke celebrated -- and Blue Devils' point guard Nolan Smith (a Louisville native) joined his late father Derek (Louisville, 1980) on the list of fathers and sons with NCAA basketball titles.

6. Indianapolis, 1997 -- Kentucky wins. Arizona wins. Kentucky wins. Arizona wins. I had competing stories working in my computer the entire night as Arizona needed five extra minutes to upset Kentucky in the final. I hope I filed the correct one. I never checked. Nobody deserved to lose.

Who knew that two other historical things happened in the RCA Dome that weekend? Saturday's semifinal loss to Arizona was the final game Dean Smith coached at North Carolina. And about a month later, Pitino ended his eight-season run at Kentucky to coach the Boston Celtics.

5. San Antonio, 1998 -- Kentucky as an underdog? Kentucky without 27 McDonald's all-Americans? Kentucky with guys eager to play all four college seasons? All true.

Of the three UK national championship teams that I have covered, that was easily my favorite group because Scott Padgett, Jeff Sheppard, Heshimu Evans, Wayne Turner, Cameron Mills, Nazr Mohammed and Allen Edwards played as if they truly believed that winning a national title trumped NBA Draft night. Plus, writing about Utah coach Rick Majerus was always a treat.

4. Indianapolis, 1991 -- Everybody was ready to bow and proclaim UNLV the greatest college basketball team of all-time. The Rebels had won 45 straight games, beating Duke by 30 in the 1990 final game.

Ooops. Grant Hill, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and the rest of the Blue Devils gave the first clue that a new legendary coach was about to rule the game -- Mike Krzyzewski, for the first of his five national titles. After Duke upset UNLV in the semifinals, I'll never forget what former UCLA coach John Wooden told my friend, New York sports writer Mike Lupica:

"A lot of teams have won one in a row."

3. New Orleans, 2012 -- The only thing that could be more riveting than a Louisville vs. Kentucky national semifinal game would be a Louisville vs. Kentucky championship game. Until that happens, the Russ Smith/Peyton Siva vs. Anthony Davis/Michael Kidd-Gilchrist game in the Superdome will have to do.

2. Lexington, Ky., 1985 -- As Wooden just said, "A lot of teams have won one in a row." That includes Georgetown, Ewing and John Thompson, who ruled the game with steely disdain. The Hoyas had rolled over UK and Houston in the 1984 Final Four in Seattle and were a 9-point favorite to dispatch Villanova for a second title in Rupp Arena.

Then Harold Jensen, Dwayne McClain, Gary McLain, Ed Pinckney and the rest of Rollie Massimino's team made shot after shot after contested shot, converting 78.6 percent of their field goal attempts on their way to greatness. Mark it down as the last national championship decided in the Bluegrass.

Did I ever tell you I'm not a fan of basketball games in domed stadiums?

1. Albuquerque, N.M. 1983 -- I don't believe I used the lead, "One Shining Airball," after North Carolina State toppled Houston. But I should have.

Houston featured at least five guys who went to the NBA, including two Hall of Famers -- Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. The Cougars and Louisville played a Welcome to the 21St Century game in the semifinals that Houston won, 94-81,  a contest played so far above the rim that everybody requested oxygen after the game.

N.C. State had confusion on the game's final play when it appeared that Dereck Whittenburg's desperation 30-footer was going to land in Las Cruces.

Then Lorenzo Charles appeared from nowhere, grabbing the air ball in front of the rim for a Slama that beat Phi Jama for a 54-52 victory that triggered Jim Valvano's unforgettable run all over the court.

Who was Jimmy V looking for?

Probably me: I really did pick the Pack in an upset before that one.

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