With Gonzaga’s win against UCLA on Friday night, the 2015 Elite Eight won’t have a double-digit seed team. But will it have memorable championship contenders like these five bracket busters?
1977 Idaho State
UCLA was a juggernaut from 1964 to 1975, winning 10 national championships in the 12-year span. In 1976, the Bruins — now under the tutelage of Gene Bartown, after John Wooden’s retirement — made it to the Final Four before losing to Indiana.
The dynasty was brought to its knees in 1977 with a stunning loss to Idaho State in the semifinals of the West Regional, marking the first time since ’63 that UCLA failed to get to the Final Four when it made the NCAA tournament.
Idaho State’s Steve Hayes had 27 points and 12 rebounds, Greg Griffin added 12 points and Ed Thompson had 14 points with five assists. All three players were drafted by the NBA in 1977. A fourth Idaho State player, Jeff Cook, was drafted in ’78; he had eight points and 14 rebounds against the Bruins.
In the West Regional final, UNLV bounced Idaho State 107-90. Bengals coach Jim Killingsworth, who had won the California Junior College championship in 1968 with Cerritos Junior College, spent six seasons in Pocatello before leading Oklahoma State for two seasons and then TCU for eight years.
Dale Brown’s Tigers were an 11 seed in the tournament and proceeded to knock off Purdue in double overtime, Memphis State, Georgia Tech and Kentucky en route to the Final Four. LSU, at the time the lowest seed to make the Final Four (more on George Mason later), lost to eventual national champion Louisville.
What made the Tigers’ run so improbable was that after losing big man after big man in the paint — from Tito Horford leaving the team to Zoran Jovanovich suffering a knee injury to Nikita Wilson being declared academically ineligible — Brown opted for inspiration from Sun Tzu, the Chinese military commander. Taken from The Art of War and its sixth century B.C. mentality, Brown devised a defense that was in constant motion. “When the enemy prepares everywhere,” Brown recited from the book, “he will be weak everywhere.”
Against Kentucky in the Southeast Regional final, LSU — which, by the way, also survived a chicken pox outbreak in January — finally got the best of the Wildcats, after losing three times to UK that season.
1990 Loyola Marymount
Paul Westhead’s offense averaged 122.4 points per game in 1990, led by second team All-Americans Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble. However, the season is most remembered for Gathers’ death during the second round of the West Coast Conference tournament.
In the NCAA tournament, No. 11 seed LMU steamrolled New Mexico State and defending national champ Michigan in the first two rounds before narrowly escaping Alabama in the Sweet 16. The Lions’ improbable run came to an end in the Elite Eight with a loss to UNLV, which won the national championship, in the West Regional final. That season maked the third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance for Loyola Marymount; the team has not been back since.
Kimble scored a game-high 42 points for LMU but it was not enough to offset four UNLV players scoring 20-plus points, including a team-high 33 by Stacey Augmon.
The Friars’ “divine aura” was on display as No. 10-seeded Providence beat Marquette, Duke and UT-Chattanooga along the way to an Elite Eight matchup against Arizona in the Southeast Regional. Alas, the Wildcats prevailed in overtime to end the Friars’ unlikely run. More than anything, when Austin Croshere fouled out with more than nine minutes remaining in regulation sealed Providence’s fate.
Arizona, a No. 4 seed, beat three No. 1 seeds — Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky — during its trek to the title, Lute Olson’s one shining moment.
The ’97 tournament featured the final games for legendary coaches John Thompson (Georgetown) and Dean Smith (North Carolina). The Tar Heels’ second-round victory against Colorado allowed Smith to surpass Adolph Rupp on the all-time wins list. Rick Pitino also left Kentucky after the national championship game to coach the Boston Celtics.
2006 George Mason
If there is a modern-day Cinderella, it is George Mason. The Patriots’ Final Four run was epic, knocking off No. 6 seed Michigan State, No. 3 seed and defending national champion North Carolina, and No. 7 Wichita State before their Washington, D.C. Regional finale against No. 1 seed UConn. Not too shabby for a program that had never won an NCAA tournament game.
Not to give away the ending, but 2006 was the first time since 1985, when the field expanded to 64, that none of the tournament’s top seeds advanced to the Final Four …
George Mason trailed by 12 in the first half, nine in the second half — and managed to force overtime. And win. All five George Mason starters scored in double figures, led by Jai Lewis’ 20; for the season the Patriots’ five starters averaged more than 10 points per game: Lewis (13.7), Tony Skinn (12.6), Lamar Butler (11.9), Will Thomas (11.8) and Folarin Campbell (11.0).
The first CAA team to reach the Final Four, George Mason’s season ended with a loss to eventual national champion Florida.