The 2008 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was one for the ages. It was the heavy underdogs toppling a big name programs, a historical Final Four and a championship game that will go down in history. The NCAA also commemorated two important anniversaries. If you thought Monday’s game was classic, the 1983 and 1988 games were just as memorable.
Twenty-five years ago, North Carolina State stunned Houston to win the NCAA National Championship. It was a classic David vs. Goliath match up. Houston, led by future Hall of Famers Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, was the unanimous No.1 team in the country, compiling a 31-2 regular season record. NC State barely made the tournament with 10 loses, and narrowly defeated opponents on its way to the championship. Many of us were too young or were not even born yet to remember this game.
Yet, for any college basketball fan, that image of the desperation shot with :02 left, the dunk to win and the late NC State coach Jimmy Valvano looking for someone to hug, will be a lasting memory.
Twenty years ago, Kansas entered the tournament unranked and faced the mighty Oklahoma Sooners in the championship game. The Big 12 rivals faced each other twice in the regular season, with both matches going to the Sooners. Oklahoma might have had better athletes and more talent, but Kansas had Danny Manning and a core of scrappy players. “Danny and the Miracles” did the unthinkable. Not only did Manning record 31 points, 18 rebounds, five steals and two blocks, but he carried the team to the 83-79 victory.
On Monday, another Kansas Jayhawks team was in the championship. Going into the game, the Jayhawks were the heavy favorites against a Memphis Tigers squad. Both teams had excellent players, talent and coaching staffs. The Jayhawks were the favorites, yet throughout the game, Memphis seemed to be the better team and controlled most of the game. With 2:12 left in regulalation, Memphis had a nine point lead. I thought the game was over. I was happy for Memphis coach John Calipari. Being an East Coast girl, I was rooting for the ex-UMass coach to win it all.
Even when Memphis’ Achilles heel was exposed (free throw shooting), I still thought the Tigers would win. Even when Memphis was clinging to a three-point lead with 10 seconds left, I still thought the Tigers would pull it out. As Kansas brought the ball up the court, I was yelling at the television “Foul him! Foul him! Don’t let them shoot the three!” Well, for those of us who watched, Kansas’ Mario Chalmers hit one of the most clutch three-pointers in NCAA Championship history. Chalmers and the Heartbreakers would go on to defeat Calipari and the Chokers 75-68 in overtime.
It was not just the championship game that made this 2008 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament one of the best in the past 20 years. For the first time in college basketball tournament history, each No. 1 team made it to the Final Four. In the earlier rounds, we watched teams that had no business even escaping the first day. We saw No. 12 Western Kentucky shock No. 5 Drake with a Ty Rogers’ desperation 26-foot three pointer in OT. We witnessed West Virginia knock off the dominate Duke Blue Devils to earn a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.
And who will forget No. 10 Davidson, led by sophomore guard Stephen Curry who scored a combined 70 points in the first two rounds. Not only did Davidson shock the nation by defeating Georgetown and Wisconsin, but the Wildcats were two points from defeating Kansas and going to the Final Four.
I didn’t realize how great the 2008 tournament was, until I watched “One Shining Moment”. It’s my final reminder that there is no better sporting event in the world like March Madness.