There are times in an NCAA Tournament when even the heavy favorite has a tough test, and its run for a championship nearly ends. Even though the team won, it may appear too flawed and not equipped to make a deep run. A little turbulence can happen on the way to paradise.
We just witnessed mighty Duke escape with a one-point win over UCF in the second round, but that doesn’t mean the Blue Devils won’t win the national championship. It just showed us that anything is possible in the Big Dance.
As we enter the Sweet 16, let’s look back at 16 national champions that had their own close calls. We’re not looking at nearly losing the actual championship game, but…with one exception…at nearly losing a game leading up to the Final Four.
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When people look back at the 1957 Tar Heels, they usually talk about their triple-overtime win over Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas Jayhawks. What is forgotten is that the day before, in the national semifinal against Michigan State, North Carolina went another three overtimes to beat the Spartans. The game couldn’t have been closer, as the two teams were tied at the half, at regulation and in each of the first two overtimes. In the first overtime, the Heels’ Pete Brennan rebounded a missed Spartans free throw and drove the length of the floor to tie the game at the buzzer. Center Lennie Rosenbluth took over in the third overtime and sent Carolina to the title game.
Texas Western’s historic win over Kentucky in the 1966 national championship nearly didn’t happen. In the West regional final, Kansas erased a late five-point deficit to send its game with Texas Western into overtime. In the first overtime, Kansas’ Jo Jo White hit a shot from the corner to win the game. The referees, however, ruled that White’s foot was out of bounds and the shot didn’t count. In the second overtime, the Miners took control and eked out the one-point win.
UCLA’s amazing championship streak nearly ended at three (which is still amazing) when Long Beach State had the Bruins on the ropes. The 49ers, who were No. 3 in the polls and coached by Jerry Tarkanian, led the Bruins by seven points with about five minutes left when leading scorer Ed Ratleff fouled out and the bottom dropped. In a tie game late, Long Beach State’s Dwight Taylor missed a jumper that UCLA rebounded and took it down the other end and scored.
Marquette’s close win over Kansas State in the second round (which was the Sweet 16 then) became cause for a rule change going forward. K State was down three late when Darryl Winston was fouled while he tipped in a shot. At that time a tip wasn’t considered a controlled shot, so the made basket didn’t count because of the foul. So instead of Winston getting an and-one to tie the game, the basket was waved off and he had two foul shots (which he hit). Marquette would hold on to the one-point lead and go on to win the national championship a week later. The following year, the NCAA ruled that tips can be counted as continuation when they are fouled.
NC State’s miracle run to the 1983 national championship featured several close games including the first, a 69-67, double-overtime win over Pepperdine. The Wolfpack trailed Pepperdine by five with just 54 seconds remaining in the first overtime, but luck was on their side. The Waves would make just two of six free throws down the stretch, while NC State tied the game with stick backs. After winning this game in double overtime, the Wolfpack would have close wins over UNLV (71-70) and Virginia (63-62) prior to their improbable ending against Houston for the national championship.
By: Shiloh Carder