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1992 College Basketball Season – The Perfect Game

SI nov 25 1991

#1 Duke was the favorite to repeat in 1992 *photo courtesy of Getty Images

With the Duke Blue Devils having their main stars of Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, and company returning, they were #1 in the polls and odds on favorite to repeat as National Champions.

In the early season (before December 21, the date of our first games), Duke took on two ranked opponents.  First was #7 St. John’sat the Greensboro Coliseum.  With 15 minutes left in the game, a score that was not expected was being shown.

St. John’s would actually make the final score respectable at 91-81 but would get another chance at a top opponent when they took on Indiana two weeks later in our first game featured (on the date of December 21, which incidentally was the 100 year anniversary of basketball being invented.. so a pretty special date).

Meanwhile, Duke (in a game that’s turned pretty famous) would travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan and get their first look at the Fab Five.  After a 14-15 season in 1991, Steve Fisher and the Michigan Wolverines recruited 5 top notch high school players.  Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, and Jalen Rose started immediately.  Jimmy King and Ray Jackson did not.  But they still ram-rodded Detroit Mercy and Cleveland State in their first two games.

They got their first test and national exposure against Duke.  The Wolverines trailed by 17 but made a run in the 2nd half and had chances to win.  But Duke held on 88-85 in overtime and survived their first test in defending their national championship.  As it turned out, it would be one of their few tests until February 5.  Michigan, meanwhile, would be 8-1 entering the Big Ten season but 3-3 in the Big Ten when they traveled to East Lansing to play their in-state rival Michigan State.

Duke and St. John’s bracketed the pre-season top 10 (Duke was #1 and St. John’s #10), while Michigan started at #20 but were #25 when they played their first game.

Rounding out the top 10 was Indiana at #2, Arkansas at #3, Kentucky at #4, Arizona at #5, LSU at #6, Ohio State at #7, North Carolina at #8, and Seton Hall at #9.

UCLA was ranked #11 in the pre-season but springed to #4 after defeating #2 Indiana 87-72 in the Tip-Off Classic.  UCLA started the season at 14-0, including an 89-87 victory at Arizona, but their toughest opponent may have been their cross-town rivals.  Indiana would also get another shot at them eventually.

#4 Kentucky would be the favorite at the Pre-Season NIT.  But they never made it to New York as Pitt bounced them in Rupp Arena 85-67 in the 2nd round.  Oklahoma State, who started the season at #13 in the polls, won the Pre-Season NIT with victories over Pitt and Georgia Tech at Madison Square Garden.  Kentucky rebounded by defeating Indiana in Indianapolis, but lost to Georgia Tech 81-80 in Atlanta.  Still though, with probation off their backs, Kentucky would make noise again.

#3 Arkansas started off their first season in the SEC in Maui, where they climbed to #2 but lost in the finals of the Maui Invitational to unranked Michigan State.  The Spartans would climb into the rankings with their 86-71 victory and not leave after winning their first 10 games.  Arkansas lost again to Missouri but would eventually round into another stellar season in a different conference and some key pieces returning.

But Arkansas’ big early season win did come against #2 Arizona on this December 21st date.  It would be the Wildcats’ only loss in their first 11 games.  Arizona’s most impressive win in their early season came when they stomped LSU 87-67.  But it perhaps became less impressive with LSU’s shaky start.  The Tigers had to scramble to defeat Louisiana-Monroe in the last seconds and then were killed by probation-ridden UNLV and Arizona.  They would try to right themselves by hosting Louisville on this December 21st date.

Ohio State won their first 6 games while playing against cupcakes.  But they got their first test on this December 21st date.  North Carolina and Seton Hall played each other in the early season.  North Carolina won big in New Jersey, 83-54.  Despite the drubbing, the Pirates started the season at 6-1.  North Carolina would get a rude awakening from ACC newcomer Florida State.  The Seminoles beat the Tarheels 86-74 in Chapel Hill and made noise about the quietness of the Dean Dome.

All of the teams I’ve listed so far except Detroit-Mercy, Cleveland State, Pitt, Missouri, and Louisiana-Monroe (So the teams listed other than those 5 are Duke, St. John’s, Michigan, Indiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, Arizona, LSU, Ohio State, North Carolina, Seton Hall, UCLA, USC, Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, Michigan State, and Florida State) will be highlighted in a game.  Seton Hall, Arizona, and Kentucky won’t be highlighted until the NCAA tournament.

And in case you were wondering about Detroit-Mercy, Cleveland State, Pitt, Missouri, and Louisiana-Monroe, only Missouri and Louisiana-Monroe made the NCAA tournament.  Monroe was a 15th seed in the Midwest after winning the Southland Conference but were killed by USC 84-54.  Missouri finished 3rd in the Big 8 and had senior Anthony Peeler on the All-America 2nd team.  They were the #5 seed in the East and lost in the 2nd round.  Pitt finished 7th in the Big East and lost in the 2nd round of the NIT.  Detroit-Mercy and Cleveland State did not recover from being Fab 5 fodder and finished at the bottom of their conferences.

Now we’ve hit that December 21st date.  #19 Arkansas beat #2 Arizona 65-59.  But in the three matchups featured, #14 Indiana took on #10 St. John’s, #25 Louisville traveled to unranked LSU, and #4 Ohio State went west to take on soon-to-be-ranked Southern California.

December 21, 1991 – (#14)Indiana Hoosiers 82 @(#10)St. John’s Red Men 77

Going into this matchup, both teams had not beaten a ranked opponent so far in the season.  St. John’s was 4-1 but had only played Duke in their matchups against the top 25.

The biggest thing with the Johnnies so far was that senior Malik Sealy was playing brilliantly but getting little help.  Fellow seniors Robert Werdann, Jason Buchanan, and Chucky Sproling were under-performing after having a breakthrough NCAA tournament in 1991.  St. John’s and coach Lou Carnesecca, who was in his last season coaching, was also not getting contributions from the forward slot opposite Sealy.  Billy Singleton had graduated and sophomore Shawnelle Scott, along with newcomers Lamont Middleton and Mitchell Foster, were failing to step up.

Indiana had been more disappointing however.  After finishing 1991 at 29-5, although coach Bob Knight thought that was deceiving because of a “down year” in the Big Ten, the Hoosiers were 5-2 with essentially the same team.

Junior Calbert Cheaney had rounded into a star.  Seniors Eric Anderson and Jamal Meeks were returning, along with juniors Greg Graham, Chris Reynolds, and Matt Nover and sophomore Damon Bailey.  Added to the group was prized freshman big man Alan Henderson.  Henderson was a McDonald’s All-American in 1991 and was already in Knight’s starting lineup at center.

Cheaney, however, had disappeared in Indiana’s two losses to UCLA and Kentucky.  In a big matchup against Sealy, who played the same position, it was time for Cheaney to step up.  In fact, it was time for both teams to step up.

Chucky Sproling seemed to be stepping up and going out of his shooting slump early on as he nailed two three-pointers to give St. John’s an early 8-4 lead.  But St. John’s returned to Sealy versus the other team and shot poorly, missing a lot of layups.

Meanwhile, Cheaney and Anderson did step up to put Indiana ahead.  A three from Bailey gave the Hoosiers a 20-12 lead at the 11:44 mark.  Then Cheaney nailed two triples to put Indiana ahead 26-12 and force Carnesecca to use a timeout with 10:18 left in the half.

Although the Red Men made a run, Indiana would take their biggest lead at 36-21 at the 3:47 mark after another three by Anderson and five points from usual non-scorer Matt Nover.  But the Hoosiers took their foot off the gas pedal.

Sealy hit a turnaround and Buchanan contributed his first two field goals of the game.  St. John’s cut it to 39-32 at the break but it could have been closer.  Just before the buzzer, Sealy got a steal in the back-court.  But instead of trying to get a shot off before the buzzer, Sealy went coast-to-coast for a slam, which happened long after time ran out.

However, the Johnnies did come out strong to start the 2nd half.  Werdann got his first field goal and then had a tipped pass to Sproling for a breakaway layup.  St. John’s cut it to 41-39 before Cheaney quelled the run with a turnaround jumper from the post.

Cheaney and Sealy had each led their team with 10 1st half points.  Cheaney held off the Red Men with Indiana’s first 11 points of the 2nd half.  But the absent Werdann and Buchanan kept it close.  Werdann had 7 points early in the 2nd half while Buchanan nailed two threes.

Indiana’s lead was down to 55-53 when Cheaney picked up his 4th foul.  St. John’s had made their run in the 1st half when Knight decided to rest Cheaney.

St. John’s tied it at 59 when Middleton hit a turnaround jumper from the post.  They took the lead at 64-63 when Sealy hit a three from the top, but the Red Men did not hit another field goal over the next few minutes.

Meanwhile, Henderson hit four free throws and Meeks hit three to give Indiana a 72-66 lead with Cheaney still on the bench.  Henderson then got two layups off feeds from Reynolds and Meeks.

Although, St. John’s made a run and cut it to 78-75 with 30.5 seconds left, it was too little too late and Indiana had a big road win.

For the Hoosiers, this would be win #4 in what turned into a 13-game winning streak.  This streak included dominating victories over Cincinnati, Ohio State, and Michigan.  Ohio State and Michigan were ranked and Cincinnati would become a Final Four team in 1992.

St. John’s went downhill after the loss and they sat at 10-7 before a 7-game winning streak saved their season.  They would finish the regular season at 19-10 and finish 3rd in the Big East.  St. John’s was a #7 seed in the Southeast Regional but lost in the 1st round to Tulane 61-57.

Carnesecca then retired after 24 seasons as coach and St. John’s would, for the most part, not be the same as a basketball program to this day.

Indiana starters (points scored)

Calbert Cheaney (25) – Small Forward

Eric Anderson (18) – Power Forward

Alan Henderson (10) – Center

Chris Reynolds (2) – Point Guard

Greg Graham (4) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Jamal Meeks (9)

Matt Nover (7)

Damon Bailey (7)

Indiana Coach: Bob Knight

St. John’s starters (points scored)

Malik Sealy (25) – Small Forward

Shawnelle Scott (2) – Power Forward

Robert Werdann (15) – Center

Jason Buchanan (17) – Point Guard

Chucky Sproling (8) – Shooting Guard

St. John’s bench (points scored)

Lamont Middleton (10)

Mitchell Foster (0)

David Cain (0)

Terrence Mullin (0)

St. John’s Coach: Lou Carnesecca

December 21, 1991 – (#4)Ohio State Buckeyes 77 @USC Trojans 79 (OT)

When George Raveling moved from Iowa to USC as coach in 1986, he didn’t inherit much.  In his first 4 seasons, USC won 38 total games.  But Raveling was starting to get some talent.

For his 4th season, guard Robert Pack came from Community College in Tyler, Texas.  He also got local product Harold Miner, who was being called “Baby Jordan” by the time he was a junior.  Raveling had Ronnie Coleman, who was USC’s all-time leading scorer until Miner passed him.  For the 1991 season, Duane Cooper came back after a red-shirt season but struggled in his return from a broken foot.  Big men Yamen Sanders and Mark Boyd came aboard, as well as guards Phil Glenn and Rodney Chatman.

With this roster, USC made their first NCAA tournament since 1985.  It was clearly a new experience as Miner threw up a dud 7-for-27 performance in a close loss to Florida State in the 1st round.

Coleman and Pack graduated but freshman big man Lorenzo Orr and JC transfer Dwayne Hackett came aboard.  But the worry without Coleman and Pack was that Miner would become a one-man team.  But still, USC had its best team in years and the Los Angeles Sports Arena was starting to become a home-court advantage.  USC had won 7 in a row at home and 15 of their last 17.  The Trojans were 6-1 with their only loss being in the opening game at Nebraska.

Ohio State would be the Trojans’ first test since that Nebraska loss.  The Buckeyes played their first 5 games at home against less-than-stellar competition and killed them.  But then they traveled out west to UC-Santa Barbara and won a close game in a tough environment.  But USC would be Ohio State’s toughest test so far.

The Buckeyes had lost Perry Carter and Treg Lee to graduation.  Both were big, strong interior players.  But Ohio State did have an All-American coming back in Jim Jackson.  Jackson, like Miner, was a junior and would become a 1st-team All-American in 1992.  Coach Randy Ayers also had senior guards Mark Baker and Jamaal Brown returning to the starting lineup.  Seniors Chris Jent and Bill Robinson moved into the lineup.

Ayers also had a coup coming.  Transfer Lawrence Funderburke was on his way from Indiana but he was ineligible for the first semester.  Funderburke was part of Indiana’s big recruiting year that included Calbert Cheaney.  But Lawrence was gone after one season because he couldn’t get along with Bob Knight, not the first or last time that happened.  Although he hadn’t exactly proven himself on the college level, Funderburke had a lot of potential.

For this game, USC got off to the hot start it needed.  Duane Cooper nailed a three off the opening tip and then Miner nailed a turnaround jumper from the foul line.  Yamen Sanders got a few hoops and then found Mark Boyd for a breakaway slam.  USC was 5-for-5 from the field and led 13-7 at the 15:59 mark.

But then USC went into a drought and Jamaal Brown nailed two threes and Chris Jent hit another.  The Buckeyes now led 17-15 at the 11:22 mark.  But USC countered with their own three-point marksmanship after a timeout.  Cooper hit one and Rodney Chatman two more.  USC re-took a 26-18 lead.

Although Ohio State cut the lead to 36-34 at the half, Jim Jackson struggled through a 1-for-8 start.  Brown led the Buckeyes with 11 points while Miner and Sanders each had 11 for USC.

The Buckeyes tied it early in the 2nd half before Miner hit back-to-back field goals.  But then, with 16:04 left, Miner picked up his 3rd foul.  He stayed in the game but Ohio State went on a 9-1 run to take a 47-45 lead.  Bill Robinson was a big factor early on with 6 points but he fouled out with 12:51 remaining.

Jim Jackson got going and the Buckeyes took their biggest lead at 56-52 when Brown tipped in a miss.  Miner then got aggressive again and nailed a three-pointer, although it looked like his foot was on the line.

Miner’s output would be matched by Jackson.  Jackson made a living by going 1-on-1 at the top of the key and nailing pull-up jumpers from the foul line area.  Both Miner and Jackson also got to the foul line late in the game.  All in all, it led to a 66-all tie with 1:20 left.

The Buckeyes would then take a big advantage with under a minute to go when Jackson found Brown for a corner three.  Raveling used a timeout with 43.1 seconds left.

They tried to free Miner off of many screens.  But Harold couldn’t break free from Jackson.  So Duane Cooper pulled up off a screen from Mark Boyd and nailed a three to tie the game with 20 seconds left.  Ohio State didn’t use a timeout and Jackson went 1-on-1 again.  But this time, Miner knocked the ball away and forced a held ball with 3.8 seconds left.  The arrow was pointing towards USC.

The Trojans actually got a good shot off their inbounds play from three-quarter court.  Miner broke free and had a pull-up jumper from the right wing that looked to be dead on.  But it came up short and the game was headed into overtime.

Miner and Jackson continued their duel in the extra session but USC took a lead when Cooper nailed a three and kept it despite Miner going out of the game for a minute after picking up his 4th foul.

But Jackson hit back-to-back field goals after going 1-on-1 at the top to give Ohio State a 77-75 lead with 1:53 to go.  Jackson had made his last 7 field goals after his 1-for-8 start.

But Miner got to the line again after Brown was called for his 5th foul (a weak call) with 1:10 left.  Miner hit two free throws to tie the game and finished 14-for-17 from the line.

USC then surprised Ohio State with the press and Cooper got a steal with under a minute to go.  The Trojans ran down the shot clock but had a long, forced shot blocked out of bounds with 1 second on the shot clock and 10.1 seconds left.

From under Ohio State’s basket, Cooper threw a lob pass to a cutting Miner at the rim.  Miner rose above good defense from Ohio State backup big man Tom Brandewie and laid it in at the shot clock buzzer to give the Trojans the lead.

Ohio State, again, decided not to use a timeout.  Jackson took it the length of the court but was long on his pull-up jumper at the buzzer, a shot that he had nailed the entire 2nd half.

USC had not beaten a top 4 ranked team since upsetting eventual champion UCLA in 1970.  The Trojans most successful season since the 1970’s would continue with a victory over 2nd rated UCLA at the end of January.  Ohio State also continued their successful season but would have trouble with a Big Ten foe.

Ohio State starters (points scored)

Jim Jackson (28) – Small Forward

Chris Jent (10) – Power Forward

Bill Robinson (7) – Center

Mark Baker (5) – Point Guard

Jamaal Brown (23) – Shooting Guard

Ohio State bench (points scored)

Steve Hall (0)

Tom Brandewie (3)

Rickey Dudley (1)

Alex Davis (0)

Ohio State Coach: Randy Ayers

USC starters (points scored)

Harold Miner (31) – Small Forward

Mark Boyd (5) – Power Forward

Yamen Sanders (13) – Center

Duane Cooper (18) – Point Guard

Phil Glenn (0) – Shooting Guard

USC bench (points scored)

Lorenzo Orr (2)

Rodney Chatman (10)

Dwayne Hackett (0)

Tremaine Anchrum (0)

Tim Vanitvelt (0)

USC Coach: George Raveling

December 21, 1991 – (#25)Louisville Cardinals 93 @LSU Tigers 92

After accumulating an outstanding record in his first 19 seasons at Louisville, Denny Crum suffered his first losing season in 1991.  The Cardinals went 14-16 and finished 8th in the Metro Conference after dominating it for years.

Now Crum was without LaBradford Smith, who was a senior in 1991 at guard.  But Crum did have some talent returning.  There were seniors Everick Sullivan and Cornelius Holden at forward as well as juniors James Brewer and Troy Smith.  Crum was also getting some Prop 48 players who probably would have helped in 1991.  They were guards Greg Minor and Dwayne Morton and center Brian Hopgood.  The point guard was a freshman in Keith LeGree.

With this talent and a home-heavy schedule (the only road game so far was at Notre Dame), Louisville was off to a 5-0 start in 1992 and moved up to #25 in the polls.

The same could not be said of LSU at the start of the season.  Junior superstar Shaquille O’Neal was further learning that he could not carry a team on his own and that the college game was not going to get any less physical.  Shaq’s team started out #6 in the polls but were out by the time they took on Louisville.

Dale Brown’s 3-2 LSU team featured forwards Vernel Singleton and Clarence Ceasar, guards Justin Anderson, T.J. Pugh, Mike Hansen, Maurice Williamson and Jamie Brandon.  Williamson and Brandon were returning after being academically ineligible for the 1991 season (Brandon was another Prop 48 casualty).  Shaq’s backup was 7-foot Dutchman Geert Hammink, who would also be Shaq’s backup for a few cups of coffee in Orlando.  Hammink would be the only of Shaq’s current teammates who would play an NBA game.

Both teams wanted to push the ball and create a fast tempo, but LSU had been run out of the gym in their first two losses as Brown tried to put together a back-court combination that would work.  On this day, the starting combination was Brandon and Anderson with Brandon at the controls.

LSU did not solve any chemistry woes early on as they committed 3 turnovers in the first few minutes.  Meanwhile, Sullivan got a steal and pull-up banker while guards LeGree and Minor hit shots over Shaq.  O’Neal did get two blocks and LSU’s 8-0 run gave them a 10-7 lead.

But Sullivan had the answer with 9 early points to keep Louisville within a 21-all tie.  Then the Cardinals bench gave them the lead as Brewer nailed a three and Smith hit a jumper from the top.  But then Shaq threw down his 2nd alley-oop to kick off an 11-0 Tigers run that gave them a 32-26 lead despite 9 turnovers.

But Sullivan answered again as he scored 7 points late in the half to bring his total to 16.  Lousiville took a 37-36 lead before Ceasar nailed a three and Shaq rebound-slammed a miss to bring his total to 10 points.  LSU led 41-37 at the break.

The Tigers continued their run with a 6-0 start to the 2nd half to take a 10-point lead.  Louisville crept back to within 51-47 before Shaq drew his 3rd foul.  Brewer then made a subsequent free throw and then nailed a three to tie the game.

Despite the foul trouble, O’Neal had gotten going in the 2nd half and kept LSU ahead with 10 points.  But with about 13 minutes left, Morton scored on a layup and drew Shaq’s 4th foul.  Morton’s three-point play tied the game at 59 and O’Neal went to the bench.

LSU took a lead as they tried to prove they weren’t a one man team.  But a 7-0 Louisville run, led by their big man Troy Smith, gave the Cardinals a 70-66 lead.  Shaq had to come back in after a three-point play by Smith on an offensive rebound.  O’Neal immediately scored with 3 guys on him, and then he blocked a shot that led to a breakaway layup by Williamson to tie the game at 70.

With under 8 minutes to go, Sullivan went on a personal 7-0 run to give Louisville a 79-72 advantage.  Louisville had been pushing the tempo with a small lineup all day.  For Sullivan, these were his only 7 points of the 2nd half.  Two three-pointers from the freshman Ceasar cut the lead to 80-78 before disaster struck.

With 4:42 left, Holden pump faked Shaq and drew his 5th foul.  O’Neal left the game with 22 points, 15 rebounds, and 6 blocks.  Although Shaq was gone, LSU continued to try to defy the one-man team talk (either that or Louisville relaxed).  Jamie Brandon got two steals that led to layups and then he banked one in to put the Tigers up 86-81 with under 2 minutes left.

Louisville looked about done when Maurice Williamson put back his own missed free throw to give LSU an 88-82 lead with under a minute and a half to go.

But LeGree fed Morton for a layup and then Louisville sent LSU to the line.  Ceasar split a pair of free throws.  LeGree went coast-to-coast for a pull-up jumper and then Brandon split a pair of free throws.  LSU now led 90-86 with 36 seconds left.  Holden put back a miss by LeGree and drew a foul at the 24-second mark.  Holden’s three-point play cut the lead to 90-89.

Brandon nailed both free throws this time but Louisville could still tie it with a three.  They got two chances on the next possession but LeGree and Sullivan missed their attempts.  But after the Sullivan miss, Williamson pushed off on Holden and was called for a foul with 8 seconds left.  Holden missed the first free throw but made the second.

Morton then fouled Williamson with 7 seconds left.  Maurice had missed two free throws earlier and bricked two more, giving Louisville a chance to tie with a two-pointer and win with a three.

Morton grabbed Williamson’s second miss and did not call a timeout.  Instead, he gave it ahead to Holden.  Cornelius pushed it up the floor but was kind of hesitating on what to do.  He eventually gave it back to the freshman Keith LeGree.  LeGree pulled up for a long three-pointer and nailed it at the buzzer to give the Cardinals the win.

LeGree’s three gave Louisville a 6-0 record on the season.  They would come back down to earth with a loss at Kentucky and then an 0-2 start in the Metro Conference.  But they would get another road test at Kansas.

This loss may have shook LSU up a bit as they won their next two games by scores of 159-86 and 123-61.  They won 4 in a row before suffering another home loss, this time to Arkansas in their conference home opener.  LSU then had to travel to Alabama for their version of a road test.

Louisville starters (points scored)

Greg Minor (2) – Small Forward

Everick Sullivan (23) – Power Forward

Cornelius Holden (11) – Center

Keith LeGree (10) – Point Guard

Dwayne Morton (16) – Shooting Guard

Louisville bench (points scored)

James Brewer (16)

Troy Smith (13)

Tremaine Wingfield (0)

Kip Stone (0)

Derwin Webb (2)

Louisville Coach: Denny Crum

LSU starters (points scored)

Clarence Ceasar (15) – Small Forward

Vernel Singleton (11) – Power Forward

Shaquille O’Neal (22) – Center

Jamie Brandon (16) – Point Guard

Justin Anderson (5) – Shooting Guard

LSU bench (points scored)

Maurice Williamson (15)

Harold Boudreaux (2)

T.J. Pugh (4)

Mike Hansen (0)

Geert Hammink (2)

LSU Coach: Dale Brown

January 4, 1992 – (#5)Connecticut Huskies 70 @Illinois Fighting Illini 66

The Connecticut Huskies had been a cinderella story and had come oh-so-close to the Final Four in 1990 and 1991.  But now, they were vying for serious legitimacy.  They had experience coming back in seniors Chris Smith, Rod Sellers, and Dan Cyrulik and juniors Scott Burrell and Toraino Walker.

They had also recruited some prized freshmen.  The biggest prize was 6’9″ McDonald’s All-American Donyell Marshall from Reading, Pennsylvania.  Jim Calhoun also got Donny Marshall (not related to Donyell) from Washington D.C., Kevin Ollie from Los Angeles, and Brian Fair from Phoenix.

With this lineup, the Huskies were off to a 9-0 start, although all but one game was played at home.

Illinois was now on the downturn after being put on probation in 1990.  Lou Henson’s only legitimate star was sophomore center Deon Thomas.  Andy Kaufmann, who averaged 21.3 points per game in 1991, was supposed to join Thomas as the star, but Kaufmann would be red-shirted for the 1992 season due to academic problems.

Without Kaufmann or the ability to fully recruit potential stars, Henson and Thomas did not have much of a supporting cast.  Rennie Clemons played the point and had shooters T.J. Wheeler, Brooks Taylor, Tom Michael, and Scott Pierce flanking him on the outside.  The best freshman that Henson could get with the probationary restraints was Robert Bennett from Julian High School in Chicago.  Bennett would not blow anybody away with his numbers over the next 4 years.

Illinois was off to a 6-3 start but had gotten waxed by the only good teams they played, Temple and Missouri.

On paper, this looked like a mis-match.  But Connecticut had only played one game away from Gampel Pavilion and Illinois would play a bit out of their minds.

The tone was set by Thomas as he rejected two UConn shots early on.  He then led the Illini to an early lead with 9 points.  But the biggest key was how the Illinois guards handled the vaunted UConn press.

Clemons and Wheeler were able to break it and find Thomas for layups and fouls on UConn.  Sellers and Burrell each got into early foul trouble.

A 6-0 Illini run (Burrell committed his 3rd foul during this spurt, taking UConn’s 2nd leading scorer out of the lineup with no points) put the home team ahead 22-15.

They continued to grow the lead by breaking UConn’s press for easy baskets and getting on the offensive boards.  With 15 minutes gone by in the 1st half, Bennett found Tom Michael for a layup to put the Illini up 34-22.

For UConn, Burrell was scoreless and the prized freshmen were playing like inexperienced freshmen.  But the Huskies would show off their big star power as Chris Smith took over through the rest of the 1st half.

First, Smith hit a long jumper and then a reverse scoop shot.  Then Smith got a steal off the press and scored on a layup.  Illinois went scoreless during this stretch and Smith continued to attack as he pushed the ball to Sellers for a layup.  Chris capped his personal, unanswered run with a pull-up three from the top.  This cut Illinois’ lead to 34-33.

Tom Michael stemmed the tide with a three but Smith came right back with another to bring his 1st half point total to 17, 12 in the last 5 minutes.  UConn, however, was not able to grab the lead at halftime as the Illini held a 37-36 advantage.

Illinois got back going early in the 2nd half as Thomas got a three-point play and Michael hit his 3rd three-pointer.  But Burrell finally got involved as he found Donyell Marshall with a touch-pass for a slam and then hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 43.

The game went back-and-forth for the next several minutes.  Illinois continued to get on the boards, they would out-rebound Connecticut 52-33 in this game.

But Smith would continue to attack.  His 27th point came on a breakaway layup to put UConn up 55-52 with 8 minutes left.

Connecticut would hold the lead for the next 4 minutes despite not scoring a field goal, but their advantage was a tenuous 58-56 after a layup by Thomas.

But Sellers penetrated and kicked out to Burrell for a big three-pointer from the wing.  Thomas responded with a turnaround jumper but Illinois would not score again until there was less than a minute remaining.

Meanwhile UConn, although they didn’t quite look smooth, put the game away for the most part.  Sellers put back a miss by Marshall and then Smith hit a turnaround in the lane to reach a career-high in points.  Smith’s two free throws then put UConn up 67-58 with 52.6 seconds left.

Illinois would make a bit of a push after Pierce and Michael hit three-pointers to cut the lead to 68-64 with 28 seconds left.  Clemons then got a steal in the back court but Pierce and walk-on freshman Will Tuttle missed their jumpers and Connecticut was finally able to put the game away.

The Huskies had survived their first road test and seemed to be on smooth sailing through the first part of their Big East schedule.  UConn sat at 16-1 through the end of January but then the tough part of their schedule came.

Illinois’ momentum from their effort against UConn would not continue as they got off to an inauspicious 2-7 start in the Big Ten.  But they would have a chance to get their only road win in their Big Ten season in mid-February against a team missing their best player.

Connecticut starters (points scored)

Donyell Marshall (8) – Small Forward

Toraino Walker (8) – Power Forward

Rod Sellers (11) – Center

Chris Smith (33) – Point Guard

Scott Burrell (7) – Shooting Guard

Connecticut bench (points scored)

Dan Cyrulik (2)

Brian Fair (1)

Kevin Ollie (0)

Donny Marshall (0)

Connecticut Coach: Jim Calhoun

Illinois starters (points scored)

Tom Michael (19) – Small Forward

Scott Pierce (9) – Power Forward

Deon Thomas (26) – Center

Rennie Clemons (4) – Point Guard

T.J. Wheeler (0) – Shooting Guard

Illinois bench (points scored)

Brooks Taylor (2)

Robert Bennett (6)

Will Tuttle (0)

Mike Duis (0)

Marc Davidson (0)

Illinois Coach: Lou Henson

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Senior Chris Smith almost single-handedly led UConn to a victory at Illinois with a career-high 33 points *photo courtesy of Sportz Edge

January 11, 1992 – Louisville Cardinals 85 @(#4)Kansas Jayhawks 78

Ever since upsetting Shaq and LSU (it looks more like an upset in hindsight than it probably actually was), the Louisville Cardinals had lost 3 out of 4 games.  One loss came at Kentucky and the others were the opening two games of the Metro Conference season, including a home loss to Tulane.

Kansas had started the season 11-0 but their schedule wasn’t exactly the strongest.  So Roy Williams, in his more-or-less typical manner, figured that his team could have a tough time with Louisville, even though they were at Allen Fieldhouse, if they weren’t ready to play.

The Jayhawks had a 24-game winning streak going at Allen Fieldhouse and had won 30 straight non-conference games at home.

Kansas had lost Mark Randall, Mike Maddox and Terry Brown from the starting lineup of a team that went to the 1991 National Championship Game.  They had also lost 6th man Sean Tunstall.

But junior point guard Adonis Jordan and powerful 6’6″ senior forward Alonzo Jamison were back.  Sophomore forward Richard Scott joined them in the starting lineup after having a strong NCAA tournament as a freshman.

Williams’ other starters were incoming transfers.  Shooting guard Rex Walters came from Northwestern and shooting big man Eric Pauley from Cypress College.  Both were juniors but Pauley wouldn’t start consistently until later in the year.

For now, the starting center was freshman Ben Davis from Oak Hill Academy.  He came in along with 7’2″ Greg Ostertag from Duncanville, Texas.  Other reserves included sophomore guards Steve Woodberry and Patrick Richey, who were big contributors in 1991 as well.

But Kansas started off how Williams feared.  They played raggedly and fell behind 6-0 and then 10-2.  Dwayne Morton started off with 6 of those 10 points for Louisville, but then he picked up his 2nd foul and sat for the rest of the half.

Louisville still went on top 13-4 when Greg Minor made a jumper from the deep wing.  But then Kansas’ bench came in to spark them.  Richey nailed a three at the end of the shot clock and then Ostertag put back a miss while he drew a foul.  Those two baskets got the Rock Chalk, Jayhawk crowd into the game for the first time.

But then both teams followed with a 5-minute stretch in which only one basket was scored, by Louisville’s Derwin Webb.  The Cardinals held the lead throughout the first half as Kansas’ only spark was coming from two three-pointers by Richey and 7 points from Ostertag.

Meanwhile, Louisville’s bench of Webb and Kip Stone provided a spark while Cornelius Holden led the way with 8 points.  But Holden picked up his 3rd foul with 6.9 seconds left in the half and Louisville only held a 36-32 lead at the break.

Holden’s replacement at center, Troy Smith, would pick up his 3rd foul early in the 2nd half.  Kansas would then get going as Walters and Jamison hit field goals and Jordan hit two free throws to give the Jayhawks their first lead of the game.

The Jayhawks would stretch their lead to as much as five a few times as Walters and Jamison put the points on the board.  But Louisville stayed in it as Minor got two putbacks and Morton scored 7 points to cut the lead to 52-51.

Then Everick Sullivan, Louisville’s leading scorer who had struggled so far in this game, nailed a three to give the Cardinals the lead again.  Holden hit two free throws before Morton picked up his 4th foul and Kansas tied it at 56 after Walters hit two free throws and Jamison drove down the lane for a reverse layup.

For this game, Denny Crum’s unsung hero would be Kip Stone, who came in for Morton.  Stone scored the next 7 points of the game to put Louisville up 63-56.  It would take awhile, and most of Kansas’ energy, to make up that deficit.

Louisville kept fending off the Jayhawks with big buckets.  Kansas cut the lead to 2 points on four separate occasions but would not get a chance to tie it until Holden split a pair of free throws to put Louisville up 76-73.

With 2:45 to go, Woodberry found Walters at the wing.  Rex launched and connected on the game-tying three-pointer as the crowd sensed the comeback kill.

But Morton, who had helped fend off Kansas’ earlier runs with a baseline turnaround and then two free throws, nailed the biggest and perhaps toughest shot in the game.  Morton pump faked Jamison, who didn’t go for it, in the corner and dribbled to the elbow area.  Morton launched over Jamison and nailed the jumper.

Kansas could not answer.  First, they had a turnover and then Pauley missed a tip-in after Walters couldn’t connect on a driving shot.  Morton was fouled on the drive but split his free throws to keep it a one-possession game at 79-76.  Jordan couldn’t connect on a tying three-point attempt.

Although Louisville missed some free throws late, they were still able to put the game away as Kansas’ only field goal after Walters’ tying three-pointer came with 0.6 seconds left.

This big win by Louisville kicked off a 4-game winning streak.  But that would be their longest winning streak for the rest of the season.  Louisville finished 4th in the Metro Conference and lost to VCU in the 1st round of their conference tournament.  With an 18-10 record, Louisville was named a #8 seed in the West Regional.  They killed Wake Forest before being killed by top-seeded UCLA in the 2nd round.

Kansas would also become a top-seed after finishing the regular season at 26-4 and winning the Big 12 regular season and tournament championship.  This would actually be Kansas’ only home loss of the season.  But they ran into some trouble in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament.

Louisville starters (points scored)

Greg Minor (12) – Small Forward

Everick Sullivan (15) – Power Forward

Cornelius Holden (12) – Center

Keith LeGree (3) – Point Guard

Dwayne Morton (20) – Shooting Guard

Louisville bench (points scored)

Kip Stone (12)

Derwin Webb (7)

Troy Smith (0)

Tremaine Wingfield (4)

Brian Hopgood (0)

Louisville Coach: Denny Crum

Kansas starters (points scored)

Alonzo Jamison (14) – Small Forward

Richard Scott (4) – Power Forward

Ben Davis (3) – Center

Adonis Jordan (13) – Point Guard

Rex Walters (16) – Shooting Guard

Kansas bench (points scored)

Steve Woodberry (6)

Eric Pauley (3)

Patrick Richey (6)

Greg Ostertag (12)

Malcolm Nash (1)

Kansas Coach: Roy Williams

January 14, 1992 – LSU Tigers 89 @(#9)Alabama Crimson Tide 81

The LSU Tigers had rebounded from a 3-3 start to win 4 games in a row.  But they could not welcome Arkansas to the SEC with a loss.  The Razorbacks’ press defense (commonly known as 40 minutes of hell) took LSU out of their game in Baton Rouge and the Tigers took the loss 101-90.

LSU was now traveling to Tuscaloosa to take on 9th ranked Alabama without guard Jamie Brandon, who was sitting out with an ankle injury.

While football is, and always will be, king in Tuscaloosa, Wimp Sanderson had brought basketball to a prominent place.  Sanderson had won 5 SEC tournament championships (and one regular season title) including 4 of the last 5 seasons.  Sanderson had also brought in talent that starred in the NBA; like Ennis Whatley, Buck Johnson, Derrick McKey, Jim Farmer, Keith Askins, and David Benoit.

Now Sanderson’s talent included senior forward/center Robert Horry (who would have to guard future Los Angeles Lakers’ teammate Shaquille O’Neal in this contest) and senior JC transfer forward Latrell Sprewell.  There were also junior guard James Robinson, who had some decent years in the NBA, and junior forward Andre Perry.  Freshman forward Jason Caffey would also have some decent NBA years, and be on the right team at the right time for a bit.

But Sanderson’s biggest hurdle was the Sweet 16.  Wimp was 0-6 in the Regional Semifinal and Alabama had never advanced past that round in their basketball history.

The Tide was 14-1 to start the 1992 season with Robinson, Sprewell and Horry averaging in double figures.

But, for this contest, they ran into a re-focused LSU team that took the early lead at 16-7 with Clarence Ceasar scoring 8 points, including two three-pointers.

A third LSU three-pointer, this one from Justin Anderson, gave the Tigers a 21-11 lead.  It would eventually grow to 37-24 with about 6 minutes left in the 1st half.  Shaq was dominating but getting help from the guard combination of Anderson and Mike Hansen, who were reigning three-pointers.

Meanwhile, Robinson and Horry combined for 2 points in the 1st half.  But Alabama got a big lift from Perry, who scored 17 1st half points and drew 3 fouls on Shaq.  Sprewell would also contribute as Alabama cut LSU’s lead to 42-35 at halftime.

The momentum continued at the start of the 2nd half for Alabama as Robinson got going with 6 points to help the Tide tie the game at 46 and force Dale Brown to use a timeout at the 17:24 mark.

A steal and breakaway slam by Sprewell gave the Tide the lead, but Sanderson picked up a technical after he thought Shaq should have been called for his 4th foul when he blocked a shot.

LSU would then re-open the flood gates with the game tied at 52.  Anderson, Hansen, and Ceasar hit consecutive three-pointers to put the Tigers up by 9 and quiet the crowd.

Alabama cut into the lead but could not get back even.  The closest the Tide got was 75-73 before Shaq drew Horry’s 5th foul.

O’Neal dominated with 29 points while Horry only scored 4 points.  Shaq even hit two free throws to give his team the 4-point lead.  Anderson would then throw the big dagger with 2:55 to go.  He hit a three from the corner to put LSU up 80-73.

Alabama would not be helped by the free throw line as Robinson and Sprewell each missed the front end of 1-and-1’s.  Reserve Cedric Moore missed two more after drawing Shaq’s 4th foul.  These misses hindered any chance Alabama had of coming back in the last 3 minutes.

For the Tide, this loss kicked off a 3-game losing streak.  They still finished 10-6 in the SEC (which was 3rd in the West behind Arkansas and LSU) and 4th overall.  Alabama made one final run to the SEC tournament championship game, but were walloped by Kentucky 80-54.

Sanderson’s team would not make the Sweet 16 this season.  As a #5 seed in the Southeast Regional, they lost to 4th seeded North Carolina 64-55 as they shot 29% from the field in what turned out to be Wimp Sanderson’s last season of coaching in Tuscaloosa (he would spend 5 seasons at Arkansas-Little Rock from 1994-1999).

For LSU, this win kicked off a 7-game winning streak that took them right to their home matchup against Duke.  LSU would be battling Arkansas for the SEC West regular season title right down to the final week.

LSU starters (points scored)

Clarence Ceasar (16) – Small Forward

Vernel Singleton (7) – Power Forward

Shaquille O’Neal (29) – Center

T.J. Pugh (0) – Point Guard

Justin Anderson (19) – Shooting Guard

LSU bench (points scored)

Mike Hansen (11)

Maurice Williamson (5)

Harold Boudreaux (2)

Geert Hammink (0)

LSU Coach: Dale Brown

Alabama starters (points scored)

Latrell Sprewell (22) – Small Forward

Andre Perry (25) – Power Forward

Robert Horry (4) – Center

Elliot Washington (3) – Point Guard

James Robinson (17) – Shooting Guard

Alabama bench (points scored)

Dennis Miller (3)

Jason Caffey (0)

Cedric Moore (4)

Kenny Rice (3)

Alabama Coach: Wimp Sanderson

January 29, 1992 – (#15)Michigan Wolverines 89 @(#13)Michigan State Spartans 79 (OT)

So far, the Fab Five’s best win of the season was probably at Iowa.  They were 0-2 against ranked teams having lost to Duke and at Indiana.

With that being said, the Fab Five was probably what you’d expect from a previous freshman class.  Michigan was a better team and had a better record than they did in 1991, but it probably looked at that point like they were at least a year away.

Steve Fisher was still only starting 3 of the Fab Five; Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, and Jalen Rose.  Jimmy King and Ray Jackson were key contributors off the bench.  But the Fab Five would start to turn some heads in East Lansing, Michigan against their rival.

Jud Heathcote and the Michigan State Spartans had recovered from Steve Smith leaving to go 13-2 so far in 1992.  The Spartans had a red-shirt freshman in Smith’s spot in Shawn Respert.  Respert was a strong shooter and was determined to prove that Michigan didn’t have the best freshmen in the state.

Respert, in fact, led the Spartans in scoring in 1992 with a 15.8 per game average.

He joined the lineup with seniors Mark Montgomery and Matt Steigenga, juniors Dwayne Stephens and Mike Peplowski, sophomore Kris Wechinsky, and fellow freshman Anthony Miller (who would later acquire the, perhaps, affectionate nickname of “Pig”).  Fellow starters Steigenga, Stephens, and Peplowski all averaged double figures.

The Spartans had just lost on the road at Minnesota but had beaten Purdue in West Lafayette without Steigenga, who was out with a sprained ankle.  Steigenga would be back for this game but not quite himself.

The Wolverines got off to a 9-3 lead before Stephens nailed a three and Miller hit a turnaround from the post.  The run continued after the first media timeout.  Stephens hit another three and Peplowski hit two shots from inside.  Weshinsky followed with a pull-up from the foul line and Montgomery went coast-to-coast for a layup.

Michigan State was now on a 16-0 run and led 19-9.  For the rest of the half, the Spartans would be carried by Respert, who had 10 points in the final 11 minutes.  But they would also be carried by 63% shooting from the field.

Michigan stayed within striking range because of junior reserve Eric Riley.  The 7’0″ Riley put back two misses in the final two minutes and hit a turnaround jumper from inside.  Riley led the Wolverines with 8 points but Michigan State led 42-30 at the half.

More of the same would continue in the 2nd half despite some Fab Five members showing up.  Webber got loose inside for three baskets and Rose hit a big three when Michigan State was threatening to run away with it.

But Michigan State’s balanced attack continued to rule the day.  Peplowski grabbed up several Michigan misses and had double figure rebounds not too far into the 2nd half.  He also forced Webber to pick up his 3rd foul.

Michigan started to make some noise again halfway through the 2nd half.  Jackson hit a key jumper to cut the lead to 11.  Webber found Rose with a behind-the-back pass for a three-point play on the break.  Howard then hit a turnaround from inside.

The Michigan problem though was that they could not stop the Spartans.  Each Michigan basket was countered by a Michigan State basket and the lead stayed at 62-50 with 7:46 to go.

But then the Wolverines got a break.  Respert, who already had 17 points, came off a screen and hit another jumper.  But the official deemed the screen by Dwayne Stephens illegal.

Rose came right back with a baseline jumper and then King hit a banker in transition.  The lead was now under double figures for the first time in awhile.

Fisher brought in junior Rob Pelinka to go with the freshman lineup of Webber, Howard, Rose, and King.  Pelinka nailed a huge three and Webber slammed back a miss.

Later, Webber nailed a three and then Pelinka found King for a breakaway layup.  The lead was now down to 68-64 with 4:35 left and Michigan State had gone cold.

Webber hit another three and Rose put back his own miss against three guys to cut the lead to 70-69.  Then with 1:46 left, Webber found Howard in the lane for a hook shot to give Michigan their first lead since 9-8.

The freshmen had come back but now needed to finish it (like they hadn’t against Duke).  Webber picked up his 4th foul and Peplowski tied the game at 71 with a free throw.  Webber was then sent to the line after Peplowski picked up his 4th foul.

C-Webb bricked them both but got his own rebound with 45 seconds left.  But Michigan turned it over at the 35.6 second mark.

After a timeout, the Spartans looked for Respert (the only one who hadn’t seemed to cool off during the bad Spartan stretch).  Respert missed his first shot attempt but Stephens grabbed the rebound.

Now Respert went 1-on-1 against King with a clock running out.  He drove into the lane and tried a pull-up jumper but King blocked his shot.  Montgomery then missed a desperation heeve at the buzzer and the game was headed to overtime.

That was about all a tired Michigan State team could muster.  Pelinka nailed a three, Webber hit a hook shot from the post and Rose Hit two free throws.  Suddenly, it was 78-71 Michigan.

Only Respert hit any field goals for Michigan State until the final 20 seconds.  This did not allow the Spartans to get back into the game as Michigan finished it from the line and their fans became heard.

The final Wolverine punctuation was a breakaway slam by Rose after an overhead pass by King in the final seconds.

This was a big win for Michigan (and they celebrated like it) but the momentum would not continue as they lost a home game to 10th ranked Ohio State.

Finally, on February 9 against Notre Dame, Steve Fisher started all five freshmen.  They won at Notre Dame 74-65 and went 7-3 down the stretch with the Fab Five starting all but one of those final 10 games, which included a win versus Indiana.

Michigan State would get their revenge against Michigan in Ann Arbor, 70-59.  But the Spartans had a so-so finish to the Big Ten season and ended up tied with Michigan for 3rd at 11-7.

The Spartans would be a #5 seed in the Midwest Regional but lost in the 2nd round to Cincinnati 77-65.  That would be their highest tournament seeding until 1995, which was when Shawn Respert was a senior.  By the time he was into his NBA career, less people were comparing him to Steve Smith.

Michigan starters (points scored)

James Voskuil (2) – Small Forward

Chris Webber (21) – Power Forward

Juwan Howard (13) – Center

Jalen Rose (24) – Point Guard

Michael Talley (0) – Shooting Guard

Michigan bench (points scored)

Jimmy King (8)

Eric Riley (8)

Ray Jackson (4)

Rob Pelinka (9)

Michigan Coach: Steve Fisher

Michigan State starters (points scored)

Matt Steigenga (5) – Small Forward

Dwayne Stephens (8) – Power Forward

Mike Peplowski (18) – Center

Mark Montgomery (5) – Point Guard

Shawn Respert (26) – Shooting Guard

Michigan State bench (points scored)

Anthony Miller (8)

Kris Weshinsky (7)

Jon Zulauf (2)

Michigan State Coach: Jud Heathcote

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Michigan’s Fab Five.  Bottom Row (left to right): Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, Chris Webber.  Top Row (left to right): Juwan Howard, Steve Fisher, and Ray Jackson *photo courtesy of en.paperblog

January 30, 1992 – (#1)Duke Blue Devils 75 @(#23)Florida State Seminoles 62

So far in their 15-0 season, the Duke Blue Devils had really only been challenged twice.  They survived their first encounter with the Fab Five of Michigan in overtime and then held off Virginia on the road 68-62.

Although the first look of the final score of this game may not indicate it, this was another challenging game against a surprisingly talented opponent.

Florida State had been building in the first 5 years under Pat Kennedy in the Metro Conference.  They had made 3 NCAA tournament appearances, had been ranked as high as #7 in the nation in 1989, and had won the 1991 Metro Tournament.

But the Seminoles were not expected to challenge as the new team in the ACC.  Their first ACC game was at Chapel Hill, North Carolina against the Tarheels on December 15.  Florida State made some noise with a shocking 86-74 victory and then made noise about the lack of noise at the Dean Dome, something that would be disputed when North Carolina took on Duke a week after this game.

Florida State opened 5-2 in the ACC, good for 2nd place behind 7-0 Duke.  The Blue Devils had beaten Florida State 86-70 in their first encounter at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The Seminoles had some new talent to go with veterans who were starting to figure it out.  Volatile guard Sam Cassell had come from San Jacinto Junior College and led Florida State in scoring at 18.6 points per game.  Cassell was the most volatile about North Carolina’s crowd, but the Tarheels would get their revenge in the ACC tournament and, in a most memorable way, next season.

Cassell was joined by junior Doug Edwards, who was regarded as the 2nd best high school player in the nation behind Kenny Anderson in 1989.  But Edwards had not lived up to the expectations despite only being held under double figures in one game so far this season.  Edwards and fellow junior Rodney Dobard manned the paint with sophomore Andre Reid coming off the bench.

Cassell was joined in the back court by talented freshman Bob Sura and soon-to-be-quarterback on the FSU football team Charlie Ward.  Ward, a sophomore, had been moved to the starting point guard spot after their first loss to Duke.  Since then, Florida State had won 6 games in a row.  Chuck Graham and his 40″ vertical leap came off the bench now that Ward was in the lineup.

Duke had only lost Greg Koubek and Billy McCaffrey from their 1991 National Championship team.  But Mike Krzyzewski still had a solid, for college basketball, 8-man rotation.  The newbies were sophomore Marty Clark getting actual non-garbage-time playing time and freshman big man Cherokee Parks.  The rest of the lineup was familiar by now as Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, and Brian Davis started up front with Bobby Hurley and Thomas Hill in the back court.  Sophomore Antonio Lang was coming off the bench for the moment but would be starting later in the year.

This lineup got off to a very slow start at Florida State as the Seminoles took it right to the #1 team.  Edwards looked like the 2nd best high schooler in the nation in the first 4 minutes as he dominated inside and got 7 quick points.

Florida State took the ball to the basket and found teammates, Edwards being the main beneficiary, for layups and dunks.  Through the first 4 minutes, the Seminoles had an 11-4 lead and made Duke’s defense look like their football team’s defense.

But then their defense looked like they were defending a National Championship and Florida State went into a complete drought in which they didn’t score for over 6 minutes.  It also didn’t help that Cassell and Dobard each picked up their 2nd fouls.

Meanwhile; Laettner, Hurley, and Grant Hill led the Dukies on a 14-0 run to take an 18-11 lead with under 10 minutes left.  Duke increased their advantage to 28-19 after Laettner nailed a three for his 13th point.  The Seminoles were also without Edwards, who picked up his 3rd foul with 8:42 remaining in the 1st half.

The Blue Devils had their biggest lead at 30-20 when Thomas Hill banked one in after a feed from Grant Hill.  But Florida State started to hustle their way back into the game and got a big contribution from Chuck Graham off the bench.

Graham nailed a big three on a cross-court pass by Cassell and, later, showed off his vertical by rebound-slamming in a miss by Dobard.  Dobard had 6 points in the Seminoles’ 13-4 run that cut the lead to 34-33.

In the last minute of the half, Hurley’s third three-pointer put Duke up by four.  But then Cassell went 1-on-1 against Davis and hit a pull-up from the foul line to cut the Blue Devil’s lead to 39-37 at the half.

Duke ran out to a 50-43 advantage in the first 5 minutes of the 2nd half despite Grant Hill picking up his 3rd foul.  Hill’s replacement, Antonio Lang, scored 5 points during that stretch.

But Florida State hung around as their passing continued to get them layups.  Dobard would still be the main beneficiary while Cassell created shots for himself and others.  The Seminoles cut the lead to 56-54 with around 10 minutes left before Dobard picked up his 4th foul.

But for the next 7 minutes, Duke would go into a major drought and miss 9 of their next 10 shots.  While Florida State wasn’t burning the nets either, they would finally take the lead at 60-59 when Ward found Edwards for a slam on the break.  For Edwards, this was his first two points since scoring 7 early when he looked dominant.

Edwards would pick up his 4th foul with 3:19 remaining and Laettner hit a free throw to tie the game at 62.

After a media timeout, Pat Kennedy decided to slow the ball a little but and take time off the clock.  Florida State missed a shot near the end of the shot clock and Grant Hill drove down the lane for a banker to put Duke up 64-62.

Florida State slowed it down on their next possession as well.  This time, Duke stole it and Cassell picked up his 4th foul on Laettner.  Although Christian split his free throws, Grant Hill got another steal on the next possession and took it down for a layup.  Duke now led 67-62.

The Seminoles next chance would be snuffed out when Thomas Hill blocked a putback attempt by Dobard.  Cassell then picked up his 5th foul on Grant Hill with 1:05 left.  Hill’s two free throws, along with Cassell fouling out, pretty much decided the outcome of the game.

But Duke wasn’t done putting icing on the cake, or salt in the wound from Florida State’s point of view.  In the final minute when all they needed to do was run out the clock, Hurley fed Thomas Hill for a slam and then Grant Hill for a reverse layup.

This put the final margin at 13 points and made the game look like another blowout.  They would not get their next chance at the Blue Devils until next season.

Florida State would end up finishing 2nd in the ACC at 11-5.  They destroyed North Carolina in their final game 110-94 and then would get two weeks off before the ACC tournament, something that might have hurt their chances of taking on Duke for a third time in 1992.

Duke would get its biggest challenge when they traveled to Chapel Hill a week after their encounter with Florida State.

Duke starters (points scored)

Brian Davis (7) – Small Forward

Grant Hill (20) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (20) – Center

Bobby Hurley (11) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (7) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Antonio Lang (8)

Cherokee Parks (2)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Florida State starters (points scored)

Bob Sura (6) – Small Forward

Doug Edwards (9) – Power Forward

Rodney Dobard (12) – Center

Charlie Ward (4) – Point Guard

Sam Cassell (15) – Shooting Guard

Florida State bench (points scored)

Chuck Graham (12)

Andre Reid (4)

Florida State Coach: Pat Kennedy

February 3, 1992 – (#10)Connecticut Huskies 83 @(#13)Syracuse Orangemen 84

The Connecticut Huskies suffered their first major setback in 1992 when St. John’s drubbed them 90-57 at Madison Square Garden.  Near the end of that game, talented freshman Donyell Marshall pulled up lame with a knee injury.  It was a re-injury from a problem Marshall had in high school, but he would not start against Syracuse and they didn’t think he could play at all.

But Connecticut was still sitting pretty at 16-2 and tops in the Big East at 7-2.  But a 1/2 game behind them at 7-3 was Syracuse.

The Orangemen were star-less for the first time in a decade.  Gone were the likes of Pearl Washington, Derrick Coleman, and Billy Owens (who would have been a senior in 1992 but declared early for the NBA draft).

Leading the way for Jim Boeheim was senior forward Dave Johnson and freshman guard Lawrence Moten.  Moten, from New Hampshire, was not a McDonald’s All-American but he came into Syracuse making an impact at 18.4 points per game in Big East competition, less than a point per game behind Johnson.

Sophomore Adrian Autry also averaged double figures and led the team in assists from the point position.  The rest of the lineup were role players.  Juniors Conrad McRae and Dave Siock were the big men.  Junior Mike Hopkins contributed at forward.  Junior Michael Edwards came off the bench with Moten now in the lineup.  There was also freshman Glen Sekunda, who didn’t hesitate to shoot.

Syracuse started the season at 10-0 and were still 15-3 and had a 19-game home winning streak.  But all was not well.  The NCAA and Syracuse University itself were in the middle of an investigation that would lead to the NCAA putting Syracuse on probation in October, 1992.  As part of it, Conrad McRae was suspended 4 games by the NCAA for his dealings with a booster.  McRae later sued the NCAA for over $1 million for mental anguish from the suspension.  It was later ruled that McRae did not have the legal standing to press his claim.

UConn got off to a great start at the Carrier Dome due to a surprise starter.  With Marshall coming off the bench, freshman Brian Fair got a start at guard.  Fair wore #34 two years before Ray Allen came on campus.  Fair looked like Ray Allen in the 1st half.

Fair scored UConn’s first 7 points and had 13, including 3 three-pointers, before the half-way mark of the 1st half.  With that production leading the way, UConn grabbed the lead.

Although the game started with each team missing a basket on the fast break, this wasn’t like a typical Big East game from the past.  Both teams were able to score.

Connecticut averaged 79 points per game in 1992 and looked like it in the 1st half as they shot 63% from the field.  Fair led the way with 15 points but Rod Sellers, who would score his 1,000th career point on a hook shot in the lane, had 10 points while Scott Burrell and Chris Smith each contributed 8.

But with that, UConn seemed to be only holding a small halftime lead at 45-36.  Syracuse had shot 39% and Dave Johnson was the only Orangemen player in double figures at 12 points.

But like with their previous home game against Seton Hall (who would go on to tie for the Big East regular season championship), Syracuse had hung around and stole the ball game at the end, 70-67.

It looked more of the same in the 2nd half as Johnson sparked Syracuse with a rebound-slam and then a long pull-up three-pointer at the end of the shot clock.  A three-point play by McRae cut the lead to 52-51, the closest Syracuse had been since the start of the ball game.

From there, both teams did an un-Big East-like thing and traded baskets.  UConn kept the lead for the moment as Chris Smith hit on a double-pump banker and Burrell connected from downtown.

During a 9-4 run, Smith scored 6 of those points for UConn.  He then found Marshall on the break for a three-point play that gave UConn a 64-55 advantage.

But back came Syracuse as McRae and Johnson led the way.  McRae dominated the boards against a bigger UConn team and scored 5 points during a 11-1 Orangemen run that gave them the lead.  A reverse layup by Johnson off a feed from Autry gave Syracuse its advantage at 66-65 and gave Johnson 21 points.

A three from Moten put Syracuse up 69-66.  What followed was a back and forth duel that the likes of the Big East have probably never seen, yea I gotta keep saying it.. the Big East is known for their defensive struggles.

A three-point play on a running banker in the lane by Smith tied the game at 71.  Glen Sekunda, not afraid to shoot despite being a freshman, nailed a three from the top that even surprised Boeheim.

Sellers then rebounded a missed three by Fair and kicked out to Smith, who nailed a three from the top.  Syracuse swung the ball around and found Johnson for another trey at the wing.  Smith responded by just simply pulling up at the top and nailing a trifecta over Autry to tie the game again at 77 as the announcers and crowd were hyperventilating.

Uconn regained the lead as Sellers nailed two free throws with 3:59 left.  Sellers later found Fair on a cut for a layup to put the Huskies up 81-77.  With 2:37 to go, Sellers fouled McRae, who made two free throws.

After a turnover by each team, Fair made two more free throws to put UConn ahead 83-79 with 2:21 left.  All the Huskies now had to do to perhaps put the game away was grab a defensive rebound.  They did not as Syracuse got 4 shots before Johnson connected to cut the lead to 83-81.

Smith then tried to drive against Moten.  Johnson helped out and knocked the ball away.  Moten took it coast-to-coast for a slam to tie the game with just over a minute left.

After a timeout, UConn ran down most of the 45-second shot clock.  But they did not get a good shot (at least it wasn’t a good shot until Steph Curry started making them over 20 years later) as Smith forced up and missed a long three.  Sellers knocked the ball out of bounds and Syracuse got a timeout with 11.8 seconds left.

The Orangemen got the ball to the freshman Moten, who went 1-on-1 in the corner.  Moten missed a pull-up and as Johnson, McRae, and UConn’s Toraino Walker were going after a rebound, a foul was called.  It was whistled on Walker against evidently McRae with 3 seconds left, although it looked like it was against Johnson.

Either way, both McRae and Johnson came away from the scramble limping.  It was to be McRae, a 57% foul shooter, that would be sent to the line.  But in college basketball at the time there was a rule that if a player was “too injured” to shoot the free throw, the same team could pick someone that was sitting on their bench to come in and shoot the free throws.

To be clear, it couldn’t be one of the other four players in the game.  The player had to be on the bench at the time.  And this was opposed to the, still going, NBA rule where if a player was too injured, the other team got to choose the shooter off the bench and that “injured” player could not come back into the game.  Just imagine the Hack-a-Shaq strategy had the NBA had the college rule.

McRae went to the bench and Mike Hopkins, a 63% foul shooter but the best one Boeheim had on his bench, came in.  Hopkins nailed the first free throw to give Syracuse the lead and received a peck on the face from Lawrence Moten.  Perhaps nerved by that, Hopkins airballed the second free throw.

But Hopkins had given Syracuse the lead and, as it turned out, the win as UConn could not get a shot off in the final 3 seconds.  Smith’s pass through a triple-team was deflected (and, in case you were wondering, McRae was back in the game for that defensive sequence).

Despite the win for Syracuse, this would turn out to be a bad stretch for both teams. Connecticut would lose their next 2 games to bring their losing streak to 4.  The last of these losses came at home to Georgetown.  The Huskies got a week off before traveling to Georgetown to take on the Hoyas.

The Orangemen would go on a 4-game losing streak and would have a 2-6 finish to the regular season.  This included Notre Dame breaking Syracuse’s home winning streak and close losses at St. John’s, at home to Georgetown, and at UConn.  But the final blow looked like a death notice.  On the final day of the season, Syracuse was drubbed at home by Villanova 76-56.  The Wildcats passed Syracuse in the Big East standings as a result.  Villanova was 4th at 11-7 and Syracuse was 5th at 10-8.

But then Boeheim’s star-less group rose up in the Big East tournament.  They beat Villanova in a rematch 55-52, defeated top-seeded Seton Hall 70-66 in the Semis, and then took out Georgetown 56-54 to win the Big East tournament.

With that, the Orangemen would be named a #6 seed in the East Regional.

Connecticut starters (points scored)

Scott Burrell (14) – Small Forward

Toraino Walker (3) – Power Forward

Rod Sellers (15) – Center

Chris Smith (25) – Point Guard

Brian Fair (19) – Shooting Guard

Connecticut bench (points scored)

Donyell Marshall (7)

Kevin Ollie (0)

Donny Marshall (0)

Dan Cyrulik (0)

Connecticut Coach: Jim Calhoun

Syracuse starters (points scored)

Mike Hopkins (5) – Small Forward

Dave Johnson (26) – Power Forward

Dave Siock (0) – Center

Adrian Autry (12) – Point Guard

Lawrence Moten (23) – Shooting Guard

Syracuse bench (points scored)

Conrad McRae (13)

Glen Sekunda (5)

Michael Edwards (0)

Syracuse Coach: Jim Boeheim

mike hopkins

Mike Hopkins (who would be named as Boeheim’s eventual successor in 2015) hit the key free throw to give Syracuse an 84-83 win over UConn *photo courtesy of Syracuse.com

February 5, 1992 – (#1)Duke Blue Devils 73 @(#9)North Carolina Tarheels 75

A memorable game between Duke and North Carolina that’s stood the test of time.  The world got to know the likes of Eric Montross, Kevin Salvadori, Brian Reese, and Derrick Phelps for, really, the first time.

Montross, Reese and Phelps were part of Carolina’s great class for 1990-91.  But each had been inconsistent and really hadn’t stepped up to this point.  North Carolina as a whole had been Jekyl and Hyde-y all season.

The Tarheels started out ranked #8 after losing Rick Fox, Pete Chilcutt, King Rice, and Clifford Rozier (who transferred to Louisville).  Dean Smith brought back senior guard and best all-around player Hubert Davis, physical junior George Lynch along with reserves Matt Wenstrom and Henrik Rodl, the group of sophomores that also included Pat Sullivan, and freshman guard Donald Williams.

In their 5th game of the season, North Carolina destroyed #6 Seton Hall 83-54.  Two weeks later, they lost their ACC home opener to Florida State.  The Seminoles, who were without Doug Edwards on that day, then proceeded to call the UNC crowd a “wine and cheese” crowd at the Dean Dome.

North Carolina followed that loss with 4 straight wins before losing wire-to-wire to Notre Dame.  After another three-game winning streak, UNC took a tumble at N.C. State.  The Tarheels had now won two straight to bring their record to 15-3.  But now was the test for the Tarheels and the so-called wine and cheese crowd.

Duke was coming in at 17-0 and had won 23 straight ball games.  But the last team to beat them was North Carolina in the 1991 ACC Championship Game.

Carolina hustled at the start, but it didn’t always bring positive results.  Brian Reese nailed a three to put the Tarheels up 5-2 but then committed his 3rd foul in the first 3 minutes and sat for the rest of the half.

Carolina grabbed leads of 9-4 and then 11-7 before going into a drought with 5 minutes gone by.  Just like when they fell behind early against Florida State, Duke made a major run to take the lead.

Christian Laettner hit a face-up jumper from the baseline and, later, kicked out to Thomas Hill for a three.  Grant Hill then hit a baseline pull-up before Bobby Hurley came up with a steal and found Thomas Hill on a 2-on-1 for a layup.  Duke was on a 9-0 run and was ahead 16-11.

But just before the second media timeout, Hurley drove down the lane.  He had the ball stripped and landed awkwardly.  After committing a foul at the other end, Hurley went out and had his foot looked at.  He returned and played the rest of the game but a stress fracture was later discovered that put Hurley out for 3 1/2 weeks and 5 games.

As Carolina went on a 9-3 run to get back into the game, a trend was starting to develop.  7-footers Eric Montross and Kevin Salvadori were starting to give UNC second chances and were finishing inside.  They were also gaining confidence on the offensive end against Laettner.

A three-point play by Donald Williams on a lefty under-handed reverse shot while avoiding the defense put the Tarheels ahead 25-24.  The game went back and forth for the rest of the half as Hurley led Duke with 11 and Hubert Davis had 10 for North Carolina.

The Blue Devils led 39-38 at the break but two big factors went against them.  Carolina had gotten to the free throw line for often and Laettner and Grant Hill were held to 4 points.

The Tarheels had stayed with the #1 team, who was figured not to lose unless someone played a perfect game against them.  Now Carolina would come out flying in the 2nd half and give Duke their largest deficit of the season.

Montross hit Phelps on a cut for a layup.  Reese hit a runner from the baseline after up-faking Grant Hill and then Reese came right back with a pull-up after George Lynch came up with a steal.  Mike Krzyzewski had to use a timeout with 17:41 left but the run continued.

Lynch put back a miss by Phelps and Davis hit two free throws after a steal.  UNC now led 48-39 but two factors led to Duke coming back.  First, Lynch picked up his 4th foul and went out of the game with 6 rebounds.

Then, on a rebound scramble, Montross was elbowed below the eye and came up bleeding.  The refs had to stop the game as Dean Smith was incensed a foul wasn’t called.  Montross went out of the game and to the locker room to get his cut stitched up.  Eric had been winning his matchup against Laettner and it didn’t look like Laettner liked that.  Christian is credited for elbowing Montross and giving him the cut.

Then after Grant Hill hit a pull-up to cut the lead to 50-43, Dean Smith got a technical for coming out of the coaching box.  Smith was arguing Laettner knocking the ball away after it came through the hoop and not getting called.

Although Hurley missed both technical free throws, he fed Brian Davis for a layup.  Then on the next possession, Hurley penetrated and kicked out to Grant Hill.  Hill subsequently penetrated and crossed the ball out to Thomas Hill for a three.  The Carolina lead was down to 50-48 but they immediately responded.

Instead of calling a timeout, Reese took the ball right back at the Blue Devils and hit a finger roll in the lane.  Reese later found Salvadori for a slam to give UNC a 56-50 lead and force Coach K to use another timeout with 11:57 left.

After the timeout, Montross was back in.  Phelps tried to throw a lob to Montross but the ball actually went in the basket and Phelps was credited with a three.  Salvadori hit a turnaround from the baseline and Montross stepped in for a hook shot in the lane against Laettner.

But Duke stayed within striking distance as Thomas Hill hit some big shots.  Laettner would hit a step-back three and Grant Hill a pull-up in the lane but Duke still trailed.

Montross hit two free throws with dried blood streamed down from his right eye (a famous picture from this game) and Salvadori also hit two free throws.  North Carolina led 67-61 with around 8 minutes left.

But the Tarheels would have to avoid or withstand the final Duke run that Florida State was not able to contend with.  UNC went cold and took some bad shots.

Two breakaway layups by Brian Davis, as well as some offensive boardwork pulled Duke to within 67-66.  But Davis missed a key shot when Duke had a chance to lead.

Carolina hit 6-of-8 free throws, which included when Laettner picked up his 4th foul, to lead 73-67 with 2:32 left.  However, Duke made a furious rally as they got on the offensive boards and took advantage of bad shots being taken by Carolina when they could have run more time off the clock.

A putback by Brian Davis cut the lead to four, but he missed a free throw after drawing a foul on the play.  Duke had another chance at a three-point play after Phelps turned the ball over.  Grant Hill drove for a finer roll, but he missed the subsequent free throw.

However, Laettner back-tapped the rebound to Thomas Hill and Duke had a chance to tie.  They did exactly that with 1:01 to go when Laettner rebounded a Thomas Hill airball and put it back in.

Carolina came right back down and Phelps went 1-on-1 against Hurley.  Phelps (and perhaps Hurley’s injury) had held Hurley scoreless in the 2nd half while forcing 6 turnovers.  This time, he got Bobby in the air on a pump fake and drew a foul with 44.5 seconds left.  Phelps made his mark by sinking two free throws.

Duke didn’t use a timeout and Thomas Hill found Laettner on a cut for a seemingly easy basket.  But Christian was short on his banker and Montross rebounded.  Duke scrambled defensively and almost gave up a breakaway to Carolina.  But Hurley got back to cut off Reese, who missed his layup attempt.  Montross missed the follow-up and then tipped it to the corner where Laettner chased it down with 13 seconds left.

Duke, again, didn’t use a timeout and Laettner got the ball up top.  He drove into the lane but his pull-up jumper hit the back of the rim and then the front of the rim before falling out.  Phelps rebounded with 3 seconds left and ran out the clock.  The victory set off a wild celebration at the Dean Dome that put to rest any wine and cheese claims.

North Carolina had literally survived the hard way.  They did not score a field goal for the last 9:52 of the game but stayed alive with boardwork and free throws.  The big catalysts were the big men.  Montross had 12 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks.  Salvadori had 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks.  They had each out-played Laettner.

Carolina got to follow up almost immediately with a home game against Wake Forest that they also had to grind through.

Duke would have to travel to LSU without Bobby Hurley.  But they showed why they were still the #1 team in the nation with a great effort by everyone on the team in a 77-67 victory at a hostile environment.

Duke starters (points scored)

Brian Davis (17) – Small Forward

Grant Hill (10) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (12) – Center

Bobby Hurley (11) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (16) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Marty Clark (0)

Cherokee Parks (4)

Antonio Lang (3)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Brian Reese (10) – Small Forward

George Lynch (5) – Power Forward

Eric Montross (12) – Center

Derrick Phelps (9) – Point Guard

Hubert Davis (16) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Kevin Salvadori (12)

Pat Sullivan (6)

Donald Williams (3)

Henrik Rodl (2)

Matt Wenstrom (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

montross

The famous picture of this 1992 game, Eric Montross shooting a free throw with blood (although dried at this point) coming down his face *photo courtesy of USA Today

February 8, 1992 – Wake Forest Demon Deacons 78 @(#9)North Carolina Tarheels 80

Three days after their big win over Duke, the North Carolina Tarheels may have still been feeling the effects.

First off, Eric Montross had not practiced the past few days.  After a cut under his eye, as well as another one on the side of his head, Montross received a tetanus shot and had a negative reaction to it.  Montross had the chills the previous day and UNC wasn’t sure if he was going to play.  Kevin Salvadori started in Montross’ place but Eric did play.

Wake Forest had surprised in 1991 by climbing to 3rd place in the conference.  Dave Odom’s Demon Deacons had 4 senior starters returning as well as budding superstar Rodney Rogers.  The seniors were swingmen Chris King and Anthony Tucker, point guard Derrick McQueen, and center Phil Medlin.  Sophomore big man Trelonnie Owens came off the bench, but he would not be joined by classmate Randolph Childress.  Childress tore his ACL over the summer but would return in a big way after being red-shirted in 1992.

The loss of Childress was a big factor as Wake Forest’s only true guard that got much time was McQueen.  Tucker played back there but did not have the quickness to compete with the league’s two-guards.

Without Childress, Wake Forest got off to a slow start in the ACC and were 0-4 so far against the top tier teams of Duke, Florida State, and North Carolina.  UNC had won the first matchup decisively 90-79 as George Lynch had a dominant 26-point performance.  At the time of their second matchup with UNC, Wake Forest was 12-6 overall but 4-5 in the ACC, good for 5th place.

But the Deacs did not play like it in the 1st half.  Rogers started off the game with a steal and coast-to-coast slam.  Brian Reese responded for North Carolina with a three but the Tarheels would be done scoring field goals until around the 10-minute mark.  UNC missed 11 of their first 12 shots from the field.

Meanwhile, the quartet of Rogers, King, McQueen, and especially Tucker got Wake Forest out to a huge lead.  Tucker hit for 10 points early on, while King had 6, McQueen 5 and Rogers 4.  All of this led to a 28-8 Wake Forest lead as their offense looked about as efficient as an offense could be and their defense was flying around and creating havoc.

Hubert Davis finally got Carolina’s 2nd field goal but back-to-back baskets by Owens gave the Deacons their biggest lead at 32-10.

North Carolina made their biggest run of the 1st half with a 9-point surge to cut the lead to 32-19.  But from there, Wake Forest had an answer to keep the lead in double figures.  Tucker led the way with 14 points while Trelonnie Owens contributed 9 off the bench.  The Demon Deacons shot 61% from the field in the half.

The closest UNC got was 11 points just before the half.  But a blocked shot from Rogers prevented the Tarheels from cutting it closer.  King got a breakaway after that block.  Two more free throws from Tucker with 3.6 seconds left in the half put Wake Forest up 48-33 at the break.

North Carolina came out strong in the 2nd half and looked to establish themselves defensively.  They cut the lead back to 11 over the first few minutes, but McQueen knocked down a three to halt the first run.  Two power moves by Rogers inside increased the lead and then a second three from McQueen put Wake Forest up 60-42 with 15:23 left.

Rogers hit two more free throws to increase the lead to 20.  But then Carolina switched to the zone on defense and Hubert Davis got going on offense.  Davis got open for a three-pointer and then penetrated for two pull-up jumpers, the second one was made over Rogers while Rodney fouled him.  The 8-0 run by Davis cut the lead to 62-50 and the crowd was alive.

But Tucker responded with two straight jumpers to put the lead back at 16.  Tucker would hit a third straight jumper to give Wake Forest a 68-54 lead with about 10 minutes left.

Davis got going again over the next two minutes.  He scored all 7 points on a 7-2 Carolina run that cut the lead under double figures for the first time since Wake Forest’s big run to start the game.  The score was 70-61 Wake Forest with 7:51 left.

The Deacons continued to respond though.  Owens tipped in a miss by Rogers.  McQueen followed a three-pointer by Lynch with a trey of his own.  But finally, the momentum turned against Wake Forest on a seemingly accidental play.

They tried to alley-oop the ball to Trelonnie Owens but the lob was deflected.  Owens still grabbed the rim on his way by and was called for a technical.  By the letter of the rule, the technical was deserved because you couldn’t grab the rim unless you were in danger while airborne.  But there were many times that the “violation” was let go and its not like Owens grabbed it to gain an advantage.

Either way, it was a big technical against Wake Forest and Davis’ two free throws were part of a string of 6 straight Carolina foul shots to cut the lead to 75-70.  Davis then connected on a pull-up jumper from the wing for his 30th point (23rd in the 2nd half) to cut the lead to 75-72 with 4:04 left and force a Wake Forest timeout.

Kevin Salvadori hit a turnaround from the post to cut the lead to one.  But a big three-point play by King put the Deacons up 78-74 with 3:07 to go.  There still looked to be plenty of time for North Carolina as Reese cut the lead back to two points with a slam.  But the Tarheels could not get that tying field goal and had to resort to fouling.

Lynch committed his 5th foul on Rogers but Rodney missed the front end of the 1-and-1 (Wake Forest was not in the double bonus so they got 1-and-1’s for non-shooting fouls committed by UNC).  On Wake’s next possession, King missed an ill-advised shot against a double-team with 1:11 left.

But King came back to block a jump shot attempt by freshman Donald Williams and Williams committed a foul against Tucker.  Tucker missed the front end of the 1-and-1 and McQueen committed his 5th foul against Carolina reserve Pat Sullivan with 38.6 seconds to go.

Sullivan hit two clutch free throws to finally tie the game for North Carolina.  Wake Forest ran the clock down and called a timeout with 21.3 seconds left, going for the last shot.  Tucker lobbed the ball to King in the post on the inbounds, but Reese knocked the ball away to Derrick Phelps and now Carolina had the chance for the last shot.  Dean Smith used a timeout with 10.9 seconds left.

After not going to Davis on the last few possessions, North Carolina didn’t go to Davis again.  But it worked out as Reese penetrated and missed a pull-up in the lane.  But the ball bounced off the front rim right back to Reese, who connected on a pull-up from the right of the lane with 3 seconds left.  The clock ran out from there and North Carolina had another improbable victory.

The Tarheels had a week off after this whirlwind of a week with their victories over Duke and Wake Forest.  They won at Clemson before taking it on the chin at Virginia.  But they returned home two weeks after this game with a chance to avenge an earlier loss to N.C. State.

Meanwhile, Wake Forest had 4 straight home games following this choke-job (to say the least).  They seemed to rebound with victories in the first 3 games against Clemson, Virginia, and Davidson.  But their big test would come a day after UNC hosted N.C. State when the Duke Blue Devils came to Winston-Salem.

Wake Forest starters (points scored)

Chris King (13) – Small Forward

Rodney Rogers (12) – Power Forward

Phil Medlin (0) – Center

Derrick McQueen (16) – Point Guard

Anthony Tucker (20) – Shooting Guard

Wake Forest bench (points scored)

Trelonnie Owens (11)

Derrick Hicks (4)

Robert Doggett (2)

Wake Forest Coach: Dave Odom

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Brian Reese (9) – Small Forward

George Lynch (12) – Power Forward

Kevin Salvadori (8) – Center

Derrick Phelps (2) – Point Guard

Hubert Davis (30) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Eric Montross (11)

Pat Sullivan (2)

Henrik Rodl (4)

Donald Williams (2)

Matt Wenstrom (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

February 9, 1992 – (#24)Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 67 @Maryland Terrapins 65

Despite losing Kenny Anderson the previous year, Bobby Cremins and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets were back at it with some NBA talent.  All 5 starters averaged double figures and there was no talk of a one-man team like there was in 1991.

Seniors Matt Geiger and Jon Barry led the way, along with junior Malcolm Mackey.  Barry averaged 16.8 points per game while Mackey was at 16 even.  Geiger was off to a good start but was now in a funk after learning that his twin brother was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease.  Geiger would start to play better in a few weeks after going home to visit his brother during a break in the schedule.

Cremins would also bring in some talented freshmen.  Point guard Travis Best came from Springfield, Massachusetts and took the position vacated by Kenny Anderson.  Tech also got a local McDonald’s All-American in James Forrest.  Forrest, Mackey, and Geiger were a powerful front line.

But, as usual, Tech didn’t have much depth.  Bryan Hill averaged 4.2 points per game off the bench to be Tech’s leading reserve scorer.  There was also sophomores Ivano Newbill and Fred Vinson.

Georgia Tech got off to a 12-2 start, including a win over Kentucky.  But then the ACC schedule got going and Tech lost 5 of their next 6 ACC games and were on a 4-game conference losing streak.  But Maryland seemed like a break in the schedule.

Gary Williams took over his alma mater in 1989 but the Terrapins would soon go on probation.  But an All-American stayed despite that, and now senior Walt Williams was basically a one-man team.  But the country was taking notice of The Wizard after Maryland was barred from any television game in 1991.  Williams averaged 26.4 points per game and had scored over 30 in 8 straight games.

The Terps had some good players around Williams but not much NBA level talent.  Junior Evers Burns was a powerful player who averaged 15.6 points per game and 7.0 rebounds per game.  Junior point guard Kevin McLinton also averaged double figures and led the team in assists.  Senior and former walk-on Vince Broadnax and rail thin junior center Chris Kerwin rounded out the lineup.  Like Tech, Maryland had no bench.

Maryland came into this game at 9-10 and were 2-7 in the ACC.  This would turn out to be Williams’ only losing season at Maryland.

The Terps did get off to a good start in this one as they forced 4 early Georgia Tech turnovers.  The Wizard nailed a three and Burns put back a miss for a quick 5-2 lead.

The game would go back and forth for the first 12 minutes or so.  Williams hit three early field goals before going cold.  Geiger led the way for Tech with 8 points.

The teams battled to a 21-all tie at the third media timeout with 7:47 left.  But then Tech went on a quick roll as Best found Newbill for a layup.  Barry then hit a runner in the lane before finding Best for a wing jumper.  The 6-0 run carried the Yellow Jackets to a 34-28 halftime lead.

But with Williams only shooting 3-for-12 in the 1st half, the 6-point lead was probably too small for Tech.  Maryland got going with a 13-4 run to start the 2nd half, culminating with a steal and reverse jam from the Wizard.  Cremins had to use a timeout at the 14:54 mark with his team now down 41-38.

But Georgia Tech would stay with them as Forrest scored 7 points, mostly at the free throw line.  Forrest drew Williams’ 4th foul with the game tied at 47.  But Maryland would try to prove they weren’t a one-man team.

The other 4 starters each got field goals over the next 6 minutes as the Terps ran off to a 60-53 lead with about 6 minutes left.  But then they went cold over the following 3 minutes despite Williams re-entering the game.

Tech meanwhile went on a 10-1 run as Best nailed a three, Mackey hit a turnaround from the post, Barry connected from deep, and then Forrest got a steal and slam for his 20th point.  Tech now led 63-61 with 3:14 left.

Kerwin finally ended Maryland’s drought with a tip-in to tie the game.  Burns then came up with a steal and fed it to Williams on a 2-on-1 break.  But the Wizard tried too hard to live up to his nickname and threw an ill-advised behind-the-back pass then went out of bounds.

Best came back with a pull-up jumper from the elbow.  Williams then hit two free throws to tie the game again with 1:35 left.  Both teams would then run down the clock and trade misses before Tech had possession and a chance for the last shot.

After a timeout with 10.8 seconds left, they went to Forrest inside.  His shot was blocked by Williams and knocked out of bounds by Maryland with 0.2 seconds left.

It was a rule in the NBA that you could not catch and shoot with under 0.3 seconds left on the clock, but this fact hadn’t reached the NCAA yet.  Barry lobbed an inbounds pass to Forrest in the middle of the lane.  In one motion, Forrest caught the ball, shot it, and made it to send Georgia Tech off with a win.

Looking at replay, there seemed to be no way Forrest got the ball off in time.  But this was in the days before instant replay in basketball (and, as a result, the final 2 minutes of the game were infinitely shorter and nobody got a free time out), so the basket was good.

This would not turn out to be Forrest’s biggest shot of the season.  Tech would lose their next two games to Duke and Florida State, but they won 4 of their final 5 games of the regular season to climb to 4th place in the ACC standings.  They would lose to Duke in the ACC Semifinals and be named a #7 seed in the Southeast Regional.

Maryland continued to be tough and took Duke to the wire at Cameron Indoor Stadium, losing 91-89.  The Terps would turn out to be a tough challenge for North Carolina late in the season.  That matchup was close to being more heart-breaking for Williams and his team than this loss.

Georgia Tech starters (points scored)

James Forrest (22) – Small Forward

Malcolm Mackey (6) – Power Forward

Matt Geiger (13) – Center

Travis Best (11) – Point Guard

Jon Barry (13) – Shooting Guard

Georgia Tech bench (points scored)

Bryan Hill (0)

Ivano Newbill (2)

Georgia Tech Coach: Bobby Cremins

Maryland starters (points scored)

Vince Broadnax (9) – Small Forward

Evers Burns (13) – Power Forward

Chris Kerwin (10) – Center

Kevin McLinton (12) – Point Guard

Walt Williams (21) – Shooting Guard

Maryland bench (points scored)

John Walsh (0)

Matt Downing (0)

Kurtis Shultz (0)

Maryland Coach: Gary Williams

February 11, 1992 – Illinois Fighting Illini 76 @Purdue Boilermakers 71 (OT)

Illinois had really struggled since the Big Ten season started.  Their only two wins (in 9 games) were at home against Purdue in overtime and Wisconsin.  But, like their loss to UConn, they were in several games but lost some heartbreakers.

They lost by two at Michigan State, by one at Minnesota, by two versus Ohio State, and by three at Northwestern.  Illinois had won one road game all year and were 8-11.  Now was a chance for another.

Purdue was 12-9 and still had an outside chance of an NCAA tournament berth.  Like Illinois with Deon Thomas, Purdue was a one-man show.  Senior guard Woody Austin, who missed the second half of the 1991 season with academic difficulties, averaged 18.5 points per game.  Fellow senior big man Craig Riley came on to average 11.0, but they were the only two players in double figures.

The rest of the lineup included sophomores Ian Stanback and Travis Trice (who would transfer to Butler following the season) and freshman forward Matt Waddell.  Off the bench came freshmen Cuonzo Martin (the only future NBA player on the team for the season) and Brandon Brantley, sophomores Cornelius McNary and Linc Darner and junior (and future head coach) Matt Painter.

Purdue’s best player though was ineligible for the 1992 season because of Prop 48.  Glenn Robinson, from Gary, Indiana, would be a future Player of the Year at Purdue but Gene Keady was without him for now.

Despite that, the Boilermakers got off to a great start in this ballgame.  Their two inside people, Riley and Stanback, got their first 9 points from the paint.  Then Austin nailed a three to put Purdue up 12-3.

They would increase that lead to 23-10 at the 8:11 mark as Illinois hit 1 of their first 13 field goal attempts.  But then the Illini did a 180 and turned the game around.  They went inside to Deon Thomas (who scored, got to the line, and drew 3 fouls from Riley) and also got a big three from Tom Michael.

Purdue would go on a 7-minute field goal drought and a three-point play by Michael cut the lead to 28-26.  The Boilermakers still held a 32-28 halftime lead as Austin led the way with 9 and Riley had 8.  Thomas led Illinois with 9 and Michael had 8.

Purdue grew its lead back to 8 early in the 2nd half before Illinois point guard Rennie Clemons, who had struggled for the most part this season, got going with two buckets and a lead pass to T.J. Wheeler for a jumper.  Clemons would show aggressiveness in the 2nd half as he penetrated and either scored or found people for layups.

Thomas also continued to dominate inside as he drew the 4th fouls from Stanback and Riley.  But Purdue kept its lead and would increase it back to 54-46 with about 7 minutes left.

The Boilermakers would go into another field goal drought as Riley fouled out continuing to try and guard Thomas.  Deon’s three-point play cut the lead to 57-55.  Then with 2 minutes left, a turnaround banker by Thomas tied the game at 59.  Illinois then took a 61-59 lead when Wheeler lobbed to Thomas for a layup.

Purdue used a timeout with 41.8 seconds left as they were behind for the first time all game and their crowd was stunned.  Keady put the ball in Austin’s hands.  He missed a baseline jumper but chased down his miss at the foul line.  Austin then made the jumper from there to tie the game at 61.

Lou Henson used a timeout with 16.2 seconds left.  Illinois tried to get the ball inside to Thomas but couldn’t.  Clemons had to force a long shot at the buzzer and hit nothing but backboard.  This would be the 2nd game between these two teams on the season that went into overtime.

Stanback fouled out early in overtime after hitting a turnaround jumper from the post.  This would turn out to be Purdue’s only field goal until it was too little too late.  Clemons found Thomas for a layup to put Illinois up 64-63.  That would turn out to be Illinois’ only overtime field goal.

But they hit 12 of their final 14 free throws.  And even the two that were missed by walk-on freshman Will Tuttle were rebounded by T.J. Wheeler.  This happened in a crucial situation with Illinois only up three with 25.2 seconds left.  Austin had committed his 5th foul on Tuttle but Purdue would have had a chance to tie it had they rebounded.

Meanwhile, the Boilermakers missed some clutch free throws as freshman Matt Waddell missed two that would’ve given Purdue a 67-66 lead.  Clemons then hit two free throws and Illinois’ only time they were challenged from there on was when Wheeler had to rebound Tuttle’s second miss.  Wheeler then went 4-for-4 in the final seconds.

This loss all but assured Purdue would not be in the NCAA tournament.  But they did knock in-state rival Indiana off on the final day of the season and cost the Hoosiers a share of the Big Ten title.  Purdue lost in the 3rd game of the NIT to Florida.

And while Illinois would not lose at home for the rest of the season, this included a win over Michigan State, they could not win another road game and finished the season at 13-15.  It would be Lou Henson’s only losing season in his final 18 at Illinois.

Both teams would be back in the NCAA tournament next season and Purdue would soon return to the high rankings that they enjoyed in the late 80’s.

Illinois starters (points scored)

Tom Michael (13) – Small Forward

Robert Bennett (2) – Power Forward

Deon Thomas (32) – Center

Rennie Clemons (10) – Point Guard

T.J. Wheeler (13) – Shooting Guard

Illinois bench (points scored)

Scott Pierce (2)

Brooks Taylor (2)

Marc Davidson (2)

Will Tuttle (0)

Illinois Coach: Lou Henson

Purdue starters (points scored)

Matt Waddell (10) – Small Forward

Ian Stanback (11) – Power Forward

Craig Riley (11) – Center

Travis Trice (6) – Point Guard

Woody Austin (22) – Shooting Guard\

Purdue bench (points scored)

Cuonzo Martin (9)

Cornelius McNary (2)

Matt Painter (0)

Linc Darner (0)

Brandon Brantley (0)

Purdue Coach: Gene Keady

February 16, 1992 – (#1)Duke Blue Devils 71 @N.C. State Wolfpack 63

As they say, its not unreasonable when you’re the best of the best to get the best shot from every opponent.  Even struggling teams like North Carolina State on their home court, where Duke hadn’t won since 1986.

Les Robinson and the Wolfpack realized how tough life would be without the backcourt combination of Chris Corchiani and Rodney Monroe.  Tom Gugliotta returned and had a senior season in which he averaged 22.5 points per game and 9.8 rebounds per game.  Gugliotta’s play rose his stock enough to have him be the #6 pick in the NBA draft.

But Gugliotta had little help.  Bryant Feggins tore his ACL in the pre-season and would be red-shirted.  That meant every starter except Gugliotta and junior center Kevin Thompson was new.  This included two freshmen.

But swingman Mark Davis and point guard Curtis Marshall were not quite the answer.  Neither was JC transfer Donnie Seale, the 5th starter.  The 6th man was sophomore shooter Migjen Bakalli.  Davis did average double figures, but he, Gugliotta and Thompson were the only ones.

N.C. State came into the game with a 9-14 record and had lost 8 in a row.  They had been off to a decent 9-6 start after they beat North Carolina at home.  But they hadn’t won since.

Duke was 2-0 without Bobby Hurley after beating LSU and Georgia Tech on the road.  Grant Hill had moved to the point guard and Duke had a freakishly athletic team with Grant and Thomas Hill, Brian Davis, and Antonio Lang in the starting lineup with Christian Laettner.  But the bench was even thinner and one figured they wouldn’t be able to win a National Championship without Hurley.

The Wolfpack played inspired early on.  Davis dove on the floor and then found Marshall for a breakaway.  Marshall drove for a layup at the end of the shot clock.  Davis put back a miss by Gugliotta.  Gugliotta nailed a three and then a free throw.  N.C. State led 10-5 six minutes into the game.

Duke’s pressure defense started to take effect when Thomas Hill got a steal.  Grant Hill then showed off his athleticism by jumping over Davis and slamming one down while drawing a foul.  Hill’s elbows were over the rim.

But N.C. State held a steady lead at 18-14 after Gugliotta nailed his second three-pointer.  But Gugliotta picked up his 2nd foul and Duke went on a 6-0 run keyed by their pressure.

Grant Hill got a breakaway after Brian Davis came up with a steal.  Then Thomas Hill got a steal and layup.  The Wolfpack stayed in the game but weren’t being helped when they missed several of their layup attempts.

Gugliotta then was called for an offensive foul for his 3rd.  A Laettner steal and Thomas Hill breakaway put Duke up 26-20.  But the Wolfpack hung tough without Gugliotta and cut it to 30-29 with around 2 minutes to go in the 1st half.

However, Laettner threw some daggers.  He hit a three and drew a foul, although he missed the free throw.  Then in the final seconds of the half, Grant Hill penetrated and kicked out to Laettner for another three from the top that put Duke up 36-31 at halftime.

N.C. State would stay within range for the first few minutes of the 2nd half despite a slam and a three-pointer from Thomas Hill.  But with Duke up 43-36 and 16:22 to go, Gugliotta picked up his 4th foul and had to sit.

The game was effectively over after that.  Laettner got a three-point play and Brian Davis got a breakaway after a steal by Lang.

Gugliotta would come back into the game and do his best to save the Wolfpack.  He hit two three-pointers to cut a 14-point lead to 53-44.  He was then fouled by Lang on a third three-point attempt.  But in a big spot, Gugliotta hit only 1 of the 3 free throws.

Duke would continue to get out on the break with Davis being the main beneficiary in the last 10 minutes with two slams.  Although Duke never gained more than a 14-point lead, the Wolfpack never got closer than the final margin.

But Duke would find life tougher without Hurley over the next few games.  They survived a scare from Maryland at Cameron Indoor Stadium, 91-89, and then traveled to Wake Forest for another tough game.

N.C. State would get 5 days off before traveling to Chapel Hill, North Carolina to take on the Tarheels and try to break their 9-game losing streak.

Duke starters (points scored)

Brian Davis (8) – Small Forward

Antonio Lang (6) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (16) – Center

Grant Hill (20) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (16) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Marty Clark (5)

Cherokee Parks (0)

Kenny Blakeney (0)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

N.C. State starters (points scored)

Mark Davis (10) – Small Forward

Tom Gugliotta (23) – Power Forward

Kevin Thompson (12) – Center

Curtis Marshall (6) – Point Guard

Donnie Seale (6) – Shooting Guard

N.C. State bench (points scored)

Migjen Bakalli (6)

Lakista McCuller (0)

Jamie Knox (0)

Marc Lewis (0)

N.C. State Coach: Les Robinson

February 19, 1992 – (#21)Connecticut Huskies 58 @(#25)Georgetown Hoyas 60

The difficult stretch continued for Connecticut as they lost two home games to Seton Hall and Georgetown.  But they had a week off to think about their 4-game losing streak before going at it against the Hoyas again.

For John Thompson and Georgetown, the star was senior center Alonzo Mourning.  Mourning benefited from the departure of Dikembe Mutombo by averaging 21.3 points per game, 10.7 rebounds per game, and 5.0 blocked shots per game.  Mourning was well on his way to being the #3 pick in the NBA draft.

But, as was the case for the twin towers the previous season, Mourning had little help.  The only other Hoya to get credit for averaging double figures was Charlie Harrison, who transferred to Wake Forest after 12 games for reasons that he wasn’t letting the public know about.  With Harrison gone, freshman Irvin Church stepped in to be the starter.

Church, along with sophomores Robert Churchwell and Joey Brown, averaged between 9.5 and 9.7 points per game.  Senior Brian Kelly was the 5th starter after freshman Don Reid started 10 games early on.  Reid would become a solid player at Georgetown and carved out an 8-year NBA career.

Along with Reid and Church, there were freshmen John Jacques, Kevin Millen, and Lonnie Harrell.  All played in this contest while veterans like Lamont Morgan, Pascal Fleury, and Ronnie Thompson (the coach’s son) didn’t.

The game described between Syracuse and Connecticut would not be the same that happened here.  The Big East that we know and love was back.

Connecticut slumped back into a zone to defend Mourning.  But Georgetown still gained an early lead thanks to offensive rebounds and the Church boys.

Robert Churchwell and Irvin Church had big games against UConn the previous week.  They kept it going early for the 15-6 Hoyas by scoring 9 of Georgetown’s first 12 points.  Meanwhile, Connecticut’s seniors, Chris Smith and Rod Sellers, were scoreless for the first 9 minutes.

Mourning broke free for a hook shot in the lane for his first field goal.  Then baskets by freshmen reserves Jacques and Millen put Georgetown up 18-11 before Sellers got his first basket on a hook shot in the lane.

Sellers later hit two free throws and then had a strong effort with three shots against Mourning before putting one down to cut Georgetown’s lead to 24-21.  Then a three-point play on a running banker by Smith gave him his first points and tied the game at 24 with 3:20 left.

Mourning and Jacques got baskets before Smith initiated a 6-0 run to give UConn the lead late in the half.  Smith hit two buckets and found Scott Burrell for a breakaway.  But a turnaround jumper in the lane by Churchwell with 9 seconds left tied the game at 30 for halftime.

Georgetown then came out flying in the 2nd half.  Church nailed a three, Mourning hit a hook from the baseline, then Alonzo blocked a shot which led to a 2-on-1 break in which Brown found Churchwell for a slam.  Jim Calhoun had to use a timeout with 2 minutes and 39 seconds gone by.

But the run continued.  Church nailed another three and Mourning found Kelly on a cut for a layup.  It was now 42-30 Georgetown and it took UConn 3 minutes and 48 seconds to put the ball in the hoop.

However, just when you thought John Thompson and Georgetown couldn’t be stopped, the Hoyas went for the next 11 minutes without a field goal.

It took all of that time for UConn to pull to a 48-all tie on two free throws by Donyell Marshall.  Church finally broke the ice with a baseline jumper.  Harrell then nailed a three for a 5-point Hoyas lead.

UConn followed with an 8-0 run as Smith and Marshall each scored 4 points.  Mourning hit two free throws with 2:46 left to cut the lead to 56-55.  Smith responded with a baseline jumper over Mourning.  But Irvin Church tied the game with his 4th three-pointer with under 2:00 left.

The teams traded misses before UConn got the ball for the last shot.  They ran the clock down to 13.8 seconds and called a timeout.

The Huskies had a chance to end their 4-game losing streak if they could put the ball in the hole.  What happened instead would be a cold, hard slap in the face.

UConn got the ball to Smith who was trapped in the back court.  He forwarded the ball to Burrell, who would also be trapped at the wing.  Burrell crossed the ball to freshman Brian Fair, who was open.  The pass went off Fair’s hands and face (I wasn’t referring to this as the cold slap in the face) and deflected right to Joey Brown.

Brown went coast-to-coast with only Smith to beat.  Brown got the ball past a reaching Smith and laid it in with his right hand from the left side of the basket at the buzzer.  The Capital Centre (which was criticized as not being a “college atmosphere”) went crazy and Connecticut’s losing streak reached 5 games.

They would not fully recover to save their season.  Although they defeated Providence to end their losing streak, UConn lost some more key Big East games and finished tied with Syracuse for 5th with a 10-8 conference record.  UConn was seeded 6th in the Big East tournament and lost to 3rd seeded St. John’s in overtime, 64-59, in the Quarterfinals.  The Huskies were then named a #9 seed in the Southeast Regional.  They drubbed Nebraska in the 1st round before being drubbed by top-seeded Ohio State 78-55 in the 2nd round.

Meanwhile, Georgetown would tie for the Big East regular season title at 12-4.  But they lost a key game to Seton Hall and were a #2 seed behind the Pirates as a result in the Big East Tournament.  No matter, the Hoyas beat Miami, Florida (in their first Big East season) and St. John’s to reach the title game, where they were upset by Syracuse.  Georgetown would be named a #6 seed in the West Regional.  They defeated South Florida before sending Alonzo Mourning out with a loss to 3rd seeded Florida State, 78-68, after leading 32-23 at halftime.

Georgetown would not fully be back until Allen Iverson showed up in 1994.

Connecticut starters (points scored)

Scott Burrell (9) – Small Forward

Donyell Marshall (15) – Power Forward

Rod Sellers (12) – Center

Chris Smith (15) – Point Guard

Brian Fair (3) – Shooting Guard

Connecticut bench (points scored)

Donny Marshall (2)

Gilad Katz (2)

Dan Cyrulik (0)

Connecticut Coach: Jim Calhoun

Georgetown starters (points scored)

Robert Churchwell (14) – Small Forward

Brian Kelly (2) – Power Forward

Alonzo Mourning (12) – Center

Joey Brown (5) – Point Guard

Irvin Church (16) – Shooting Guard

Georgetown bench (points scored)

Lonnie Harrell (3)

John Jacques (4)

Kevin Millen (2)

Don Reid (2)

Georgetown Coach: John Thompson

alonzo mourning

Alonzo Mourning hits his hook shot over Rod Sellers in a season that saw Mourning become an All-American but Georgetown failed to reach the Sweet 16 for the 3rd straight season *photo courtesy of Pinterest

February 22, 1992 – N.C. State Wolfpack 99 @(#4)North Carolina Tarheels 94

I’m sure Mark Davis and Kevin Thompson of North Carolina State have had better days in their life than February 22, 1992 (perhaps in their basketball life too, after high school), but this sure would be a memorable one for both.

With a 9-game losing streak for the Wolfpack, their in-state rival North Carolina had the distinct honor of being the last team to lose to N.C. State.

Tom Gugliotta scored 36 points, including 8 three-pointers, to lead the Wolfpack to a 99-88 win at home.  But now the rematch was in Chapel Hill against a Tarheel team trying to recover from an 86-73 loss at Virginia.

The Tarheels got off to a great start as they looked to have the advantage down low.  Eric Montross scored 6 points early on as he continued to play with the confidence he picked up during the Duke game.

Hubert Davis also helped with 6 more to give UNC a 19-12 lead.  Hubert then connected from three-point range to give UNC a 10-point lead.  The Tarheels would eventually increase it to 30-19 before Mark Davis started launching threes.

Davis hit three treys over the next few minutes but North Carolina held steady to a 42-32 lead with 4 minutes to go in a fast-paced 1st half that would normally favor the Tarheels.

But N.C. State was playing as if they had nothing to lose.  Curtis Marshall and Davis connected on threes for N.C. State.  Thompson hit two free throws and then Marshall connected on another three.  Within the span of a minute, N.C. State had taken a 43-42 lead.

The Wolfpack would hold a 47-46 lead at halftime as Davis and Thompson each had 12 and Gugliotta had 11.  Hubert Davis led UNC with 11 but Montross had been held to 2 points over the last 16 minutes of the half.

The fast pace continued as the teams battled to a 54-all tie over the first 3 minutes of the 2nd half.  UNC then went on its run as Derrick Phelps went coast-to-coast after a steal, George Lynch tipped in a miss by Hubert Davis, Davis hit two free throws, and Pat Sullivan nailed a three for a 63-54 Tarheels advantage.

Later, a four-point play by Hubert Davis put the Tarheels up 69-59.  But the Wolfpack stayed with them as Kevin Thompson, despite playing with 3 fouls, started to dominate down low.  Thompson scored 11 points over the next 6 minutes to lead the Wolfpack back to a 77-all tie.

But Thompson picked up his 4th foul with 7:13 to go and the Wolfpack down 79-77.  Les Robinson took Thompson out and went with a small lineup that had Gugliotta at center.  This created matchup problems for Dean Smith’s Tarheels and, especially, Eric Montross.  Montross was in the lane looking for a perimeter guy to guard as N.C. State swung the ball.

Marshall got open as Montross rushed out to him.  But the freshman nailed the three for an 80-79 Wolfpack lead.  Gugliotta followed with a three on the next possession and Smith had to use a timeout with 6:14 left.

North Carolina came back to tie it and Thompson came back in and scored after penetration by Donnie Seale.  Seale then drove baseline on the next possession and slammed one down over the 7-foot Kevin Salvadori while drawing a foul.  The three-point play put N.C. State up 88-84.

But Hubert Davis answered with a three and North Carolina still trailed by only one with around 2 minutes to go.  Davis connected on another three to put the Tarheels up 92-90 and give Hubert 30 points.

Mark Davis followed by missing a three.  But Seale got the offensive rebound and Davis got open again.  This time, Mark connected on his 7th three-pointer of the game to give N.C. State a 93-92 lead.

North Carolina had three shots on their next possession but couldn’t score.  Gugliotta finally pulled down a defensive rebound and was fouled by George Lynch with 1:09 to go.

Gugliotta made both free throws but Brian Reese hit a pull-up jumper in the lane to cut the lead back to 95-94.  Hubert Davis then drew an offensive foul call on Seale with 49.2 seconds left.

But Davis couldn’t connect on a jumper and Lynch knocked the ball out of bounds with 33.4 seconds left.  Phelps fouled Marshall 4 seconds later and Curtis made both free throws.

Lynch and Davis each missed a three-point attempt that could have tied the game.  Gugliotta rebounded Davis’ miss and was fouled by Lynch with 12.1 seconds left.  That foul was Lynch’s 5th.  He had contributed a double-double.

N.C. State finished it off from the foul line and had swept North Carolina in a season series for the first time since 1974, when they had a much much better team.  Davis, Thompson, and Gugliotta each had over 20 points as the Wolfpack handed the 4th ranked Tarheels their second straight loss.

The losing streak reached 3 for UNC after they were drubbed at Florida State 110-94.  Their next game was at Maryland, usually a good place to end a losing streak.

For N.C. State, this would probably be their best win for a few years.  They didn’t beat a ranked opponent again until 1994 and they didn’t beat an opponent in the top 10 until 1995, when they upset top ranked North Carolina again but this time at Reynolds Coliseum.

The Wolfpack finished 7th in the ACC in 1992 and avoided the new play-in game between the 8th and 9th seeds for the ACC tournament (added with the addition of Florida State).  But over the last 4 seasons under Les Robinson, N.C. State would participate in the play-in game each season.  As a result, the game became known in ACC country as the Les Robinson Invitational.

Robinson’s team didn’t win the play-in game until 1996 and in 1997, under new coach Herb Sendek, N.C. State won the play-in game and then made it all the way to the ACC Championship Game.

N.C. State starters (points scored)

Mark Davis (25) – Small Forward

Tom Gugliotta (24) – Power Forward

Kevin Thompson (29) – Center

Curtis Marshall (12) – Point Guard

Donnie Seale (7) – Shooting Guard

N.C. State bench (points scored)

Migjen Bakalli (0)

Lakista McCuller (2)

N.C. State Coach: Les Robinson

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Henrik Rodl (3) – Small Forward

George Lynch (13) – Power Forward

Eric Montross (15) – Center

Derrick Phelps (8) – Point Guard

Hubert Davis (30) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Brian Reese (12)

Kevin Salvadori (4)

Pat Sullivan (7)

Donald Williams (2)

Matt Wenstrom (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

tom gugliotta

Tom Gugliotta had an outstanding senior season in 1992 despite the struggles of his team *photo courtesy of Getty Images

February 23, 1992 – (#7)Indiana Hoosiers 86 @(#6)Ohio State Buckeyes 80

Ever since the last time we saw both of these teams (on that December 21, 1991 date), they’d pretty much been dominating the competition.

Indiana was 19-4 with a 10-2 Big Ten mark while Ohio State was 17-4 with a 9-2 Big Ten record.  Indiana had won the first matchup between these two teams in Bloomington 91-83 despite Jim Jackson’s career high of 31 points.

That and a close loss at Minnesota were the only squeakers Indiana would play in since the St. John’s game on that December 21, 1991 date.  The Buckeyes would have a few more with close home wins against Iowa and Minnesota and a two-point win at Illinois.  They also lost by four at Seton Hall and took it on the chin at Iowa in their previous game as Jackson struggled.

But the Buckeyes hadn’t lost at home since February 10, 1990 versus Michigan State, a streak of 30 consecutive home wins.

One of those wins came in double overtime against the Hoosiers the previous season.  That was a game that Indiana probably felt they should have won but Jim Jackson would not let the Buckeyes lose.  He would try for a similar finish in their 1992 matchup in Columbus.

The biggest difference with the Buckeyes was that former Hoosier Lawrence Funderburke was now eligible after not playing in a Division 1 game for over 2 years and was the starting center for Randy Ayers.  Funderburke came in the same class as Calbert Cheaney and the rest but left Indiana after 6 games.  He proved to be a big, athletic shot-blocking presence in this ball game as he finished with 7 blocks and a near triple-double.

Indiana got off to the good start though as Alan Henderson, who didn’t play in the first matchup (or in the previous year’s classic being that he was a freshman in 1992), scored 6 points to give the Hoosiers an 8-4 lead.  But then Jamaal Brown hit a running banker in the lane and two free throws to tie the game.  Mark Baker took over from there.

Baker went coast-to-coast for a layup after Funderburke got a blocked shot.  Then on the next transition break, Chris Jent found Baker with a behind-the-back pass for a layup.  Bob Knight had to use a timeout with 15:14 left.

But it didn’t help initially as Baker scored 12 points over the first 12 minutes to give Ohio State the lead.  Meanwhile, Indiana’s starting back court of Damon Bailey and Greg Graham were scoreless during that stretch.  Ohio State took a 28-20 lead with about 8 minutes left.

But Indiana got back into it as Graham scored 6 points to help out Henderson and Calbert Cheaney.  The Hoosiers cut the lead down to 36-32 with 2:50 left.  Cheaney then hit a jumper from the baseline and threw down an alley-oop off a feed from Chris Reynolds to tie the game.

Damon Bailey then connected on his first field goal when he hit a three to give the Hoosiers a 39-36 lead.  Baker hit a pull-up from the top in the last 10 seconds for his 14th point of the 1st half.  But Indiana got it to Bailey, who dribbled it to about 4 feet beyond the three-point line at the top before launching a prayer.

It banked in and Indiana had a bushel of momentum going into the 2nd half with a 42-38 lead.  Cheaney had 16 points for the Hoosiers while Henderson had 12.  Jackson’s struggles from the Iowa game continued as he managed only 6 points in the 1st half.

Bailey’s banker did prove to be a momentum surge as the Hoosiers scored the first 7 points of the 2nd half.  Henderson hit a turnaround jumper from the baseline, Cheaney hit a three from the corner, and Bailey hit a jumper from the elbow.

The game then went back and forth as Indiana couldn’t pull away but Ohio State couldn’t catch up over the next few minutes.  But finally the Buckeyes went to their best offense; Jim Jackson going 1-on-1 at the top of the key and getting into the lane.

Jackson scored 6 Buckeye points in a row to cut the lead to 62-60.  Then Funderburke found reserve junior Tom Brandewie for a short banker to tie the game with about 10 minutes left.

But, just like that, the momentum did another 180.  Cheaney hit a hook shot in the lane and then connected on a three.  Bailey hit a pull-up jumper at the end of the shot clock.  Cheaney hit another jumper at the wing.  Bailey found reserve Matt Nover for a turnaround jumper in the lane.  Henderson capped an 11-2 run with a steal and slam.  Indiana led 75-64 as Ohio State had gone away from getting Jackson at the top of the floor.

The Buckeyes could not catch up from there as Indiana hit enough big free throws to hold them off.  The Hoosiers had the big win at Ohio State to break the Buckeyes’ home winning streak.

They had a game and a half lead in the Big Ten with two victories over the Buckeyes.  It seemed they had a cinch Big Ten title, but they had some tough road games remaining.

Ohio State didn’t make it easy either as they raked through the rest of their Big Ten schedule and won 6 in a row to finish the season.

Indiana starters (points scored)

Calbert Cheaney (28) – Small Forward

Eric Anderson (4) – Power Forward

Alan Henderson (24) – Center

Damon Bailey (17) – Point Guard

Greg Graham (7) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Chris Reynolds (3)

Matt Nover (3)

Jamal Meeks (0)

Indiana Coach: Bob Knight

Ohio State starters (points scored)

Jim Jackson (24) – Small Forward

Chris Jent (14) – Power Forward

Lawrence Funderburke (8) – Center

Mark Baker (22) – Point Guard

Jamaal Brown (6) – Shooting Guard

Ohio State bench (points scored)

Tom Brandewie (4)

Jamie Skelton (2)

Ohio State Coach: Randy Ayers

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Despite Jim Jackson’s best efforts, the Hoosiers swept Ohio State in 1992.  From left to right is Calbert Cheaney (#40 in red), Jackson (scoring), Damon Bailey (#22), Alan Henderson (boxing out) and Lawrence Funderburke *photo courtesy of Getty Images

February 23, 1992 – (#1)Duke Blue Devils 68 @Wake Forest Demon Deacons 72

Part of Wake Forest’s resurgence into 3rd place in the ACC in 1991 was a home win over Duke.  And while they were off their 1991 pace, Wake Forest had won 3 games in a row, after blowing it at North Carolina, to get their ACC record back to 6-6.

But now they would get their biggest challenge.  Duke had not missed a beat without Bobby Hurley.  They were being cautious with Hurley and saying he probably wouldn’t return until the final 2 games of the regular season at the earliest.  After what would happen in the last 5 minutes of this game, it may not be surprising that Hurley was back for Duke’s next game.

The Blue Devils showed some chinks though as they survived a home game against Maryland, 91-89, when Antonio Lang put back a miss by Laettner and drew a foul.

But Duke stayed right with Wake Forest early on in this ballgame.  The Deacons did go on an 8-1 run to take a 16-11 lead but Duke got right back to tie it at 18.  Then Rodney Rogers, who had scored 6 points early on, picked up his 2nd foul and had to sit for a minute.

Thomas Hill hit a three and then a pull-up from baseline.  Grant Hill followed with a spin and a pull-up in the lane.  Duke led 25-20 and were shooting 11-for-15 from the field.  Wake Forest had connected on 10 of their first 14 field goals.

But then Anthony Tucker, who had a career-high 31 points in Wake’s win over Duke the previous season, got going.  He hit a pull-up in the lane and drew a foul on Thomas Hill.  Then after Rogers came back in and made a bucket, Tucker hit another pull-up and drew another foul, this one on Grant Hill.

Christian Laettner then picked up an “unsportsmanlike” technical foul.  Unsportsmanlike has to be acknowledged based on what would happen in the 2nd half.  But Tucker hit a free throw and then connected on another one-dribble pull-up jumper from the baseline.  Wake Forest now led 31-25 and Tucker had 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting.

But Wake Forest would follow with a 5 minute drought against Duke’s matchup zone defense.  While Duke didn’t burn the nets during that stretch, they did take a 35-31 lead when Grant Hill threw down an alley-oop pass from sophomore Marty Clark.  A tip-in by Trelonnie Owens just before the half broke Wake Forest’s dry spell and cut Duke’s lead to 35-33 at the break.

The Deacons tied the game at 39 through the first 2 minutes of the 2nd half before Duke went on another run.  Laettner connected on a corner three.  Thomas Hill hit a turnaround from the baseline.  Grant Hill tipped in his own miss and then found Brian Davis on the break for a three-point play.

After Laettner hit two more free throws, Duke led 51-45.  Thomas Hill connected on his 3rd three-pointer of the game to increase the lead to 9.

The Blue Devils would regain a nine-point lead when Thomas Hill blocked a shot that led to a break in which Grant Hill found Laettner for a slam.  Laettner appeared to be in an awkward position after slamming one down, so he hung on the rim.  But then he opened his mouth and stuck a leg in Rogers’ face.  For this, he was called for a technical.

This would be his 2nd technical of the game but he wasn’t ejected.  According to the announcers, only one of his technicals were “unsportsmanlike” so he could stay in the game as long as he didn’t pick up another technical, either unsportsmanlike or otherwise.

While this is very confusing for someone watching the game from a 21st century perspective.  This sentence from the Technical Foul Wikipedia page seems to explain it in terms of FIFA rules:

FIBA rules do not provide for ejection for any number of non-flagrant technicals (known as unsportsmanlike fouls under that body’s rules) against a player, except in 3×3, in which two unsportsmanlike fouls result in ejection.

With that being said, it didn’t seem like Wake Forest or their coach Dave Odom was too enraged about the fact that Laettner was still in the game.  So, perhaps better from a 1992 perspective, that rule seemed cut and dry.

Either way, Duke grew its lead to as much as 10 and Wake Forest could not get closer than 6 over the next few minutes.  When the game clock ticked under 7 minutes, Duke started to milk their possessions more.

It worked initially as Thomas Hill hit one baseline pull-up at the end of the shot clock.  Then on the next possession, Laettner found Hill for a baseline jumper and a foul.  This three-point play put Duke up 67-57 with around 5 minutes left.

But then Wake Forest started to gamble with not being in the foul penalty yet.  Over the next 2 minutes, Tucker hit a pull-up in the lane and Rogers kicked out to Derrick McQueen for a three.  The lead was down to 67-62 and Mike Krzyzewski had to use a timeout with 3:23 left.

Duke would continue to run down the shot clock but they weren’t being too aggressive.  Meanwhile, Wake Forest continued to gamble for steals and would continue to get them.

Owens knocked the ball away from Laettner and Tucker was fouled on a breakaway.  After Anthony hit two free throws, McQueen got a steal from Duke’s “point guard” Grant Hill.  McQueen then found Owens, who drew a foul on Hill and made the basket.  The three-point play tied the game at 67 with 2 minutes left and the crowd was alive.

Brian Davis drove and drew a foul on Chris King.  But Davis made 1 of 2 free throws.  Rogers then crossed the ball to Tucker, who connected on another baseline pull-up to give Wake Forest a 69-68 lead.

Grant Hill then drew a foul on Tucker with 1:08 left.  But Hill, who had greatly improved from the foul line as a sophomore, missed both free throws.  Wake Forest followed with a turnover but Duke could not grab the lead as Thomas Hill was called for traveling with 13.1 seconds left.

Davis fouled King with 11.8 to go.  King made the front end of the 1-and-1 but missed the second.  However, Wake Forest back-tapped and recovered the rebound and Thomas Hill had to foul Rogers with 5.2 seconds left.  But Rodney missed the front end of the 1-and-1, Grant Hill grabbed the rebound, and Duke used a timeout with 4.5 seconds left.

Then, in what became a prelude for a game later this season, Grant Hill threw a full-length inbounds pass to Christian Laettner.  Hill’s pass seemed to curve toward the left sideline.  Laettner caught it but his momentum took him briefly out of bounds before he could make his move.

After the turnover, Chris King put the game away with two free throws.

It was a shocking loss for Duke and it seemed like a consensus from the broadcasting team that Duke wouldn’t have lost that lead with Bobby Hurley in the lineup.  Hurley returned for their next game at Duke rebounded to beat Virginia at home.

But Hurley would be a bigger factor when Duke traveled to Westwood to take on 4th ranked UCLA.

After Wake Forest’s biggest win of the season, they seemed to treat it like they won the National Championship.  Wake lost at Georgia Tech and at N.C. State and dropped a home game to Maryland to finish out their ACC regular season at 7-9.

Wake then lost to North Carolina 80-65 in the ACC quarterfinals and, as a #9 seed in the West Regional, lost to 8th seeded Louisville in the 1st round 81-58.

Despite losing the likes of Anthony Tucker, Chris King, and Derrick McQueen, Wake would be back and stronger in 1993 with Rogers becoming an All-American and Randolph Childress returning in a big way.

Duke starters (points scored)

Brian Davis (12) – Small Forward

Antonio Lang (6) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (18) – Center

Grant Hill (12) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (20) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Cherokee Parks (0)

Kenny Blakeney (0)

Marty Clark (0)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Wake Forest starters (points scored)

Chris King (9) – Small Forward

Rodney Rogers (18) – Power Forward

Phil Medlin (2) – Center

Derrick McQueen (8) – Point Guard

Anthony Tucker (24) – Shooting Guard

Wake Forest bench (points scored)

Derrick Hicks (2)

Trelonnie Owens (7)

Robert Doggett (0)

David Rasmussen (2)

Wake Forest Coach: Dave Odom

February 27, 1992 – (#4)UCLA Bruins 79 @(#13)USC Trojans 83

While not much attention was being paid to them, the UCLA Bruins were rolling through the season as perhaps the second-best team.

UCLA had been ranked #2 in the polls for 8 weeks throughout the season and were 14-0 and 21-1 at one point.  That one loss came to their cross-town rivals, the USC Trojans, at Pauley Pavilion 86-82 on January 29.

The Bruins had beaten other ranked teams in Indiana, at Arizona, at Stanford, and at Louisville.  But they threw up a dud performance for perhaps the first time all year when they traveled to Notre Dame and lost 84-71.  UCLA just could not make a three-point shot.  But they would get another chance at USC in their next ballgame.

UCLA had strong senior leadership in big man Don MacLean and guards Gerald Madkins and Darrick Martin.  Coach Jim Harrick’s leading scorer was junior Tracy Murray at 21.6 points per game.  MacLean was right behind him at 21.0.  Murray and MacLean were the big men for UCLA but both preferred to play on the perimeter.

Sophomore guard Shon Tarver averaged 10.7 points per game to be the 3rd and final Bruin to average double figures.  Junior guard Mitchell Butler came on after getting a starting spot ahead of Martin.  Butler averaged 8.4 while Madkins, the defensive specialist, was at 7.5.

Despite his senior status, Martin would be relegated to the bench in 1992 after averaging over 11 points and over 6 assists in his previous two seasons.  The conclusion apparently came after UCLA was bounced in the 1st round in 1991 and Martin, as the point guard, had not given the ball to the scorers, Murray and MacLean, enough to have a chance to win that game.

Not only would Martin average 5.6 points and 3.9 assists, which still led the team, in 19.5 minutes per game, but a lot of his playing time was taken by freshman Tyus Edney.  Edney would become UCLA’s future star at point and would reward Harrick and UCLA in 1995.  But it wasn’t a good look in 1992 and lot of people weren’t fans of Harrick for reducing Martin’s playing time drastically.

UCLA’s other reserves included red-shirt freshman Ed O’Bannon.  O’Bannon was recovering from a torn ACL and meniscus and never really got going in 1992, averaging 3.3 points per game in 11.8 minutes in the 21 games he played.

Sophomore forward Rodney Zimmerman also contributed and was a starter for the early part of the season.

USC had gotten on the map with their win over Ohio State on that December 21, 1991 date.  Now, all of a sudden, they were winning close games and pulling victories out of a hat.  They had won at Arizona State, at Stanford, at Cal, and (most impressively) at UCLA.  They won a close home game against Washington and at Oregon.  Most of these games the Trojans were trailing late.

USC took it on the chin, 92-78, at Oregon State for their 4th loss of the year, but they rebounded to beat Cal and Stanford, another one-point decision, at home.  The Trojans were 18-4 and had cracked the rankings for the first time since 1978-79.  Now George Raveling, Harold Miner, and his crew got set to host UCLA in front of the largest crowd to see a USC basketball game at the Los Angeles Sports Arena; 15,517 fans.

UCLA took the early lead as Murray scored 12 points in the first 8 minutes.  But the trend that was starting to develop in USC’s favor was that they were getting multiple offensive rebounds and second shot opportunities.  Harold Miner got his first three baskets on putbacks.

The Bruins’ biggest lead was at 19-10 after Madkins nailed a three-pointer.  They were still up 28-20 when Miner nailed a three and then Madkins picked up his 2nd foul.

Without its best defender, UCLA started to give up penetration and were continuing to be beaten on the boards.  Miner hit a pull-up after a continuous between-the-legs crossover dribble to shake a defender.  This cut UCLA’s lead to 31-27 with 7:57 left in the 1st half.

Senior point guard Duane Cooper then pushed the tempo and got good shots for himself and others.  His coast-to-coast double-pump scoop gave USC their first lead at 35-34.

Miner then hit a fall-away from the baseline and followed with a steal on a lob pass.  Cooper then nailed a three and USC had a 40-34 lead with 3:29 left.

Reserve guards Rodney Chatman and Dwayne Hackett nailed three-pointers and Miner got a reverse slam after an offensive rebound.  This all happened during USC’s 28-13 run to finish the half.

The only thing that kept UCLA hanging around was the 19 1st half points from Tracy Murray.  Darrick Martin also nailed a long three from the left wing at the buzzer to cut the Trojans’ halftime advantage to 48-41.  USC had finished the half with 11 offensive rebounds and Miner finished with 15 points.

USC continued their momentum and ran off to a 59-45 lead with 15:08 left.  But then UCLA started to slow down the tempo just a little bit and got some baskets to fall.  MacLean made his first field goal in awhile to cut the lead to 61-51.  It was Don’s 4th field goal in 14 attempts so far.

Madkins nailed a three to reduce the advantage to 63-54.  He stayed in the game after picking up his 4th foul and would later nail another three to cut the lead to 66-61.

But during this good stretch for UCLA, Miner was continuing to rack up hoops for USC.  The highlight came after Madkins’ second three when “Baby Jordan” crossed over and then flew in the air for a vicious two-hand overhead slam.

Miner was so good that he even got away with not only hooking Gerald Madkins when he spun around him in the post, but the referees called a foul on Madkins; which fouled him out.

Miner hit the two free throws to bring his point total to 27.  Yamen Sanders followed with a steal and slam and, later, put back a miss by Miner.  USC would continue to hold the lead but couldn’t put the Bruins away.

After Cooper nailed a free throw with 2:01 left to put USC up 77-72, MacLean came right back down and nailed a three to cut the lead to two.

All UCLA needed was a stop and a rebound to have a chance to tie it.  They got the stop as Miner missed, but the defensive rebound had been eluding them for most of the night and it manifested when Mark Boyd tipped in Miner’s miss.

UCLA would get no closer.  Murray fouled out after he was stripped by Phil Glenn when attempting a shot.  He and MacLean had been the only Bruins to reach double figures and things wouldn’t get easier as Duke now came in to play the reeling Bruins.

USC won 3 of 4 games to finish the season, including a 1-point win against Arizona.  But the one loss would cost them a share of the Pac-10 title as they finished at 15-3, a game behind the Bruins.

But still, the Trojans would be named a #2 seed in the Midwest Regional.  But the team who had won several close games when they came from behind in the last few minutes would get to experience what it was like to be on the other side.

UCLA starters (points scored)

Mitchell Butler (2) – Small Forward

Tracy Murray (28) – Power Forward

Don MacLean (18) – Center

Gerald Madkins (9) – Point Guard

Shon Tarver (8) – Shooting Guard

UCLA bench (points scored)

Darrick Martin (8)

Ed O’Bannon (2)

Tyus Edney (4)

Rodney Zimmerman (0)

UCLA Coach: Jim Harrick

USC starters (points scored)

Harold Miner (29) – Small Forward

Yamen Sanders (11) – Power Forward

Mark Boyd (10) – Center

Duane Cooper (13) – Point Guard

Phil Glenn (5) – Shooting Guard

USC bench (points scored)

Rodney Chatman (12)

Lorenzo Orr (0)

Dwayne Hackett (3)

USC Coach: George Raveling

Image result for harold miner usc

Harold Miner and his fall-away jumper over Mitchell Butler would lead USC to their second sweep of UCLA in a season series in the last 50 years *photo courtesy of Inside Social

March 1, 1992 – (#10)North Carolina Tarheels 80 @Maryland Terrapins 82

The North Carolina Tarheels had lost 3 games in a row for only the 3rd time in the last 25 years.  They had not lost 4 in a row since 1965.

Although Maryland was in a down period, they were still very competitive.  They had beaten Florida State in Tallahassee and had taken Duke to the wire in Durham.  This was far-fetched from the team that had started the ACC season at 0-6, including a 20-point loss in Chapel Hill.

Gary Williams and his Terrapins got off to a quick start as their back-court got them going.  Kevin McLinton his a pull-up jumper from the foul line and then All-American Walt Williams connected on a three from the top.

Maryland hit 7 of their first 8 from the field as power man Evers Burns got going as well with 3 of the field goals.  The Terps took a 15-7 lead and kept going.

Williams hit his second field goal on a banker in the lane.  Reserve Matt Downing hit a three in transition.  McLinton then hit a pull-up from the baseline.  This 7-0 run gave the Terps a 25-10 advantage halfway through the 1st half.

North Carolina was unable to hit outside shots and, in most cases, unwilling to take the open shots as Maryland backed its zone to cut off the inside game.  The Tarheels were also not getting Hubert Davis the ball.

Davis finally got four straight points and was going for 6 on a wing jumper.  But athletic, former walk-on forward Vince Broadnax blocked Davis’ shot from behind.  Broadnax then flew over Davis for a big slam at the other end.  This kicked off a 6-0 Maryland run that gave them a 31-14 lead with 7:37 left in the 1st half.

Carolina eventually made its run of the 1st half as Davis and Brian Reese connected on threes.  A steal by George Lynch and a coast-to-coast runner cut the lead to 36-28 with 3:44 left.

But the Tarheels would not score another field goal for the rest of the half and went 1-for-4 from the foul line.  Dean Smith’s crew would also commit 13 turnovers in the 1st half.

Meanwhile, Maryland led by Williams, McLinton and Burns finished the half on a 15-1 run.  It was capped off when North Carolina’s Derrick Phelps took a shot too with 7 seconds left in the half.  Maryland pushed it and Downing found Burns for the half-capping layup.

Maryland led 51-29 at the break.  Burns led the way with 13 points while McLinton and Williams each had 12.

But as expected, North Carolina came out strong in the 2nd half.  Phelps found Lynch on a 3-on-2 break for a layup.  Then Phelps took it himself on a transition break.  Eric Montross hit a banker from the post and Phelps connected on a three.  Gary Williams had to use a timeout with 18:16 left as his team’s lead was cut to 52-38.

Carolina would steadily cut the lead from there but Walt Williams hit some big shots to stem the tide.  Williams had 8 points to keep Maryland ahead 65-54 before UNC went on a 7-0 run.  Davis scored his 7th point of the half (after only 7 in the 1st half) on a three-pointer and then Reese hit two free throws and a bucket.

But Williams hit his fourth big shot of the half as he connected on a tough fall-away three-pointer from the top.  Williams would later tip in a miss to further stem the tide but Carolina cut it to 70-66 with 7:44 left.

Williams’ tip-in was actually Maryland’s 4th rebound in the first 13 minutes of the half.  North Carolina had gotten 18 to that point in the 2nd half.  With that rebound advantage, it was fortunate for Gary Williams that Walt Williams was hot.

UNC cut it to 73-70 when Lynch tipped in a miss by Davis.  But Lynch missed a fast break layup that could have cut the lead to one.  It would not be North Carolina’s only missed opportunity.

They did cut it to one when Davis grabbed UNC’s 17th offensive rebound of the game and got the bounce on a baseline jumper.  But Burns hit a turnaround fall-away over Montross in the post and then got a layup on a 2-on-1 break to put Maryland back up 77-72.

Burns committed his 4th foul and Lynch hit two free throws with 1:32 left.  Maryland went into a slight delay before Williams penetrated and found Chris Kerwin for a slam.  But Davis came right back with a three to cut the lead to 79-77 with 43.3 seconds left.

North Carolina went into the trap off the timeout and forced a turnover with 33.6 seconds left as Williams over-threw a cross-court pass to McLinton.  Kevin caught it off-balanced and was forced to travel to re-gather his footing.

Dean Smith decided not to use his last timeout.  Phelps pushed it to Davis at the foul line.  Davis hung in the air and launched an awkward double-pump shot as he drew a foul.  The ball bounced around the rim and fell in with 18.5 seconds left to tie the game.  After Maryland took a timeout, Davis’ free throw gave UNC their first lead of the game.

For North Carolina, this would have been a more impressive comeback than their home rally against Wake Forest, according to Terry Holland, who was the analyst for both games.

North Carolina’s trap got Maryland scrambling again.  But Burns got open at the foul line and launched with 7 seconds left.  He missed and on the ensuing rebound scramble, the ball eventually found Walt Williams.  He rushed the first shot and missed but The Wizard tipped in that miss as time seemed to run out.

But North Carolina was able to get their last timeout called with 1.3 seconds left and the Maryland students had to clear the floor.

But the Tarheels would not get a final chance as Lynch over-threw the inbounds pass.  The Terps would add one more free throw as Phelps fouled Williams with 0.1 seconds left.

But Maryland had its biggest win and Walt Williams’ tip-in in the final seconds may have been the biggest basket of his career.  Williams would never get to make an NCAA tournament appearance as Maryland was on probation during his last two seasons, but his play would earn him a #7 pick in the NBA draft and would be credited for getting Gary Williams’ program re-started.

Although Maryland went 12-16 in 1993, they would receive a big prize from Norfolk, Virginia for the following season.  Joe Smith and a few talented sophomores would get the Terps to their first NCAA tournament since 1988.

North Carolina would break their losing streak in a 79-75 home win over Georgia Tech.  This turned out to be a big win as North Carolina finished one game ahead of the Yellow Jackets for 3rd place in the ACC standings.  But the Tarheels went into the ACC tournament having lost 5 of their final 6 games after Duke beat them in the rematch 89-77.

Dean Smith called it an impressive performance by Duke, he would get a more impressive performance a week later.  But first, North Carolina had to fend off a team they hadn’t beaten all season.

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Henrik Rodl (0) – Small Forward

George Lynch (10) – Power Forward

Eric Montross (17) – Center

Derrick Phelps (13) – Point Guard

Hubert Davis (24) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Brian Reese (12)

Kevin Salvadori (4)

Pat Sullivan (0)

Donald Williams (0)

Matt Wenstrom (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

Maryland starters (points scored)

Vince Broadnax (10) – Small Forward

Evers Burns (22) – Power Forward

Chris Kerwin (2) – Center

Kevin McLinton (12) – Point Guard

Walt Williams (28) – Shooting Guard

Maryland bench (points scored)

John Walsh (5)

Matt Downing (3)

Maryland Coach: Gary Williams

walt-williams

Walt Williams earned All-American honors in 1992 and is one of Maryland’s all-time greats *photo courtesy of WBAL

March 1, 1992 – (#1)Duke Blue Devils 75 @(#4)UCLA Bruins 65

Following the Wake Forest loss, Duke did get Bobby Hurley back for its win against Virginia.  But they lost Grant Hill to a sprained ankle in practice and Hill would miss 3 games, including this one.

But UCLA was reeling after two straight losses to Notre Dame and USC.  But those two were on the road and now the Bruins were back at Pauley Pavilion taking on a Duke team without a key player.

The 1st half was ugly to say the least.  Both teams had scoring droughts and Duke had 15 turnovers, which was their season average for an entire game.

Naturally though, there were some defensive highlights.  Thomas Hill got 4 blocked shots in the 1st half, two of them against Don MacLean (with one being on a breakaway).  Darrick Martin broke up a 4-on-1 Duke break by successfully taking a charge.

The biggest offensive highlight for UCLA came after Gerald Madkins came up with a steal.  Madkins successfully threw a behind-the-back pass to Tracy Murray for a slam on a 3-on-1 break.

Murray led the way for UCLA with 10 1st half points as UCLA held the lead for most of the half.  But with the Bruins up 29-21 and looking for the last shot of the 1st half, Ed O’Bannon took an ill-advised baseline jumper with 8 seconds left.

Christian Laettner rebounded, fed to Bobby Hurley, who quickly got the ball down to Brian Davis on a breakaway.  Davis converted with 3 seconds left and drew a foul.  The three-point play cut UCLA’s lead to 29-24 at the half and was a big momentum turning play.

Duke, amazingly, was trailing at the half for the first time all season.  Laettner had 9 points while Thomas Hill had 6.  But Hurley had only converted a free throw and looked rusty.

Duke, as a whole, looked bad.  Not only did they have 15 turnovers but they shot 7-for-21 from the field.  But UCLA’s shooting was even uglier.  The Bruins were 11-for-41 in the 1st half with no three-pointers.  UCLA had given up multiple second shots to USC, which turned out to be their undoing.  In this game, they had the lead pretty much only by getting more shot attempts.

Duke came out for the 2nd half and threw a 12-4 run at UCLA.  Laettner got 6 points during that stretch, including a putback of a missed free throw by Antonio Lang.

But back came UCLA led by Tyus Edney, who would soon get the starting job at the point.  Edney got a layup after MacLean crossed the ball to him.  Then O’Bannon found Murray on a cut for a slam.  Then Edney got a breakaway layup and drew a foul from Thomas Hill.

Edney fell hard on the floor and had to go out of the game for a bit with an injured tailbone.  Darrick Martin came into the game for him and completed the three-point play to cap a 7-0 Bruins run.  But Duke pulled back to a tie with Brian Davis leading the way.

MacLean would pick up his 4th foul with 13:05 to go and UCLA suddenly had a thin team without MacLean, Edney and Shon Tarver.  Tarver had sprained his ankle in the 1st half and looked to be out for the game.  He would return but his athleticism wouldn’t.

But the Bruins would grab a 54-50 lead with about 9 minutes left when Edney, who had just come back in, found Mitchell Butler for a wing jumper.  Then Madkins took it himself on a 2-on-1 break.

At this time, Bobby Hurley came to life and showed his importance.  Hurley drove down the lane for a lefty layup, nailed a three after Lang grabbed an offensive rebound, and then connected on another three to break a 56-all tie with 5 minutes left.

UCLA would come back to take a 61-59 lead with under 3 minutes to go.  Laettner tied it with two free throws and then Hurley found him on the wing for a big three.  Lang followed with a steal and breakaway which led to Jim Harrick using a timeout with 2:04 left and his team trailing 66-61.

MacLean came back with a banker but then Davis drove right by MacLean for a layup.  Duke would then finish it from the foul line as UCLA failed to connect on a three-pointer for the entire game.

UCLA had not put on a good show in back-to-back big games against good teams.  They rebounded with close wins at Washington State and Washington.  They then beat Arizona for the second time this season and, with a defeat of Arizona State at home, won the Pac-10 title by one game over USC with a 16-2 mark.

This earned them a #1 seed in the West Regional.  They didn’t have any problems in beating Robert Morris and Louisville in the 1st two rounds.  They showed some cracks in almost giving up a big lead to 12th seeded New Mexico State in the Sweet 16, but they survived 85-78.  However, their Final Four dreams ended in a resounding way to Indiana 106-79 in the Elite Eight, a score that kind of capped UCLA’s season.

The Bruins would lose MacLean, Murray, Martin and Madkins to the NBA, but they would have some young players step up in 1993 despite not having as good a season.  They almost made up for their disappointing 1992 finish by upsetting a powerhouse in the NCAA tournament.

Duke would survive an unexpected test at Clemson 98-97 in their next game.  Brian Davis took up the slack with Grant Hill still being out and scored 30 points.  Hill would return for their final regular season game against North Carolina.

Duke would not look back for their next 7 games, winning all but one by double digits and throwing two performances against North Carolina that even had Dean Smith gushing about how well they were playing.

It would almost all go for naught in a Regional Final classic that is still being talked about, and that we’ll get to later.

Duke starters (points scored)

Brian Davis (19) – Small Forward

Antonio Lang (5) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (29) – Center

Bobby Hurley (11) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (8) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Kenny Blakeney (3)

Cherokee Parks (0)

Marty Clark (0)

Erik Meek (0)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

UCLA starters (points scored)

Mitchell Butler (4) – Small Forward

Tracy Murray (22) – Power Forward

Don MacLean (20) – Center

Gerald Madkins (8) – Point Guard

Shon Tarver (1) – Shooting Guard

UCLA bench (points scored)

Tyus Edney (7)

Darrick Martin (3)

Ed O’Bannon (0)

Rodney Zimmerman (0)

UCLA Coach: Jim Harrick

March 3, 1992 – (#23)LSU Tigers 92 @(#7)Arkansas Razorbacks 106 (OT)

In the newly expanded SEC, there were now two divisions.  At the top of the eastern division was Kentucky at 11-3 and 22-5 overall.  At the top of the west was a battle.  LSU had won 4 games in a row and were 10-2 in their last 12 SEC games to get to 11-3.  Their 11-3 mark tied Arkansas, who had gotten senior Todd Day back for the start of the conference season.

Day had been suspended for the first two months of the season after two incidents.  One involved a woman who claimed to police Day and 3 teammates (Darrell Hawkins, Roosevelt Wallace and Elmer Martin) sexually assaulted her.  She never pressed charges but each player was suspended.  However, Day’s suspension would last longer when it was found out that he and other students had obtained answers to a biology exam during summer school.

Day returned in January but felt alienated off the court.  In Day’s 4th game back, Arkansas traveled to LSU to take on the Tigers.  At the time, the Razorbacks were coming off a loss at Alabama while LSU had won 4 in a row.  But Todd Day’s 43 points led Arkansas to a 101-90 victory and gave them the tiebreaking edge in the SEC West.

LSU had gotten 27 points and 16 rebounds from Shaquille O’Neal that day and had a good scoring day from a back court that would be inconsistent in 1992.  But Maurice Williamson and Jamie Brandon would have another quality day against Arkansas in their rematch.

LSU had gone 11-3 since that game as Shaq became a monster.  In previous seasons, you could tell that Shaq was good and sometimes dominating.  But, as a junior in 1992, he played like a man possessed and a man, as it turned out, ready for the NBA.

Arkansas though may have had the only man in the SEC that could think of handling Shaq.  6’9″ 280 lb (before his first meal of the day) senior Oliver Miller had led the NCAA in field goal percentage in 1991.  But, as a senior, the weight got the best of him and Miller’s play was a little bit down as he averaged 13.5 points per game on 60% field goal shooting after averaging 15.7 ppg on 70% FG shooting in 1991.  But in terms of going up against Shaq, Miller still had the best chance.

Miller and Day were joined by fellow senior star, point guard Lee Mayberry.  These three players were Arkansas’ stars and leaders.  They, along with fellow senior Isaiah Morris, averaged in double figures with Day leading the way at 22.7 points per game.

But the Razorbacks had lost some scrappers from their 1990 Final Four team and 1991 Elite 8 team.  This included Arlyn Bowers, Ernie Murry, and Ron Huery.  The loss of these guys cut down on Arkansas’ perimeter athleticism.

Darrell Hawkins and JC transfer Robert Shepherd helped out but junior shooter Warren Linn started along with Day, Miller, Mayberry, and Roosevelt Wallace.  Young swingmen Ken Biley and Clint McDaniel also helped out Nolan Richardson’s 40 minutes of hell.

Arkansas got off to a good start as Linn, Day, and Mayberry nailed threes while Miller and Wallace each got field goals as well.  Their biggest lead was 13-5 before LSU started bombing the threes.

Maurice Williamson nailed two while Clarence Ceasar also hit a triple.  Vernel Singleton got going as well for Dale Brown as LSU came back to take a 23-22 lead at the 11:47 mark when Williamson made his 3rd three for 11 points.

Shaq had only contributed a tip-in at this point but his teammates ran it up.  Jamie Brandon and Ceasar each had two field goals during LSU’s run.  O’Neal got his second field goal on an inbounds lob pass to put LSU up 32-24.

Shaq would then score 11 LSU points in a row to increase the lead to 41-29.  Brandon and Singleton would then finish the half strong for LSU as the Tigers ran to a 51-36 halftime lead.

Mayberry had kept Arkansas in it with 4 three-pointers.  But LSU had balance as Shaq had 13 points and 8 rebounds, Williamson had 12 and 3 fouls, Singleton and Brandon had 9, and Ceasar had 8 while holding Todd Day to 7 points.

But, as expected, Arkansas came out firing in the 2nd half.  Day tipped in a Wallace miss while Linn and Mayberry nailed threes to cut the lead to 54-44 and force Dale Brown to use a timeout at the 18:32 mark.

LSU was able to settle it down from there and regain a 14-point lead as O’Neal continued to dominate, this included slamming one down on three guys.  The Tigers advantage stayed in double figures over the next 6 minutes but Arkansas kept putting the pressure on them.

Finally, a three-point play by Hawkins on a cut sliced the lead to 67-58.  Then a three-point field goal by Mayberry, his 6th of the game, cut it to 69-63 and forced Brown to use another timeout with 10:09 left.

This one didn’t help as Arkansas’ pressure was relentless.  Day got a three-point play on a twisting banker in the post.  Day followed with a steal and found Hawkins for a layup.  LSU’s lead was down to 69-68.

Vernel Singleton would score 5 points to keep LSU ahead, but gave up an offensive tip-in and a foul against Day that put Arkansas ahead 76-74.

Singleton would continue to be a big factor offensively as he led the Tigers to an 84-82 lead.  But with 3:05 left, the refs fell for a flop by Day that drew the 5th foul on Singleton.  His loss would hurt LSU.

The Tigers remained up by a score of 87-84 before Lee Mayberry hit a step-back three (his 8th of the game) from the wing to tie it up.  But Mayberry missed his chance to give Arkansas the lead as he bricked a pull-up from the foul line on their next possession.

Ceasar rebounded and LSU called timeout with 27 seconds left, looking for the last shot.  The Tigers had not been looking inside to O’Neal down the stretch but they got it inside to him this time.  But Miller, with help from a weakside player who looked like he grabbed Shaq’s arm, blocked O’Neal’s shot and the game was headed to overtime.

The extra period would be no contest as LSU’s didn’t get the ball inside to Shaq once (amazing, isn’t it?).  Mayberry scored 4 quick points to reach a career high and Todd Day contributed the next 5, including a double-pump reverse of the fast break while Ceasar fouled him.

That three-point play put the Razorbacks up 98-89 with 1:25 left in overtime and it was all but over after that.

1992 would be Arkansas’ final season in Barnhill Arena, and, as it turned out, their final loss there was when they played #1 UNLV in 1991.  Arkansas sent Barnhill out on top with a 100-83 victory over Mississippi to claim the SEC West title (by a game over LSU) and a #1 seed in the SEC tournament.

There, they were upset by Alabama 90-89 in the Semifinals.  This might have helped Arkansas slip to a #3 seed in the Midwest Regional.  In the 2nd round, they would play a team that they had already lost to during the season.

LSU would finish as a #3 overall seed in the SEC and lost to Kentucky in the Semifinals.  With that, they earned a #7 seed in the West Regional and when all was said and done, it looked like Shaq was out there by himself.

LSU starters (points scored)

Clarence Ceasar (15) – Small Forward

Vernel Singleton (23) – Power Forward

Shaquille O’Neal (21) – Center

Jamie Brandon (12) – Point Guard

Maurice Williamson (17) – Shooting Guard

LSU bench (points scored)

Justin Anderson (4)

Paul Marshall (0)

Geert Hammink (0)

Harold Boudreaux (0)

Mike Hansen (0)

LSU Coach: Dale Brown

Arkansas starters (points scored)

Todd Day (27) – Small Forward

Roosevelt Wallace (8) – Power Forward

Oliver Miller (10) – Center

Lee Mayberry (35) – Point Guard

Warren Linn (13) – Shooting Guard

Arkansas bench (points scored)

Darrell Hawkins (11)

Isaiah Morris (2)

Ken Biley (0)

Robert Shepherd (0)

Clint McDaniel (0)

Arkansas Coach: Nolan Richardson

March 4, 1992 – (#2)Indiana Hoosiers 64 @Iowa Hawkeyes 60

What it came down to for Indiana was that they were a game ahead of Ohio State at the top of the Big Ten standings and were essentially another game ahead having swept the Buckeyes.

But Ohio State had gotten through its toughest road games to finish the season by winning at Purdue and at Michigan State.  They would coast and put pressure on the Hoosiers, who had 3 tough road games in March.  The first was at Iowa, the second was at Michigan, and the final game of the season was at in-state rival Purdue.

At the time that Indiana traveled to Iowa City, the Hawkeyes were tied with Michigan State for 3rd in the Big Ten at 8-6.

Iowa was rated #21 in the pre-season poll coming off a rebound of a 21-11 season.  But after starting out 6-0, Dr. Tom Davis’ Hawkeyes lost 4 of their next 6 and fell out of the polls for the season.

But still, Iowa had a steady 16-8 record and had only lost one game at home so far this season.  That loss was in the Big Ten opener against Michigan.  Since then, Iowa had beaten Michigan State and Ohio State when they had come in ranked.  But the Hawkeyes had not beaten a tough opponent on the road, with their biggest loss of the season coming at Indiana, 81-66.

The Hawkeyes were led by junior center Acie Earl, Iowa’s only future NBA player.  Earl averaged 19.5 points per game to lead the way.  Senior James Moses and a trio of sophomores; Chris Street, Val Barnes, and Kevin Smith each averaged double figures (or near double figures) and were in the starting lineup for most of the season.

Off the bench came seniors Rodell Davis and Troy Skinner, juniors Wade Lookingbill and Jay Webb and sophomore James Winters.  But all played as Tom Davis liked to use his bench because he preferred to play a fast pace and a pressure defense.  Although the constant substitutions wore teams down, Davis still didn’t have as much talent as he inherited in the late ’80’s and, as a result, wasn’t as successful with his style.

Iowa put the pressure on the Hoosiers early as James Moses scored 5 quick points, Val Barnes hit a three and Kevin Smith hit a pull-up in the lane in transition.  The Hawkeyes led 10-2 at this point but Calbert Cheaney and Eric Anderson brought Indiana back to within 10-8 before the first media timeout.

The Hawkeyes continued to hold the lead through most of the 1st half despite Cheaney taking advantage of his matchup with the smaller Moses and scoring at will when Indiana broke the press and moved the ball.

This didn’t happen as often as it should have as the Hoosiers took some quick shots by the wrong people (essentially everyone except Cheaney) and had to use a timeout 7 seconds after a media timeout because they couldn’t get the ball inbounds against the press.  For the most part, they handled the press in the back-court but they fell into the trap of playing a faster tempo than they were used to

A three-pointer by Smith put Iowa up 30-22 with under 7 minutes left in the half, but the momentum changed when Iowa started turning the ball over.

The Hoosiers went on an 11-0 run, with Cheaney scoring 7 of those points (including a technical free throw after the Iowa bench wasn’t happy with a foul call on Chris Street).  But Iowa finished the half on a 6-0 spurt and led 36-33 at the break.

Iowa held that lead through the first 8 minutes of the 2nd half despite Cheaney scoring the first 10 points.  Three-pointers by Moses and Barnes held off the Hoosiers until Greg Graham hit a three to tie it at 46 with 11:47 left.

Cheaney then hit a baseline jumper to bring his point total to 29 (29 of Indiana’s 48 at that point).  But Cheaney followed by committing his 4th foul and Bob Knight sat him down.

Naturally, Indiana struggled to score but they held Iowa in check as well.  Finally, Graham and Moses dueled each other for 2 minutes.  Graham scored 6 points while Moses had 7 to give Iowa a 55-54 advantage at the 6:21 mark.

But Iowa went back into a drought and Indiana took the lead when Alan Henderson connected on a baseline jumper.  Graham followed with a banker after a steal by Jamal Meeks.

The Hoosiers took a 62-57 lead after making 4-of-4 free throws and Graham was at the line with 1:38 left.  But Greg went 0-for-2 and Smith made a three-pointer to cut the lead to 62-60 with 1:19 to go.

Indiana ran down the shot clock and Damon Bailey drew a hand-check foul on Moses with less than 10 seconds left on the 45-second shot clock.  But Bailey only had a 1-and-1 and missed the front end.

Iowa attacked and Smith got a good shot from the corner to tie the game.  The ball went in-and-out.  Henderson rebounded and Street fouled him with 20 seconds left.  Henderson split his free throws and Iowa had a chance to tie it with a three-pointer.

Moses and Barnes each got good looks but each bounced off the rim.  Finally, Graham grabbed a rebound and was fouled with 2.8 seconds left.  His free throw put the icing on a tough Hoosier victory as they survived their first road test to end the season.  Graham had scored all 14 of his points in the final 13 minutes to help out Cheaney, who went scoreless after picking up his 4th foul.

But it would be the last road test the Hoosiers survived.  The free throw line cost them more in a loss at Michigan and then, with the Big Ten title on the line, the Hoosiers lost a slug fest at Purdue 61-59 and finished one game behind Ohio State in the Big Ten standings.

Indiana was still named a #2 seed in the West Regional and made a deep tournament run, but they wouldn’t be the most successful Big Ten team in the tournament either.

Iowa finished 5th in the Big Ten, one game behind Michigan and Michigan State, after losing to the Spartans in the final game of the season.

They were named a #9 seed in the East Regional and beat Texas in the 1st round when Earl, Moses, and Barnes each scored over 20 points.  But for the 2nd straight season, the Hawkeyes became a 2nd round victim to Duke.

Iowa would come back the next season as a better team, but they would have to play through something most teams couldn’t and didn’t have to endure.

Indiana starters (points scored)

Calbert Cheaney (29) – Small Forward

Eric Anderson (10) – Power Forward

Alan Henderson (9) – Center

Damon Bailey (2) – Point Guard

Greg Graham (14) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Chris Reynolds (0)

Jamal Meeks (0)

Matt Nover (0)

Indiana Coach: Bob Knight

Iowa starters (points scored)

James Moses (20) – Small Forward

Chris Street (4) – Power Forward

Acie Earl (12) – Center

Kevin Smith (10) – Point Guard

Val Barnes (8) – Shooting Guard

Iowa bench (points scored)

James Winters (0)

Wade Lookingbill (2)

Jay Webb (2)

Troy Skinner (2)

Rodell Davis (0)

Iowa Coach: Tom Davis

ccheaney

Calbert Cheaney was Indiana’s big and only scorer against Iowa until Greg Graham got going in the final 12 minutes *photo courtesy of Inside the Hall

March 14, 1992 – ACC Tournament Semifinals: (#20)North Carolina Tarheels 80 vs(#18)Florida State Seminoles 76

North Carolina had lost 5 of their last 6 regular season games.  But they recovered nicely in the ACC Quarterfinals by handling Wake Forest 80-65.

Florida State had book-ended their 2nd place finish in their first ACC season by defeating North Carolina twice.  They defeated the Tarheels 110-94 on February 27 and then didn’t play for two weeks.

The Seminoles didn’t miss a beat as they defeated N.C. State in the ACC Quarterfinals, but their star Sam Cassell missed some action due to cramps.  This may have been the best indication of not playing for a while.

Cassell wouldn’t have issues with cramps against North Carolina but Florida State seemed to play with less energy overall than they usually did.

Dean Smith helped out by changing defenses constantly and North Carolina also slowed down the tempo, and Florida State in a half-court game didn’t turn out to be pretty.

They did get out on the break on their first possession as Charlie Ward blocked a Derrick Phelps shot and then Ward found Rodney Dobard on a 3-on-2 break for a slam.  But that would be about it for the 1st half.

Ward and Cassell each nailed an early three but George Lynch kept North Carolina in it early on as he scored UNC’s first 7 points.  The Tarheels went on a 6-0 run to break a 12-all tie as Florida State went scoreless for 6 minutes.

Doug Edwards brought the Seminoles back to within two points but then North Carolina made their big run.  Kevin Salvadori took advantage of his size and got two easy baskets.  Hubert Davis got a transition layup to force Pat Kennedy to use a timeout with 6 1/2 minutes left and FSU trailing 24-16.

It didn’t help as Edwards committed his 3rd foul on an illegal screen on their first possession following the timeout.  Davis later hit a three-pointer and then hit a tough runner in transition while drawing contact from Dobard.  That three-point play gave the Tarheels a 32-18 lead with 4:48 left in the half.

But then Carolina went into a drought as Davis took a rest.  Florida State got back into the game but didn’t exactly burn the nets in doing so.  Chuck Graham scored 8 of their last 13 points of the half as the Seminoles cut UNC’s lead to 37-31 at the half.

The 2nd half would be more of the same.  North Carolina raced back to a 10-point lead as Florida State could never find a rhythm.  Davis and Lynch led the way for the Tarheels, but they could not put Florida State away.

The Seminoles cut the lead to 57-52 with 7:38 left despite shooting only 37% from the field, including 4-for-23 on threes.  While North Carolina wasn’t helping themselves by only shooting 42% from the field, they would get to the line continually and end the game like they did in their win against Duke.  They scored their last 14 points from the line in the last 5 minutes.

But first, Lynch hit a turnaround jumper from the baseline and Davis hit a regular jumper from the baseline as North Carolina regained a 62-52 lead.  Their last field goal came when Phelps broke the Florida State press and found Lynch for a layup to put the Tarheels up 66-54.  Lynch would finish with a double-double.

Florida State used their last timeout (remember that) with 3:16 left when Byron Wells got a layup to cut the lead to 69-59.  Despite a lot of time left, Florida State went to the fouling game and it almost worked.

Henrik Rodl missed two free throws and Charlie Ward followed with a three to cut the lead to 71-64.  Salvadori followed by missing two free throws but Lynch tipped out his second miss and North Carolina recovered the ball.  They smartly got it to Davis, who was fouled by Bob Sura with 1:56 left.

Davis, an 84% foul shooter, made his two shots but Cassell found Edwards for a layup and a foul.  The three-point play cut the lead to 73-67.  Florida State’s press then forced a turnover for one of the few times all game as Cassell knocked away a pass to Graham.  Cassell then nailed a three from the top after a kickout by Edwards and the lead was down to 73-70 with 1:29 left.

Florida State played straight up defense this time as North Carolina ran down the shot clock.  The Seminoles forced a tough shot and a miss by Phelps.  But Davis grabbed the rebound and Cassell was called for his 5th foul.

Davis split the free throws this time.  Florida State pushed the ball but Edwards missed a three.  Lynch rebounded and Davis was fouled with 23.3 seconds left.  Davis again split the free throws.

Florida State again had to push it without any timeouts.  This time, Ward nailed a three to cut the lead to 75-73.  But then Florida State signaled for a timeout to stop the clock.  A technical was called and, with 12.4 seconds left, Davis made both free throws this time to essentially put the game away.

This wouldn’t be the last time in the next year that a team tried to call an illegal timeout against North Carolina, but the next time would be in a much bigger game.

As for now, North Carolina was in the ACC Championship and was playing Duke for the second straight season, and 4th time in 5 seasons.

Like 1991, it would be no contest.  Unlike 1991, it would be Duke that ran off an 18-8 run to finish the 1st half ahead 44-36.  It was never close in the 2nd half as the Blue Devils cruised 94-74.  Dean Smith didn’t think the Dukies could play better than they did in the regular season finale, but, according to Smith, they did.

North Carolina would be named a #4 seed in the Southeast Regional.  They would make it to the Sweet 16 for the 12th straight season and take on top-seeded Ohio State.

Florida State would be named a #3 seed in the West Regional.  They defeated Montana and Georgetown, ending Alonzo Mourning’s career, by identical scores of 78-68 before succumbing to 2nd seeded Indiana in the Regional Semifinals, 85-74.

Florida State would be back with the same roster in 1993 after finishing their first season in the ACC at 22-10.

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Henrik Rodl (0) – Small Forward

George Lynch (21) – Power Forward

Eric Montross (8) – Center

Derrick Phelps (11) – Point Guard

Hubert Davis (28) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Brian Reese (6)

Kevin Salvadori (4)

Pat Sullivan (2)

Matt Wenstrom (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

Florida State starters (points scored)

Chuck Graham (14) – Small Forward

Doug Edwards (12) – Power Forward

Rodney Dobard (7) – Center

Charlie Ward (15) – Point Guard

Sam Cassell (14) – Shooting Guard

Florida State bench (points scored)

Bob Sura (10)

Andre Reid (2)

Byron Wells (2)

Ray Donald (0)

Florida State Coach: Pat Kennedy

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

At top, Charlie Ward drives for a reverse layup against Kevin Salvadori, Hubert Davis (#40), and George Lynch (jumping).  But, at bottom, Davis got the last laugh in this game with a breakaway layup as Sam Cassell turned away *photos courtesy of Getty Images (x2)

March 19, 1992 – East Regional 1st round: (#13)LaSalle Explorers 76, (#4)Seton Hall Pirates 78

It wasn’t like the LaSalle Explorers were going to duplicate their 30-2 season in 1990, but they had slipped.

After losing Lionel Simmons, Speedy Morris’s team went 19-10 in 1991 but lost in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC for future references) tournament semifinals to eventual champion Saint Peter’s (the MAAC’s only representative in the 1991 NCAA tournament).

Then the Explorers lost their other star in guard Doug Overton to graduation.  For 1992, they went 20-10 during the regular season and beat top-seeded Manhattan 79-78 in the MAAC title game to earn the conference’s only berth in the NCAA tournament.

Other than stalwarts Simmons, Overton and Bob Johnson, Morris had everyone else still remaining from the 1990 team.  Seniors Randy Woods and Jack Hurd led the high-powered offense.  Woods averaged 27.3 points per game and Hurd 18.0.  LaSalle, on average, shot 26.9 three-point attempts per game (with Woods and Hurd launching 20).

Inside, Morris had seniors Milko Lieverst and Bron Holland.  The point position was shared by junior Jeff Neubauer and freshman Paul Burke.  Burke was two weeks removed from an appendectomy, but he was playing nonetheless.  Other reserves included Blitz Wooten, Ray Schultz and Luteke Kalombo.

Their 1st round opponent had tied for 1st in the Big East regular season but were unable to win back-to-back tournaments.  P.J. Carlesimo and the Pirates had lost Anthony Avent and Oliver Taylor from the 1991 team that went to the Elite 8 and challenged unbeaten UNLV for a half.

But returning were juniors Terry Dehere and Jerry Walker, senior Gordon Winchester, and sophomores Arturas Kornishovas and Bryan Caver.  Newcomers included 7’2″ JC transfer Luther Wright and freshmen John Leahy and Danny Hurley (brother of Duke’s Bobby Hurley).

The Pirates went 21-8 during the regular season with Dehere leading the way at 19.3 points per game.  Walker also averaged in double figures at 13.8.  Winchester, Caver, and Kornishovas each averaged between 8.6 and 8.9, and freshman Leahy was at 7.2 while shooting 57% from three-point range.

Seton Hall had finished the season by winning 10 of their last 12 games but they struggled early on against LaSalle.  Winchester was the best defender that Carlesimo had and P.J. decided to put him on Hurd instead of Woods (although Woods probably had a quickness advantage over Winchester).

Woods responded by scoring 9 quick points (including two three-pointers) as LaSalle took an 11-4 lead in the first 4 minutes and 11 seconds.  But Woods went cold and so did LaSalle’s offense.

Seton Hall cut back into the lead over the next 4 minutes and even took a 16-15 advantage when Caver nailed his second trey of the game.  But then Hurd scored 5 points and Woods 4 more as Speedy Morris’s team re-took a 24-20 lead.

Trouble looked to be brewing though as Woods picked up his 3rd foul.  But Morris kept him in the game and Woods kept scoring without committing another foul.  He finished with 21 1st half points.

But Seton Hall stayed in it despite not shooting well.  The Pirates committed their 12th turnover just before the half however, and LaSalle took advantage as Neubauer nailed a corner three at the buzzer to give the Explorers a 36-31 halftime lead.

The scoring picked up in the 2nd half as Dehere got going for the Pirates.  Meanwhile, Holland scored 6 early points for LaSalle and Hurd nailed a three as the Explorers stayed ahead.

It wasn’t until mid-way through the 2nd half that Woods got his first field goal, and it started a run as LaSalle took as much as a 60-52 lead with 8 minutes left.  But Seton Hall got right back into the game as Caver hit a runner in the lane and Leahy connected on a three.

Freshman reserves more-or-less were squaring off in the 2nd half as Leahy and Burke nearly matched each other.  Burke hit a pull-up from the baseline to stem the tide after Morris used a timeout.  Burke later connected on a three to answer Leahy’s and put LaSalle up 67-62.

Woods followed by connecting on another three and Carlesimo had to use a timeout with 4:05 left and his team down 70-62.  Dehere hit a three after the timeout and Leahy connected a possession later.  But a cut by Burke and a feed from Hurd kept LaSalle ahead 74-68.  However, Leahy hit another trey and LaSalle used another timeout with 2:27 left.

It didn’t help as LaSalle missed some tough shots on their next few possessions.  Meanwhile, Walker got two layups (one on a putback) and Dehere hit a free throw with 1:12 left to give Seton Hall a 76-74 lead.

The Explorers then ran down the clock and got a layup as Lieverst fed Hurd on a cut to tie the game.  Seton Hall did not use a timeout and ran a motion game.

Dehere passed off to Caver and then went to the left corner with under 10 seconds left.  Caver fed Dehere for a long jumper from the wing that went down.  LaSalle got a timeout with 1.8 seconds left but could not do anything with their last attempt as long full-court inbounds pass went astray.

Dehere was the hero for the moment and Seton Hall survived a scare.  The Pirates would drill Missouri 88-71 in the 2nd round before losing to top-seeded Duke (and Danny’s brother Bobby) 81-69 in the Regional Semifinals.  But Seton Hall would be back next season.

Meanwhile, LaSalle would not be back into the NCAA tournament until 2013 (when they were a cinderella that lost to another cinderella).  Speedy Morris coached through 2001, but his last winning season was a 14-13 mark in 1993.

LaSalle starters (points scored)

Jack Hurd (13) – Small Forward

Bron Holland (8) – Power Forward

Milko Lieverst (4) – Center

Jeff Neubauer (3) – Point Guard

Randy Woods (33) – Shooting Guard

LaSalle bench (points scored)

Paul Burke (12)

Blitz Wooten (1)

Ray Schultz (2)

Luteke Kalombo (0)

LaSalle Coach: Speedy Morris

Seton Hall starters (points scored)

Gordon Winchester (6) – Small Forward

Arturas Karnishovas (7) – Power Forward

Jerry Walker (12) – Center

Bryan Caver (13) – Point Guard

Terry Dehere (24) – Shooting Guard

Seton Hall bench (points scored)

John Leahy (14)

Luther Wright (2)

Darrell Mims (0)

Danny Hurley (0)

Seton Hall Coach: P.J. Carlesimo

March 20, 1992 – West Regional 1st round: (#13)Southwest Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns 87, (#4)Oklahoma Sooners 83

Now called Louisiana-Lafayette, the Ragin’ Cajuns had a checkered history since entering Division 1 in 1971.  In 1972, they were 25-4 and in 1973, they were 24-5.  Each year, they lost in the Sweet 16 but they had an All-American guard in Dwight “Bo” Lamar.

But after an NCAA investigation, Southwestern Louisiana was found guilty of over 120 violations and was given a two-year death penalty.  Since then, they had only been in the rankings for two weeks and had no NCAA tournament victories.

But Marty Fletcher, who had previously been an assistant coach at N.C. State under Norm Sloan and Jim Valvano, started turning the program back around when he took over as head coach in 1986.  By 1990, the Ragin’ Cajuns were 20-9 but 4-6 in the American South Conference.  In 1991, they were 21-10 but only 6-6 in the ASC, losing for the second straight season in the conference tournament semifinals.

For 1992, Southwest Louisiana moved to the Sun Belt Conference.  They finished at 12-4 during the conference season and beat top-seeded Louisiana Tech in the championship to earn the Sun Belt’s NCAA berth.

Fletcher did have some talent but none of it would translate to any NBA games.  The Cajuns had 4 players average in double figures but the top scorer was junior swingman Todd Hill at 14.3 points per game.  Sophomore shooting guard Byron Starks averaged over 11, along with reserve sophomores Michael Allen and Tony Moore.

Senior big man Marcus Stokes averaged 9.7 but 11.7 rebounds per game.  JC transfer and big man Carroll Boudreaux was right behind him at 9.3 but way behind Stokes at 5.8 rebounds (2nd on the team).  Junior Cedric Mackyeon was the reserve big man.  The point guard was senior Eric Mouton who averaged 5.4 assists per game while attempting just under 4 shots per game.  That team went 20-10 and made their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1983.

Oklahoma did not make the NCAA’s in 1991 despite some talent in shooting guard Brent Price and big man Jeff Webster.  Price was now a senior and the 2nd leading scorer at 18.7 points per game for Billy Tubbs.  Webster was a sophomore who averaged 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

The big factor for Oklahoma was the return of senior forward Damon Patterson, who averaged 20.6 points and 8.8 rebounds after missing the 1991 season due to academic issues.  The point guard was junior Terry Evans and the center was junior Bryan Sallier.  Sallier was out for this game though with an injury.

In his place stepped in another crop of JC transfers that Tubbs was known for grabbing.  Derrick Gallien would be a big factor against Southwest Louisiana.  He was joined by the likes of Joel Davis, Angelo Hamilton, and Bryatt Vann as incoming JC transfers.

Oklahoma went 21-8 in 1992 and finished 4th in the Big Eight with an 8-6 record.  But they went 2-5 against the 3 teams above them (Kansas, Oklahoma State, and Missouri) including an 85-67 drubbing at the hands of Kansas in the Big 8 Semifinals.

They got off to a slow start as Evans picked up two early fouls and the Ragin’ Cajuns took a 6-0 lead after two jumpers by Starks.  The lead did not relinquish quickly although Gallien kept Oklahoma in the game by drawing fouls on Boudreaux and getting to the line.

The Cajuns had their biggest lead at 22-13 when Moore came off the bench for 5 quick points.  Allen later hit a three to make it 25-17, but Evans responded with a trey and Gallien got a three-point play on a drop-step in the lane for his 11th point.  This cut the lead to 25-23 with 11:21 left in the 1st half.

The Sooners grabbed their first lead when Price made his first three-pointer of the game to make it 28-27.  The lead swung back-and-forth until Patterson got it going with 9 straight Oklahoma points.  The Sooners took their biggest lead at 41-34 with 3:57 left as Southwest Louisiana went into a 4+ minute field goal drought.

But back they came late in the half led by the bench.  Allen connected on a three, Moore on another jumper, and then Stokes fed Mackyeon at the end of the shot clock for a slam and a foul.

That three-point play cut the lead to 43-42 but Southwest seemed to miss out on their chance for a halftime lead when Stokes missed two free throws.  However, Mouton flopped and drew the 3rd foul from Evans on a charge with 6.2 seconds left.

Then Allen got the ball and pulled up from deep at the top of the key.  Allen’s long three went down at the buzzer and the Cajuns did have a halftime advantage at 45-43.

Gallien would pick up his 3rd and 4th fouls early in the 2nd half and sat for the rest of the game, which may have turned into a factor as the non-scoring Davis played in his spot down the stretch.

Boudreaux would also pick up his 3rd and 4th fouls but his replacement, Mackyeon, was much more effective.  The 2nd half was a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair for the first 11 minutes.

Then with the game tied at 64, Mackyeon tipped in a miss and Moore hit a jumper from the top.  SW Louisiana’s 4-point lead was the biggest for either team in the half.  They maintained it at 70-66 when Starks hit a jumper for his 10th point of the 2nd half and 21st of the game.

But a turnaround jumper by Webster in the post and then a pull-up by Patterson in the lane tied the game at 70 and forced Fletcher to use a timeout with 5:11 left.

The Cajuns then ran down the shot clock.  At the end, Allen crossed the ball to Moore, who connected on a three as the buzzer went off.  Moore then stole a pass and drew Price’s 4th foul.  A putback by Mackyeon gave the Cajuns a 75-70 lead.

But then Fletcher’s strategy to slow the game down backfired as Oklahoma came up with some turnovers that led to baskets.  Price would get the latest steal which was followed by two free throws to tie the game at 75 with 2:02 left.

After a timeout, Patterson fouled Hill (SW Louisiana’s leading scorer who was 2-for-10 on the day) on a jumper with 1:48 left.  Hill made both shots.  Then Mackyeon deflected a pass by Davis, who Mackyeon was backing off of because the non-scoring Davis wasn’t a threat to shoot, and Mouton came up with a steal.  Davis fouled Stokes at the other end and Marcus made both free throws with 1:22 left to give the Cajuns a 79-75 lead.

Mackyeon then rebounded an airball by Webster and drew a foul from Jeff.  It looked to be about put away as Mackyeon made both free throws for an 81-75 lead.  But Evans came right back with a three-pointer and Oklahoma used a timeout right after the basket at the 1:04 mark.

SW Louisiana then seemed to be trying their best to give the game away.  Price came up with a steal and was fouled by Mouton.  Price made the first free throw with 47.2 seconds left, but he missed the second.  However, Webster grabbed the rebound and kicked it out to Price, who missed a three that would’ve given Oklahoma the lead.

Mackyeon got the rebound this time but Price would come up with another steal later on the possession.  Price led a long pass to Hamilton who was called for traveling on his breakaway attempt to tie the game.

That would turn out to be Oklahoma’s last chance as Allen hit two free throws and the senior Mouton went 4-for-4 down the stretch to seal the deal.  The Ragin’ Cajuns had come up with the 2nd upset of the day after the previous day didn’t have one.  They would play 12th seeded New Mexico State (who had come up with the first upset of the day in beating #5 DePaul) in the 2nd round.

The run would end for the Cajuns 81-73 at the hands of the Aggies.  To this day, that remains the only NCAA tournament win for Southwest Louisiana (now Louisiana-Lafayette) that wasn’t vacated due to NCAA violations.  The Cajuns would get another two years probation for NCAA violations in 2006.

For Billy Tubbs, this would turn out to be his last NCAA tournament appearance with Oklahoma.

Southwest Louisiana starters (points scored)

Todd Hill (7) – Small Forward

Marcus Stokes (9) – Power Forward

Carroll Boudreaux (8) – Center

Eric Mouton (4) – Point Guard

Byron Starks (21) – Shooting Guard

Southwest Louisiana bench (points scored)

Tony Moore (15)

Michael Allen (13)

Cedric Mackyeon (10)

Southwest Louisiana Coach: Marty Fletcher

Oklahoma starters (points scored)

Damon Patterson (17) – Small Forward

Jeff Webster (23) – Power Forward

Derrick Gallien (13) – Center

Terry Evans (12) – Point Guard

Brent Price (12) – Shooting Guard

Oklahoma bench (points scored)

Joel Davis (4)

Angelo Hamilton (2)

Bryatt Vann (0)

Oklahoma Coach: Billy Tubbs

March 20, 1992 – Southeast Regional 1st round: (#11)Temple Owls 66, (#6)Michigan Wolverines 73

After a strong 8-3 finish to the regular season in which the Fab 5 started 9 of the last 10 games, the Michigan freshmen would now get to try their hand at the NCAA tournament.

They’d get pressure right off the bat from an experienced John Chaney coached Temple team that had gone to the Elite 8 the season before.  Some experience from that team was returning in senior forwards Mik Kilgore and Mark Strickland and junior point guard Vic Carstarphen.  Kilgore led the Owls by averaging 14.5 points per game while Strickland and Carstarphen averaged just under double figures.

But Chaney’s future NBA talent came mostly from a pair of sophomores who were academically ineligible in 1991.  Swingmen Aaron McKie and Eddie Jones made an impact by averaging in double figures in their first year of college ball.

Another future NBA player, as well as future starting point guard for Temple, was freshman Rick Brunson.  McKie, Jones, and Brunson would usher in a new Temple era after Mark Macon left his impact the previous 4 seasons.  But in this season of transition, Temple finished the regular season at 17-12 and lost to West Virginia in the Atlantic 10 Semifinals.

The Michigan freshmen would hit the tournament running as they grabbed an early 10-3 lead with Juwan Howard scoring 6 of those points inside against the under-sized Owls.

But Temple responded with an 8-0 run as Jones came off the bench to cap it with 4 points.  They went into a cold stretch halfway through the 1st half and Michigan took advantage.

Jimmy King and Jalen Rose hit threes.  Chris Webber got two layups (one on a putback).  Rose got a breakaway three-point play after Webber pushed the ball and hit Rose with a no-look pass.  A 19-5 run was capped when reserve (and non-freshman) James Voskuil nailed a three and the Wolverines led 32-18 with 6 minutes left.

However, it was the Wolverines turn to go cold and Vic Carstarphen’s turn to get hot on both ends.  Carstarphen first hit two three-pointers.  Then he drew a charge from Rose and started talking trash.  Rose would pick up a technical for an extra elbow and, since a technical counted as a personal in college, had 3 fouls.

A three-point play by McKie on a hustle putback cut the lead to 36-33 with under 2 minutes left.  But Michigan would finish on a 6-0 run as Howard scored 4 more points.  The Wolverines led 42-33 at the break.

Michigan started off strong in the 2nd half as well.  Webber hit a hook shot in the lane and Ray Jackson got two slams.  Two more threes from Carstarphen, who now had 16 points, was the only thing that kept Temple in the game as they trailed 49-39.

Temple would make their big run after they trailed 53-45.  McKie nailed a three and Strickland put back a miss.  Then, to help Temple matters, Howard picked up his 4th foul with 12:21 to go.  The game would be tied a minute later at 53.

Jones would then hit a three and Carstarphen a free throw as the Owls grabbed a 57-53 lead.  Temple was on a 12-0 run as Michigan went 5+ minutes without a point.

But Rose would show off his big shot chops just when it looked bad for Michigan.  Rose hit two pull-up bankers from the baseline to tie the game.  Strickland hit a turnaround banker in the lane with 6:55 left to give the Owls the lead again.

But it would be Temple’s turn to go into a drought following the media timeout and Howard’s re-emergence into the game.  Although Michigan wouldn’t exactly burn the nets over the final 7 minutes, they did better than Temple’s 0-for.

Webber found Howard for a hook shot in the lane and then King kicked out to Rose for a three.  Then with under 3 minutes to go, Rose fed Jackson for a layup on a cut.  The game would be officially put away with 1:45 left when Kilgore was called for an intentional foul.

Michigan would nail their free throws while Temple went 6+ minutes without scoring.  The Wolverines wouldn’t have as much of a challenge in their next game, thanks to an upset that happened following this game that I’ll write about next.  But then the Wolverines would have to deal with the top seeds of the Southeast Regional, including a conference opponent.

Temple starters (points scored)

Mik Kilgore (7) – Small Forward

Mark Strickland (10) – Power Forward

Frazier Johnson (0) – Center

Vic Carstarphen (17) – Point Guard

Aaron McKie (17) – Shooting Guard

Temple bench (points scored)

Eddie Jones (12)

Rick Brunson (1)

Johnnie Conic (2)

Temple Coach: John Chaney

Michigan starters (points scored)

Ray Jackson (6) – Small Forward

Chris Webber (11) – Power Forward

Juwan Howard (15) – Center

Jalen Rose (19) – Point Guard

Jimmy King (15) – Shooting Guard

Michigan bench (points scored)

Rob Pelinka (2)

Eric Riley (2)

James Voskuil (3)

Freddie Hunter (0)

Michigan Coach: Steve Fisher

March 20, 1992 – Southeast Regional 1st round: (#14)East Tennessee State Buccaneers 87, (#3)Arizona Wildcats 80

East Tennessee State was going to the NCAA tournament for the 4th straight season.  In 1989 as a 16th seed, they came oh so close to topping #1 Oklahoma.  They went 55-12 over the next two seasons with 5’7″ mighty mite Mr. Keith Jennings leading the way.  They were in the polls for the first (and last) time ever in 1991 and climbed to as high as 10, but they did not have an NCAA tournament win to go with it.

Although the Buccaneers lost Jennings to graduation, coach Alan LeForce and his team rebounded after a slow start in 1992.  East Tennessee State was 7-4 to start before a 16-2 finish and another Southern Conference championship.  The Bucs were coming in on an 8-game winning streak.

They were a senior dominated team who had Rodney English, Calvin Talford, Greg Dennis, and Jason Niblett (the only junior in the starting lineup) averaging double figures while Marty Story did the dirty work inside.  East Tennessee State was a perimeter team that shot a lot of threes.  This would create mismatches against big teams like Arizona.

Lute Olson and his Wildcats had not won the Pac-10 regular season title for the first time since 1987.  But Olson’s team was still a threat, especially inside with seniors Sean Rooks and Wayne Womack and junior Ed Stokes.  But the perimeter players weren’t bad either as Arizona trotted out junior forward Chris Mills, who was tied with Rooks as Arizona’s leading scorer at 16.2 points per game.  The guards were sophomore Khalid Reeves, senior Matt Othick, and freshman Damon Stoudamire.

Arizona was coming in at 24-6, but three of their losses came at the buzzer.  Darrick Martin of UCLA beat them at the buzzer in Arizona before Washington and USC (on the last game of the regular season) did the same thing.  As a result, Arizona finished behind UCLA and USC in the standings but were a dark horse pick to go all the way.

This game got off to a slow start as Arizona led 6-5 after 4 minutes.  But then it picked up as Niblett matched a three by Reeves and then Talford connected from behind the arc to give ETSU a 12-11 lead.

The Buccaneers would hit 7 threes over the first 12 minutes of the half, but Arizona’s power game was matching them and the game was tied at 26 at the 7:35 mark.  But then East Tennessee State kept making threes while Arizona went cold.

Niblett, English, and reserves Jerry Pelphrey (who’s brother, John, played at Kentucky) and Trazel Silvers each connected as ETSU went 11-for-17 on threes in the first half and finished the half with a 19-8 run.

The 2nd half didn’t get much better for Olson.  Rooks picked up his 3rd foul trying to guard ETSU’s perimeter center Greg Dennis.  He picked up his 4th foul on a charge a minute later and had to sit.

Then with 13:49 left, Talford got a layup and drew the 4th foul on Mills.  The three-point play put ETSU up 61-45 and Olson had to put Rooks back into the game to replace Mills.

Arizona didn’t let the lead grow as Womack got two three-point plays on putbacks.  But the Wildcats big run didn’t come until Dennis picked up his 4th foul with 11:45 left and ETSU up 66-53.

Mills came back in and hit a jumper after rebounding his own missed free throw.  Rooks put back a miss by Womack and Reeves hit two free throws to cut the lead to 66-60.  ETSU wasn’t helping themselves as they missed 6 straight free throws.  But Arizona could not take advantage and had their own field goal drought.

With around 5 minutes to go, Reeves fouled out for Arizona after shooting 2-for-8 from the field.  This put in Stoudamire, who would have the most success in penetrating ETSU’s defense and feeding the big men inside.  The problem with Reeves, Othick, and (to some degree) Mills was that they were taking outside shots instead of going inside to take advantage of Arizona’s power game.  Othick did not hit a field goal in his last college game.

With 3:39 left, Stoudamire fed Rooks for a layup to cut the lead to 75-70.  But Arizona’s field goals were few and too far between at this stretch.  The only points over the next 2 minutes came on 4 free throws by ETSU.

Arizona wouldn’t go quietly over the last minute as Rooks and Stoudamire connected on threes and two free throws by Stoudamire cut the lead to 83-80 with 22.9 seconds left.

But Rooks committed his 5th foul on Dennis and his career was over.  Dennis made two free throws and then rebounded an airballed three by Stoudamire to put the game away.

East Tennessee State finally had its NCAA tournament win, but the euphoria would be short-lived as they lost to Michigan 102-90 in the 2nd round.  Their next NCAA tournament appearance would come in 2003.

Arizona would come back strong the next season but, as it turned out, their loss to East Tennessee State wouldn’t be their most shocking tournament loss.

East Tennessee State starters (points scored)

Rodney English (21) – Small Forward

Marty Story (8) – Power Forward

Greg Dennis (8) – Center

Jason Niblett (13) – Point Guard

Calvin Talford (15) – Shooting Guard

East Tennessee State bench (points scored)

Trazel Silvers (12)

Jerry Pelphrey (5)

Eric Palmer (5)

Leslie Brunn (0)

East Tennessee State Coach: Alan LeForce

Arizona starters (points scored)

Chris Mills (17) – Small Forward

Wayne Womack (19) – Power Forward

Sean Rooks (17) – Center

Matt Othick (0) – Point Guard

Khalid Reeves (10) – Shooting Guard

Arizona bench (points scored)

Damon Stoudamire (15)

Ed Stokes (2)

Deron Johnson (0)

Ray Owes (0)

Arizona Coach: Lute Olson

March 21, 1992 – Midwest Regional 2nd round: (#6)Memphis State Tigers 82, (#3)Arkansas Razorbacks 80

Thanks to Larry Finch recruiting a bunch of new stars from the Memphis area, Memphis State University was on its way back.  The Tigers had not gotten out of the round of 32 since they made the Final Four in 1985.

The Tigers had missed the tournament the last two seasons but had two new stars who saw some time in the NBA.  The most famous was a Prop 48 sophomore with the nickname of Penny.  Anfernee Hardaway averaged 17.4 points per game, 7.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks and won the player of the year award in the Great Midwest Conference, which included stars for Cincinnati, who we’ll get to later.

But the player who would prove to be more effective in their matchup with Arkansas was freshman power forward David Vaughn.  Vaughn averaged 13.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.  Finch’s new stars carried Memphis State to a 21-10 record coming into this game.

One of those 21 wins came at the hand of Arkansas in a high-scoring charged-up atmosphere in Memphis.  Big men Vaughn and Anthony Douglas each had over 20 points as the Tigers won 92-88.

Vaughn and Douglas were backed up by junior Kelvin Allen and senior Tim Duncan who wasn’t the Tim Duncan, who was still in the Virgin Islands at this time.

Finch had a plethora of guards to play along with Hardaway.  There were seniors Tony Madlock and Ernest Smith, junior Billy Smith, and freshman Marcus Nolan, who would find himself with the ball and time running out just after he came into the ball game for the first time.

The Arkansas Razorbacks had won 6 in a row before being upset by Alabama in the Semifinals of the SEC tournament.  They beat Popeye Jones and Murray State, who had given top seeded Michigan State a run for their money in 1990, in the 1st round 80-69.  Senior Todd Day struggled with 9 points but fellow seniors Oliver Miller and Lee Mayberry came through.

Day seemed determined to make up for the lack of production in the 1st round game as he came out shooting and hitting.  He immediately got a wing jumper after Miller controlled the opening tip and then proceeded to knock down three triples for 13 points in the first 5 minutes and a 19-6 Arkansas lead.

This would prove to be the biggest lead for Nolan Richardson and the Razorbacks as Day went cold and Memphis State crept their way back into the game.  Hardaway would make his first field goal on a three-pointer to cut the lead to 30-26 with just over 6 minutes left.

Hardaway finished the 1st half with 7 points while Vaughn had 10.  But Memphis State mostly struggled, especially over the last few minutes, with turnovers and getting back on defense.

Usually when a team is on offense and a shot goes up, whoever is up top (usually the point guard) will immediately get back on defense to cut off any breakaways.  Memphis State was not doing this and it led to several Arkansas breaks.

The latest of which came in the last few seconds as Miller rebounded a missed free throw and threw a perfect pass to a streaking Darrell Hawkins.  His layup put Arkansas ahead 44-36 at the break.  Day had only scored 1 point since his barrage in the first 5 minutes.

Hawkins and Isaiah Morris were also helping out with the Arkansas scoring and continued to do so early in the 2nd half.  They took a 50-38 lead before Day picked up his 3rd foul and a technical.

This lapse in judgement led to a Memphis State run.  A pull-up by Ernest Smith and a slam from Vaughn forced Richardson to use a timeout with 16:11 left.  But Hardaway hit a jumper, Douglas put back a missed free throw, and then Hardaway tied it at 52 with a three-pointer.

Arkansas regained a 57-52 lead despite Day picking up his 4th foul while continuing to go scoreless.  They increased that lead to 64-56 when Mayberry, who wasn’t shooting well, hit a runner on the baseline.

But then Billy Smith, who was scoreless to this point, hit a three and then got a steal and slam.  This forced Richardson to use another timeout with 8:11 left.  A few minutes later, Richardson lost Day, who fouled out after not scoring in the 2nd half and scoring 1 point after the first 5 minutes.  The streakiness would become a microcosm of Day’s NBA career.

After Day fouled out, Vaughn hit two free throws to cut the lead to 67-65 and then Billy Smith made his second three to give Memphis State their first lead of the game.

The Tigers would increase that lead to as much as 6 but their guards were getting in foul trouble.  Billy Smith had 4 fouls, Madlock fouled out with 4:53 remaining, and, most notably, Hardaway picked up his 4th foul when Hawkins hit a high-arcing runner in the lane.  The three-point play cut the lead to 76-73 with 3:46 left.

Miller and Vaughn traded baskets before Hardaway fouled out with 1:50 remaining when he touched Morris as he grabbed an offensive rebound.  Morris split the free throws but Hawkins grabbed his second miss and Mayberry tied it at 78 with a high-arcing runner on the baseline.

Ernest Smith tried to come right back and get one in transition.  He missed but Vaughn slammed it in with 1:08 left to give Memphis State an 80-78 lead.  Vaughn would then foul Hawkins on a drive and the unheralded junior, who was leading the way for Arkansas, hit both free throws to tie it.  Finch got a timeout with 41.6 seconds left.

There was still a 6-second difference between the shot clock and game clock but Finch told his team to run it down.  As the clock neared the end, freshman Marcus Nolan had the ball and it didn’t look like the Tigers were going to get anything off.

Nolan quickly got it to Vaughn, who launched a shot at the perimeter as Miller lunged at him and the shot clock was down to 1 second.  The shot missed but Vaughn followed up and out-jumped two teammates (while Arkansas, most notably the 300 lb+ Miller, stood and watched) for a putback to give the Tigers the lead again.

Arkansas got a timeout with 5.8 seconds left.  Richardson’s answer was to give the ball to Mayberry and have him try to go full court.  Mayberry made it just over half-court before launching a long three and coming up short at the buzzer.

The young Memphis Tigers were moving on and would have some more drama in the next round.  Meanwhile, Arkansas would lose several seniors (most notably: Day, Miller, and Mayberry) that had been a part of a Final Four team in 1990.  But Richardson would reload and be back with some talent that would go to more Final Fours and bring home some hardware with an Arkansas native who was now President watching.

Memphis State starters (points scored)

Anfernee Hardaway (14) – Small Forward

David Vaughn (26) – Power Forward

Anthony Douglas (12) – Center

Tony Madlock (7) – Point Guard

Billy Smith (10) – Shooting Guard

Memphis State bench (points scored)

Ernest Smith (9)

Kelvin Allen (4)

Tim Duncan (0)

Marcus Nolan (0)

Memphis State Coach: Larry Finch

Arkansas starters (points scored)

Todd Day (14) – Small Forward

Isaiah Morris (15) – Power Forward

Oliver Miller (14) – Center

Lee Mayberry (8) – Point Guard

Robert Shepherd (5) – Shooting Guard

Arkansas bench (points scored)

Darrell Hawkins (22)

Clint McDaniel (2)

Ken Biley (0)

Roosevelt Wallace (0)

Warren Linn (0)

Davor Rimac (0)

Shawn Davis (0)

Arkansas Coach: Nolan Richardson

david-vaughn

David Vaughn’s putback sent Arkansas home and Memphis State to the Sweet 16 *photo courtesy of comc.com

March 21, 1992 – West Regional 2nd round: (#7)LSU Tigers 79, (#2)Indiana Hoosiers 89

The question for LSU for the past few seasons was whether Shaquille O’Neal was going to get enough help.  In LSU’s 1st round defeat of Brigham Young, Maurice Williamson contributed 30 points to go along with Shaq’s 26 in a 94-83 win.

But with an experienced Indiana team up next, the question would resurface.  Another question was about Dale Brown as a coach.  The last time these two teams met in the NCAA tournament was 1987.  Indiana came from behind to win 77-76 on their way to the National Championship.  Apparently after the game, Bob Knight said something along the lines of knowing his team had a chance to come from behind with Dale Brown coaching on the other side.  Ouch!

Knight vehemently retracted (or denied) his statement in a press conference the previous day.  But two coaching moves left one to question Dale Brown in what turned out to be his second-to-last NCAA tournament game.

It started out well for the Tigers as Vernel Singleton hit three jumpers from the top.  Williamson connected on two more field goals (including a three) and when Shaq got a three-point play on a finger roll, LSU led 14-7 at the 15:38 mark.

The run continued as Clarence Ceasar scored 5 points, Singleton hit another jumper, and Shaq got two slams.  LSU was 12-for-15 from the field and led 27-13 at the 11:55 mark.

But Brown took O’Neal out of the game at that point and Knight brought in senior Jamal Meeks.  The two moves seemed to coincide with the game turning.  Meeks hit a three and then drew Williamson’s 2nd foul on a charge.

Shaq came back in but Calbert Cheaney challenged him for a reverse layup.  While LSU was bound not to stay as hot as they started, their zone defense was exploited by Indiana.  Namely, the Hoosiers big men of Alan Henderson, Eric Anderson, and Matt Nover stepped out for corner jumpers that were open because the zone wasn’t going to the corner.

They battled their way back and then took the lead on a 12-0 run.  Anderson had 7 points while Nover scored 8, Henderson 10, and Cheaney 13.  Meanwhile Shaq committed two fouls and had 9 points at the half as Indiana led 45-38.

But O’Neal came out and dominated the start of the 2nd half (it also did help that he got the ball inside from teammates).  Shaq scored all 9 points in a 9-2 LSU run to tie the game at 47.

But Damon Bailey and Eric Anderson would hit three-pointers to build Indiana’s lead back up again.  Cheaney would also get into the middle of the lane and hit some high arcing shots over Shaq.

O’Neal would continue to dominate offensively to keep LSU in the game.  But a three-point play by Henderson (on a baseline jumper that was open because LSU didn’t adjust their game plan) put the Hoosiers up 69-59.

The Tigers would make their final run with over 6 minutes left.  O’Neal got a three-point play for his 28th point (and 19th of the 2nd half).  Singleton then grabbed a defensive rebound and went coast-to-coast for a layup.  Ceasar hit a long two and then two free throws from O’Neal cut the lead to 73-70.

But then Bailey hit his second big three-pointer of the game and Cheaney got a three-point play on a banker in the lane.  LSU would be finished when Singleton fouled out with 2:34 left.

O’Neal would get some garbage points and finish his college career with an impressive stat line: 36 points, 12 rebounds, 5 blocks, 12-for-12 from the free throw line (wait, what?!?! Yep, Shaq was 12-for-12 from the line).

LSU would not be the same under Dale Brown after Shaq left for the NBA.  In fact, other than a 2006 Final Four appearance (and a shellacking from UCLA), LSU basketball would not be the same after Shaq.  Even when another #1 draft choice showed up 23 years later.

Meanwhile, Indiana followed up this performance with two impressive wins.  They beat back Florida State 85-74 in the Sweet 16 after starting the 2nd half on a 10-0 run.  Then the Hoosiers avenged an opening game loss to UCLA in a big way, 106-79, to reach the 5th Final Four for Indiana under Bob Knight.

LSU starters (points scored)

Clarence Ceasar (12) – Small Forward

Vernel Singleton (14) – Power Forward

Shaquille O’Neal (36) – Center

Jamie Brandon (0) – Point Guard

Maurice Williamson (11) – Shooting Guard

LSU bench (points scored)

Justin Anderson (3)

Harold Boudreaux (3)

T.J. Pugh (0)

Mike Hansen (0)

Geert Hammink (0)

Paul Marshall (0)

John Picou (0)

David Mascia (0)

LSU Coach: Dale Brown

Indiana starters (points scored)

Calbert Cheaney (30) – Small Forward

Alan Henderson (19) – Power Forward

Matt Nover (13) – Center

Chris Reynolds (0) – Point Guard

Damon Bailey (9) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Jamal Meeks (4)

Eric Anderson (12)

Greg Graham (2)

Indiana Coach: Bob Knight

College Basketball: NCAA Playoffs: LSU Shaquille O'Neal (32) in action vs Indiana Eric Anderson (32) at BSU Pavillion. Boise, ID 3/21/1992 CREDIT: John W. McDonough (Photo by John W. McDonough /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X42640 )

College Basketball: NCAA Playoffs: LSU Shaquille O’Neal (32) in action vs Indiana Eric Anderson (32) at BSU Pavillion.
Boise, ID 3/21/1992
CREDIT: John W. McDonough (Photo by John W. McDonough /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
(Set Number: X42640 )

March 21, 1992 – Midwest Regional 2nd round: (#7)Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 79, (#2)USC Trojans 78

The USC Trojans had climbed the ladder quickly in 1992 thanks to the brilliance of Harold Miner and a slew of come from behind, close-game victories.  Now they were on the verge of their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1961.

Georgia Tech was probably still the team that people watched and said, “Who are these guys? They aren’t Kenny Anderson.”  But Tech had finished 4th in the ACC and held off Houston in the 1st round as freshman Travis Best hit a big three-pointer in the late going.

That three by Best seemed to up his confidence to the point that he scored the Yellow Jacket’s first 7 points of this game and had 10 in the first 6 minutes.

Georgia Tech grabbed an early lead as senior Jon Barry helped out by hitting two threes, as well as holding Miner down in their individual matchup.  Baby Jordan would be held without a field goal for the first 19 minutes and 50 seconds of the game.

After three straight field goals by Malcolm Mackey, the only starter remaining from the 1990 Final Four team, Georgia Tech had a 26-14 lead halfway through the 1st half.

Senior Duane Cooper led USC back into the game at that point but they would make their big run over the final 4 minutes when reserve JC transfer Dwayne Hackett went crazy and nailed 4 three-pointers.

USC finished the 1st half on a 14-3 run and took a 39-38 lead in the last 10 seconds when Miner made a wing jumper for his first field goal.  The trend didn’t look good for Bobby Cremins and Georgia Tech as the Yellow Jackets shot 60% from the field and held Miner to a 1-for-6 half but trailed 39-38 at the break.

The bad trend came to fruition over the first 10 minutes of the 2nd half.  USC’s inside game of Mark Boyd and Yamen Sanders took control against Mackey and Matt Geiger and got several points and rebounds.

Miner also woke up a bit, hitting back-to-back three-pointers to put the Trojans up 60-49 with 12:50 to go in the game.  But Tech would make a quick run over the next minute as power freshman James Forrest scored 5 points and the lead was cut to 62-56 with 11:47 left.

USC would then be held to 1 field goal over the next 9 minutes as Geiger, Mackey, and Forrest re-established control of the inside game and Barry continued to do a solid job on Miner and nail three-pointers.

Tech tied it with 6:49 left and then took a 74-69 lead with under 3 minutes left.  During that stretch, Barry hit two three-pointers, Geiger had 6 points on 3 layups and Mackey hit 4 free throws.

But just when it looked like Tech had control of the game for good, Boyd grabbed an offensive rebound and put the ball back in.  Miner followed with a runner after a spin in the lane.  Then freshman Lorenzo Orr took a feed from Cooper and hit a runner with 1:16 left to give USC a 76-74 lead.  Bobby Cremins couldn’t exactly halt the run because he only had 1 timeout left.

Tech ran down the shot clock and Best found Barry for a runner in the lane to tie the game.  But USC had the ball and were close to running it down for the final shot.

George Raveling didn’t use a timeout.  Miner was bottled up so USC decided to go with the mismatch.  With Georgia Tech’s powerful front line, USC had countered with a three-guard lineup of three of their top four scorers; Miner, Cooper, and junior Rodney Chatman.

In this particular case, Chatman was guarded by James Forrest.  So the top was cleared out and Rodney went 1-on-1 to the right baseline.  He pulled up quickly as Forrest fell down and hit a 6-footer with 2.2 seconds to play.  USC led 78-76 and it looked like Rodney Chatman would join a long list of unsung NCAA tournament heroes.

Cremins used his last timeout but Georgia Tech would still have to go the length of the court (although it would be a tenth of a second more than Duke would have later in the tournament).

What followed was a few breaks, quite frankly, without even getting to the last shot.  The first inbounds play from the full-court got the ball to Barry running towards USC’s basket from halfcourt.  Barry dribbled and happened to dribble the ball out of bounds off the foot of his defender, Chatman, with 0.8 seconds on the clock.

Without dribbling the ball off of his defender, Barry would have had to launch a prayer from half-court.  Now Georgia Tech was getting the ball at half-court but the confusion continued.  Cremins was lobbying for more time on the clock but didn’t have a timeout to further lobby his point (and, remember kids, there was no replay review at the time).

Meanwhile, George Raveling seemed to be arguing that somebody on Georgia Tech was trying to call for a timeout.  This, obviously, would have ended the game and sent USC to the Sweet 16.

Amid the confusion, the referee handed the ball to Geiger to inbound and everyone seemed dazed.  For Tech; Mackey, Barry, and Best seemed to be trying to get open while James Forrest just stood in the near corner (it really looked like Forrest could have had a backdoor lane open to the basket if he took it).  For USC, they seemed to be a bit confused of what they were doing defensively (I’m sure if Raveling could have done it over or had more time, he may have used a timeout to set his defense).

But, anyway, Geiger looked for the open man for 4 seconds before whipping a pass to Forrest.  James turned and launched a three that perfectly swished in as Al McGuire went crazy and Georgia Tech ran off with a stunning win (and James Forrest joined a long list of unsung NCAA tournament heroes).

USC would compete in the NIT in 1993 and ’94 under Raveling.  But George retired from coaching following a car accident that happened a month before the 1995 season.  Raveling eventually recovered and has served in many basketball roles since his retirement.  USC has had brief moments of basketball prominence since 1992, but ’92 was the last season that they had a single-digit number of losses and had a single-digit ranking in the polls.

Georgia Tech would move on against another cinderella team in Memphis State.

Georgia Tech starters (points scored)

James Forrest (15) – Small Forward

Malcolm Mackey (16) – Power Forward

Matt Geiger (12) – Center

Travis Best (16) – Point Guard

Jon Barry (20) – Shooting Guard

Georgia Tech bench (points scored)

Bryan Hill (0)

Ivano Newbill (0)

Fred Vinson (0)

Georgia Tech Coach: Bobby Cremins

USC starters (points scored)

Harold Miner (18) – Small Forward

Mark Boyd (12) – Power Forward

Yamen Sanders (14) – Center

Duane Cooper (11) – Point Guard

Phil Glenn (0) – Shooting Guard

USC bench (points scored)

Dwayne Hackett (12)

Rodney Chatman (6)

Lorenzo Orr (5)

USC Coach: George Raveling

March 22, 1992 – Midwest Regional 2nd round: (#9)UTEP Miners 66, (#1)Kansas Jayhawks 60

The UTEP Miners won one of the most important NCAA Championships in 1966.  In the title game, Don Haskins trotted out five black starters.  They beat Kentucky’s all-white team to win the National Championship.

Haskins was still coaching the team 26 years later, but the Miners had not reached the Sweet 16 since the year after their National title in 1967.

But UTEP had a group of seniors who had been to the NCAA tournament before.  Their only player who would go on to play an NBA game was 6’8″ power man Marlon Maxey.  Maxey and shot-blocker David Van Dyke formed a dominant inside tandem and they were the top two scorers for Haskins.

The guard combination also averaged double figures but they were small as hell.  There was 5’11” senior Prince Stewart and 5’8″ JC transfer Eddie Rivera.  Rivera had come in and become a clutch player for the Miners in 1992.  He had hit the big shot in their 1st round win against Evansville.

Other key contributors were two 6’5″ swingmen in junior Johnny Melvin and sophomore Ralph Davis.  Both would have big games against Kansas, who wasn’t as athletic at the forward position.

The backup big man was Roy Howard and the backup guard was Gym Bice (apparently, Bice intentionally changed his name to “Gym,” pronounced the same as “Jim,” to flaunt his work ethic as a basketball player).  Both Howard and Bice would pass away from separate accidents in later years.

Not much was expected of UTEP in 1992, but they finished the regular season at 25-6 and 2nd in the WAC at 12-4.  They were this close to winning their conference tournament, but lost to top-seeded BYU 73-71 when Kevin Nixon made a prayer from over half-court.

Still the Miners were invited to the Big Dance and unlike BYU, who lost to LSU, UTEP won their 1st round game.

But now they ran into a 27-4 fast-paced Kansas team who had run Howard off the floor 100-67 in their 1st round game.  Kansas ran through the Big 12 in impressive fashion and looked like a much better team than they were when they went to the final game in 1991.

But Haskins had a strategy and it involved his guards slowing the tempo and taking time off the shot clock (not to the extent of Princeton, but still).  It worked early on despite Kansas grabbing a lead.

Van Dyke picked up 2 very early fouls but stayed in.  Rex Walters hit two early threes for Kansas and Roy Williams’ team went on an 8-0 run to take a 16-8 lead with 11:54 left.

But then the Jayhawks went cold and UTEP hit the offensive boards.  Four putbacks helped the Miners tie the game at 18 with 7:10 left despite Maxey picking up his 3rd foul.  Van Dyke would follow with his 3rd foul not too far later.

Kansas regained a lead but fell into a turnover lull that prevented them from increasing it.  UTEP would big up some big momentum just before the half as Howard, who also had 3 fouls, grabbed a defensive rebound when Walters shot the ball too early on the final possession.

Howard then threw a long outlet to Stewart who finished off a 2-on-1 breakaway just before the buzzer to tie the game at 27.  With the game as low as 27 at halftime, Haskins strategy was paying off.

The teams continued to trade barbs early in the 2nd half.  Maxie and Melvin were doing the job for UTEP while freshman Greg Ostertag made a big contribution for the Jayhawks.

Kansas went on a 5-0 run to take a 43-40 lead midway through the 2nd half.  They then tried to break open the game with a 1-3-1 trap.  UTEP was able to control the ball but didn’t seem like they were going anywhere for the duration of the 45-second shot clock.

But at the end, Rivera (who was struggling in shooting the ball but controlling the tempo nicely) penetrated and found Van Dyke for a baseline jumper as the shot clock expired.  This would prove to be a big hoop and UTEP re-took the lead when Stewart nailed a three with under 8 minutes to go.  Rivera followed with a steal and found Davis for a breakaway slam as the crowd was starting to get into it on UTEP’s side.

But with 5 1/2 to go, Van Dyke picked up his 4th and 5th fouls on consecutive possessions.  Alonzo Jamison tied it at 47 with two free throws.

However, things would start to unravel for Kansas as UTEP hit the offensive boards again.  Davis out-hustled Jamison to put back a Stewart airball and draw Jamison’s 4th foul.  Davis missed the free throw but Melvin grabbed the offensive rebound.

With the Miners up 51-47, they ran off more clock before Stewart missed a driving shot.  But Davis grabbed the rebound again and put it back in for his 6th consecutive point on UTEP’s 6-0 run.

Stewart then got a steal before Kansas could get it across half-court.  The clock was run down again before Rivera hit a pull-up from the top for his only field goal of the game.  UTEP now led 55-47 with 3:19 left.

But Kansas didn’t give in as the scoring picked up over the last 3 minutes.  Adonis Jordan found Jamison for a layup.  Walters then came up with a steal and Steve Woodberry nailed a three with 2:34 left.  Kansas was back to within 55-52.

Melvin followed by driving past Jamison for a layup as he charged into Richard Scott.  The basket counted for Melvin and Scott missed the back end of the ensuing 1-and-1.

But Kansas kept it to within 58-55 with just over a minute left and all they needed was a stop.  They didn’t get it.  UTEP ran down the shot clock and Melvin hit a driving double-pump scoop as time expired.

Jamison hit two free throws with 37.5 seconds left.  Stewart threw a long, dangerous pass to Davis at the other side of the court and Davis found Maxey for a slam.  Walters was then fouled by Rivera.  He split the free throws but Scott put back his miss to cut it to 62-60 with 16.3 seconds left.

But Johnny Melvin again wouldn’t give the Jayhawks a chance to tie it.  He was fouled by Scott with 13 seconds left and made both free throws.  Stewart then knocked the ball away and the Miners added icing when Davis nailed a jumper at the buzzer.

For UTEP, this would be their biggest NCAA tournament win since their National Championship and it would also be their last.  The Miners lost a close one to Cincinnati in the Sweet 16, 69-67.  Haskins retired in 1999 without another tournament appearance.  He passed away in 2008.

Kansas would lick their wounds and come back for a long tournament run in 1993.  But this wasn’t the last time that the Jayhawks lost before they should have in an NCAA tournament.

UTEP starters (points scored)

Johnny Melvin (18) – Small Forward

Marlon Maxey (14) – Power Forward

David Van Dyke (6) – Center

Eddie Rivera (2) – Point Guard

Prince Stewart (8) – Shooting Guard

UTEP bench (points scored)

Ralph Davis (12)

Roy Howard (6)

Gym Bice (0)

UTEP Coach: Don Haskins

Kansas starters (points scored)

Alonzo Jamison (10) – Small Forward

Richard Scott (12) – Power Forward

Eric Pauley (6) – Center

Adonis Jordan (2) – Point Guard

Rex Walters (14) – Shooting Guard

Kansas bench (points scored)

Steve Woodberry (6)

Ben Davis (4)

Greg Ostertag (6)

Patrick Richey (0)

Malcolm Nash (0)

David Johanning (0)

Kansas Coach: Roy Williams

melvin-utep

Johnny Melvin celebrates UTEP’s upset of Kansas in 1992 *photo courtesy of UTEP Athletics

March 22, 1992 – East Regional 2nd round: (#6)Syracuse Orangemen 71, (#3)UMass Minutemen 77 (OT)

The UMass Minutemen were making their 2nd ever NCAA tournament appearance and first in 30 years.  They also had a young coach who has become pretty well known by the name of John Calipari.

In 1992, Calipari was 32 years old and in his 4th season coaching UMass.  His team was starting to look like the mini-version of his Kentucky teams that basketball fans have come to know and love (is “love” the right word here? I’ll let you decide).

Of the players who regularly played for Calipari in 1992, nobody was taller than 6’7″.  But all were athletic and some had big bodies.  They pressed and played man-to-man all over the floor.  They hit the boards and threw down alley-oops.  The only main difference was Calipari’s 1992 UMass team only had one NBA player in freshman Lou Roe.

Calipari was getting under-appreciated talent and getting the best out of them.  Roe joined a starting lineup of all upper-classmen (Calipari with upper-classmen?!?! Yep, it was a different time).

The seniors included the guard combination of Anton Brown and leading scorer Jim McCoy (who looked like NBA talent until you realized he was 6’4″ 180lbs and didn’t hit a three-pointer all year).  The other was an athletic big body forward in Will Herndon.  Herndon was 6’3″ but a solid 220 and did the opening jump ball.

The juniors were Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Harper Williams.  Williams was their “big man” at 6’7″ 230 lbs but attacked the boards ferociously along with Herndon.  The 5th starter was Tony Barbee, who was UMass’s outside shooter long with Brown.  Each starter averaged in double figures with Roe contributing 7.8 off the bench.  Roe would be known on the team for playing better in TV games, like this one.

UMass went through the season at 28-4 and won the Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament title (in a conference that included Temple – UMass/Temple became a pretty nice rivalry that peaked in 1994).  But the Minutemen had played only 2 ranked teams all year (getting drilled by Kentucky and beating Oklahoma, both were ranked #14 at the time of the matchups), so it didn’t come without controversy that UMass was named a #3 seed.

The tournament and the fact that UMass was playing an opponent in close proximity that had become a basketball power in Syracuse gave Calipari and the Minutemen a chance to show how good they were.  It also helped that the game was in Worcester (not far at all from Amherst, Mass).

Syracuse had been free-falling before winning the Big East tournament.  They won a typical slow-down game with Princeton in the 1st round 51-43 despite leading scorer Dave Johnson going 1-for-10.  Freshman Lawrence Moten picked it up with 23 points.  But Johnson would need a better effort against a UMass team that drilled Fordham in the 1st round.

The Minutemen started off fast as McCoy got a driving basket off the opening tip.  But UMass missed its next 7 shots and Syracuse took an 8-4 lead despite Johnson picking up 2 fouls.  Johnson stayed in the game as Jim Boeheim switched to a 2-3 zone defense (the defense his team would live by in the 21st century).

UMass got it together and took a 17-12 lead when Roe came off the bench and scored 6 points.  But then the Minutemen went into a 6 minute drought and Johnson led Syracuse on a 9-0 run.  Despite the aggressive defense from Herndon, Johnson used his 6’7″ height to go down low and score 16 1st half points, which was more than making up for his 1st round performance.

But McCoy’s 10 points in the 1st half kept UMass within 32-30 at halftime.  The Minutemen were fortunate to be that close as they weren’t shooting well, especially close in.  Barbee had picked up his 3rd foul just before the half as well.

Over the first 3 minutes of the 2nd half, it continued even as the scoring picked up.  UMass took a 37-36 lead on a three-pointer by Brown.  But Moten came right back with a three that kicked off a 9-0 Syracuse run which wasn’t helped by Roe picking up his 3rd foul.

But back came UMass as the crowd got into it.  McCoy hit a pull-up from the wing, Harper Williams followed up two misses for a score, Roe hit a driving banker, and McCoy hit on a double-pump.  The Minutemen tied it at 50 when Barbee hit a wing jumper and then took the lead when Brown made a runner in transition.

They increased that lead to 56-50 when McCoy found Herndon on a 3-on-1 break for a layup, UMass was on a 19-5 run.  But Syracuse got back into it and cut the lead to 58-57 when reserve Michael Edwards nailed a three (this would be Edwards’ only points of the game, but he did out-score the man playing in front of him in Adrian Autry.. Autry finished with 10 rebounds and 10 assists, but was 0-for-11 from the field with 1 point).

The Minutemen held the lead but could not exactly put the game away at the free throw line.  A driving lefty layup by Moten cut the lead to 64-62 with 1:24 left.  UMass then ran down the shot clock with Barbee missing from the top at the buzzer.  Moten grabbed the rebound initially but Herndon stole it from him.

Now in UMass’s effort to avoid being fouled, McCoy slipped and was called for traveling with 36 seconds left.  After a timeout, Syracuse went to the weapon that had been working all day.  They got the ball to Johnson down low and he nailed a banker over Roe (who actually matched him in height) to tie the game at 64.  UMass used a timeout with 12.1 seconds left.

Calipari went to McCoy at the wing.  The senior drove for a shot but Autry made yet another non-scoring contribution as he blocked the shot and the buzzer sounded.  The heated game was headed to overtime.

In the extra period, UMass scored the first 4 points.  Syracuse then tied it at 68 before Autry fouled McCoy with 2:33 left.  McCoy hit two free throws and, after Moten missed a pull-up jumper, Brown found Barbee for a baseline drive and UMass led 72-68 with 1:30 left.

After a timeout, the Orangemen again went down low to Johnson.  He connected on a turnaround and drew a foul from Harper Williams.  The three-point play cut the lead to 72-71 with 1:15 to play.

UMass ran down the 45-second shot clock but didn’t look like they had anything going.  Syracuse knocked the ball out of bounds with 36 seconds left (and 6 on the shot clock if you’re doing the math).  But even on the inbounds, Herndon didn’t have any urgency as he took the inbounds and got the ball to Harper Williams up top.

Williams finally saw the clock and launched his 6th three-point attempt of the season.  Wouldn’t you know it, it swished in and UMass led 75-71 as the crowd and the UMass bench had an “Holy sh-t, WTF!?!” reaction.  It was Williams’ second make of a three that season and the last of his college career.

Syracuse must’ve been shocked too as they didn’t call a timeout and Moten tried to answer with a trey and came up with an airball.  The Orangemen then lacked the necessary urgency as they let 15 seconds go off the clock before committing a foul with 4.8 seconds left.  McCoy’s two free throws sealed the game.

UMass had its big win for its respectability and the legend of Calipari (that didn’t involve NCAA infractions) had begun.  The Minutemen would now take their hand at another basketball power in the Sweet 16 that Calipari would get to know in 17 years.

Syracuse starters (points scored)

Mike Hopkins (8) – Small Forward

Dave Johnson (26) – Power Forward

Conrad McRae (14) – Center

Adrian Autry (1) – Point Guard

Lawrence Moten (19) – Shooting Guard

Syracuse bench (points scored)

Michael Edwards (3)

Dave Siock (0)

Scott McCorkle (0)

Syracuse Coach: Jim Boeheim

UMass starters (points scored)

Tony Barbee (8) – Small Forward

Will Herndon (7) – Power Forward

Harper Williams (18) – Center

Anton Brown (10) – Point Guard

Jim McCoy (24) – Shooting Guard

UMass bench (points scored)

Lou Roe (10)

Mike Williams (0)

Kennard Robinson (0)

Jerome Malloy (0)

UMass Coach: John Calipari

March 26, 1992 – East Regional Semifinals: (#3)UMass Minutemen 77, (#2)Kentucky Wildcats 87

Despite being the #2 and #3 seed in the region, UMass and Kentucky were not supposed to be in this position, as one would say.  With its win over Syracuse, UMass became the second team in the country, behind Duke, to get to 30 wins.  UMass’s underdog status was explained in the latest game post.

Kentucky had been put on probation and nearly got the death penalty in 1989.  But Wildcat fans could probably thank the hire of the former Knicks coach for their quick return.  Bronx product Jamal Mashburn wanted to play for Rick Pitino, and hadn’t even visited Kentucky before making his choice.

Now a sophomore, Mashburn averaged 21.3 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game to lead Kentucky in both categories by a wide margin.  Mashburn was, quite simply, the superstar who was playing with a bunch of role players.  But the Wildcats featured great ball movement and a full-court press that created extra baskets.  They also had some fine shooting.

Pitino had a group of seniors known as the Unforgettables who stuck with the program as it went through probation.  Forwards John Pelphrey and Deron Feldhaus and guards Sean Woods and Richie Farmer.  Pelphrey and Feldhaus averaged double figures while Pelphrey and point guard Woods racked up the assists.

Others from the group were younger guys as Pitino was starting to land some stars, although he’d get bigger stars as the decade went on.  There was junior guard and JC transfer Dale Brown, sophomore center Gimel Martinez and sophomore point guard transfer from Missouri Travis Ford, and there were freshmen big men Andre Riddick and Aminu Timberlake (who would become famous in the next Kentucky game for, let’s just say, being at the right place at the right time).

This group had been ranked all season but never topped its pre-season #4 ranking.  Kentucky was blown out by Pitt in its second game of the season at Rupp Arena.  They followed by winning 13 of their next 14 games with only a few of those games being close (a 2-point win vs. Indiana and a 1-point loss to Georgia Tech).  Then in a stretch at the end of January, Kentucky lost 3 of 4 games before finishing the regular season at an 8-1 clip and winning the SEC tournament.

They were 26-6 entering the NCAA tournament and blew out Old Dominion before having to hold off Iowa State 106-98.  One of Kentucky’s early season wins came against UMass as the Minutemen had no answer for Jamal Mashburn.

They still didn’t have an answer for Mashburn in the 1st half or for Kentucky in general.  The Wildcats hit their first 8 field goal attempts thanks to their passing and cutting that put Calipari’s team in a daze.

UMass’s offense was also in a daze as they missed some good shots but also took very quick ones.  The analysis from Len Elmore was that the Minutemen seemed to be letting the moment be bigger than they were, like they were happy and shocked to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

Mashburn had 8 early points, all from the paint or from the line, before nailing a three to put Kentucky up 17-10.  Feldhaus followed with a three as Kentucky was 8-for-8 from the field.  But even after their first miss, which was tipped in by Feldhaus, Kentucky continued to increase its lead.  It reached 28-11 after a driving banker by Woods.

Pelphrey later nailed a three with just over 8 minutes to go to make the score 35-16.  Pelphrey then found Mashburn for a layup to give the Wildcats their biggest lead at 37-16.  UMass followed with a 6-2 run before Pelphrey answered a Minutemen basket by driving for a three-point play.  After a rebound-slam by freshman Riddick, Kentucky led 44-24.

But UMass had already started playing out of their doldrums and, at this point, Calipari switched to the zone as UMass’s man-to-man couldn’t handle Kentucky.  It worked as UMass made a run.

Four free throws by Lou Roe started the rally.  Then Will Herndon stole a pass, Anton Brown pushed the ball and found Tony Barbee for a three-pointer as the crowd, which seemed mostly pro-UMass in the close proximity of Philadelphia, started to come alive.  Two free throws by Brown cut the lead to 44-33 with 3:20 left.

Mashburn answered with two baskets to bring his 1st half total to 17 points, but the Minutemen were in a stretch where they made 8 consecutive field goals and cut the lead to 50-39 just before halftime.

With 1.4 seconds left in the half, UMass inbounded the ball on the other side of the court from Kentucky’s basket.  They didn’t go long as Herndon casually tossed it in to Jim McCoy about 70 feet away from the basket.  McCoy threw up a prayer and it was answered with a swish.

UMass had cut Kentucky’s lead to 50-42 at halftime and had oodles of momentum.

It did carry over as UMass cut the lead to 52-48 despite Harper Williams picking up his 3rd foul.  Pelphrey also committed his 3rd foul after hitting a jumper to make it 54-48.  But Mashburn followed with a putback and Farmer drove down the lane for a lefty layup and the lead was back to 10.

But UMass answered quickly as Barbee hit a scoop shot after the Minutemen broke Kentucky’s press and drew a foul.  He missed the free throw but Williams put back the miss to cut it to 58-52.

Although Kentucky’s lead would eventually be cut to 60-58, UMass fell into a rash of turnovers from rushed plays that prevented them from tying and perhaps taking the lead in the game.  The Wildcats eventually regained a 66-58 advantage.

But back came UMass over the next 4 minutes as they cut the lead to 68-65 when Brown threw an alley-oop to Herndon in transition.  The lead would be cut back to 70-68 when Brown nailed a three with just over 6 minutes left.  With UMass perhaps on the verge of finally getting over the hump, the game turned quickly.

Feldhaus missed a three and the ball kicked back to the foul line where the point guards Anton Brown and Sean Woods went for it.  Woods got a hand on it from behind Brown and tapped it back to Pelphrey.  As Kentucky reset it offense, a whistle blew and a referee, Lenny Wirtz, could be seen running towards the UMass bench.

He had called a technical against Calipari at the 5:47 mark.  The initial explanation was that Calipari left the coaching box and the announcers thought he was shouting at his team to continue their stellar defense.  From that sense, it seemed like a horrible technical to call on the coach.  This was especially considering that Rick Pitino was notorious for leaving the coach’s box and was called out after the previous tournament game by Iowa State veteran coach Johnny Orr.

While replay showed Calipari did leave the box and had his arms up, another perspective eventually came out that Wirtz, the veteran ACC official who was 3 years from retirement, had grown sick of Calipari essentally arguing every call against his team and thought Calipari coming out of the box with his arms up meant he was vehemently saying that Woods had gone over the back of Brown to tap back the last rebound.

Either way, the technical was called.  Farmer hit the two free throws and Kentucky got the ball back.  Pelphrey then found a cutting Feldhaus for a layup.  Then after a UMass turnover, the two seniors did it again as Pelphrey found a cutting Feldhaus for a layup.  The lead was up to 76-68 with 3:51 left and UMass was essentially done.

Kentucky would coast from there and the attention stayed at the technical foul.  But Calipari eventually would learn how to “work the officials” without going too far.  The young coach who was getting some media attention for the first time had evidently gone too far in the eyes of Wirtz, who had been officiating games since before Calipari was born according to a postgame article.

Calipari and Pitino would meet in two Final Four games over the next 20 years, the first meeting would come 4 years later as the two coaches were still coaching the same two teams.  But before that, both teams (and coaches) would have to go through some NCAA tournament disappointments/heartbreaks, starting with Pitino two days later.

Massachusetts starters (points scored)

Tony Barbee (10) – Small Forward

Will Herndon (15) – Power Forward

Harper Williams (8) – Center

Anton Brown (14) – Point Guard

Jim McCoy (21) – Shooting Guard

Massachusetts bench (points scored)

Lou Roe (9)

Jerome Malloy (0)

Derek Kellogg (0)

Kennard Robinson (0)

Massachusetts Coach: John Calipari

Kentucky starters (points scored)

John Pelphrey (18) – Small Forward

Jamal Mashburn (30) – Power Forward

Gimel Martinez (0) – Center

Sean Woods (12) – Point Guard

Richie Farmer (7) – Shooting Guard

Kentucky bench (points scored)

Deron Feldhaus (11)

Dale Brown (5)

Travis Ford (0)

Junior Braddy (2)

Aminu Timberlake (0)

Andre Riddick (2)

Kentucky Coach: Rick Pitino

calipari-pitino

John Calipari (left) and Rick Pitino would be noted by 1992 media of how similar they were *photo courtesy of Deadspin

March 27, 1992 – Southeast Regional Semifinal: (#4)North Carolina Tarheels 73, (#1)Ohio State Buckeyes 80

Ohio State had snuck past Indiana for the Big Ten title and a #1 seed.  They seemed to solidify that ranking by blasting Mississippi Valley State and UConn by wide margins in the 1st two rounds.  But a troubling trend was developing in the performance of Jim Jackson.

Jackson’s stats looked good in Ohio State’s 78-55 win over UConn: 23 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 7-for-10 from the foul line, until you looked at field goals and realized that Jackson had missed his first 8 shot attempts and finished 7-for-26 from the field.

Jackson’s slow start had also put the Buckeyes down 28-16 early to UConn before rallying to take a 31-30 halftime lead and blow away the Huskies in the 2nd half.  But even so, Ohio State was a #1 seed in 1991 who was blown away by St. John’s in the Sweet 16.  The Buckeyes had yet to perform up to their capability for a consistent period of time in the NCAA tournament the last two years, perhaps a win vs. tradition-rich North Carolina would go a long way.

North Carolina survived a 1st round scare against Miami (Ohio) 68-63.  Eric Montross was dominant with 22 points on 11-for-13 shooting and George Lynch came up with a huge late steal to put it away.  But Hubert Davis, who had come into the NCAA tournament scalding hot, shot 2-for-17 from the field.  He improved to 6-for-15 in UNC’s 2nd round victory over Alabama in which defense dominated for the Tar Heels.  But Davis was struggling and Dean Smith had to play Derrick Phelps 79 of 80 minutes in the 1st two games with no discernible backup point guard.

With all of that being said, these were still two of the best teams in the country and the game played like it.  Jackson got involved early with a feed to Lawrence Funderburke for a slam and then a steal and slam to get on the board before missing 8 shots.

But Jackson later picked up his 2nd foul and was not as aggressive, although Randy Ayers kept him in the game.  Davis hit two jumpers early and North Carolina went on a 12-2 run to take a 22-13 lead as Ohio State missed 8 straight shots.

But a 9-point margin would be the biggest lead the Tarheels would get as Funderburke and reserve guard Jamie Skelton kept Ohio State within reach.  Funderburke proved to be a big factor in the 1st half in his matchup against Montross.  He had 12 points including 4 slams, most of which were set up by Mark Baker who was consistently beating his counterpart, a tired Derrick Phelps, off the dribble.

But other than Funderburke, Baker, and two field goals by Skelton, the other Buckeyes did not show up in the 1st half.  Montross and Davis each had 10 points to lead North Carolina to a 37-32 halftime lead.  But the margin could have been bigger as Carolina uncharacteristically rushed shots and possessions in certain stages.

Montross started the 2nd half with a hook shot to give the Tarheels a 7-point lead.  But then Jimmy Jackson got going.  He put back a miss by Jamaal Brown, got a slam after a steal by Brown, and then nailed a corner three to tie the game at 39.  Jackson, who was notably a 2nd half player, had gotten Ohio State going as well.

Chris Jent hit two three-pointers and followed up another miss and a reverse slam by Funderburke after a save by Brown and a feed by Baker put Ohio State up 50-44.

But Montross and Davis led the Tarheels back and North Carolina took a 55-54 lead halfway through the 2nd half.  The key almost at this point would be whether either could rest key players.  Ayers took out Funderburke for a few minutes and rested Jent, Baker, and Brown for longer stretches while Skelton, Alex Davis, and future NFL tight end Rickey Dudley filled in admirably.

Meanwhile, Dean Smith tried to give Montross some rest but could only take him out intermittently and went with a big lineup of 7-footers Montross and Kevin Salvadori, the lineup that gave Duke problems.  But the physical presence of Funderburke and especially Dudley, despite both being undersized, countered this lineup.  Also, Smith was not able to give any rest to Derrick Phelps again.

Skelton would prove to be an even bigger factor than he was in the 1st half.  He hit one jumper and then found Funderburke for a turnaround jumper in the lane.  Then Skelton nailed a three to give Ohio State a 63-61 lead.  Davis hit a pull-up from the wing to tie it at 63 with 7:15 left.

But then a tired North Carolina team went cold and Ohio State spread the ball out to make them play defense.  Jackson went 1-on-1 twice for baskets to put Ohio State up 67-63.  But even when the Buckeyes didn’t score, they hustled for offensive rebounds and took a lot of time off the clock.

Funderburke put back a miss by Skelton to bring his total to 21 points in what was his best game since joining Ohio State mid-season.  But Skelton, who stayed in the game even as starters returned, hit the two biggest shots.  A three-pointer from the top with just over 2 minutes left and then a driving layup with 1:19 to go to put Ohio State up 74-69.

The Tarheels scrambled to try and stay in the game, but their final dagger would be a missed driving layup by Phelps that would have cut the lead to 75-73 with 30 seconds left.  Ohio State sealed the game from the line and now had a chance to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1968.

North Carolina would add a little bit more depth in 1993 but were still very dependent on Phelps and would prove to be a very different team when he did not play.

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Brian Reese (8) – Small Forward

George Lynch (9) – Power Forward

Eric Montross (21) – Center

Derrick Phelps (6) – Point Guard

Hubert Davis (21) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Henrik Rodl (4)

Kevin Salvadori (2)

Pat Sullivan (2)

Donald Williams (0)

Matt Wenstrom (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

Ohio State starters (points scored)

Jim Jackson (18) – Small Forward

Chris Jent (15) – Power Forward

Lawrence Funderburke (21) – Center

Mark Baker (6) – Point Guard

Jamaal Brown (6) – Shooting Guard

Ohio State bench (points scored)

Jamie Skelton (14)

Rickey Dudley (0)

Alex Davis (0)

Bill Robinson (0)

Ohio State Coach: Randy Ayers

March 27, 1992 – Midwest Regional Semifinal: (#7)Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 79, (#6)Memphis State Tigers 83 (OT)

In a cinderella Midwest Regional, the top 3 seeds were out in the 2nd round.  Georgia Tech and Memphis State had gotten here by virtues of game-winners by James Forrest and David Vaughn.

It set up a matchup between Tech’s powerful frontcourt and slower tempo and Memphis’ three-guard lineup, led by Penny Hardaway, and up-tempo game.

The 1st half was at Memphis State’s tempo, but it didn’t necessarily reflect in the score.  The Tigers did take a 9-2 lead when Hardaway nailed a transition three, Anthony Douglas hit a turnaround banker from the post, Hardaway found Billy Smith on a 2-on-1 break for a slam, and Vaughn got a layup off an inbounds play.

But Tech came back to take an 11-10 lead with a 7-0 run capped by a Jon Barry three-pointer.  The teams went back-and-forth from there in what was a high-scoring 1st half.  In a 13-minute stretch which went until the final 2 minutes of the 1st half, Tech’s biggest lead was 4 while Memphis State’s was 5.

Barry led the way for Bobby Cremins with 13 points to that point and Travis Best had 8.  Anthony Douglas led the scoring for Larry Finch’s team with 10 points while Vaughn and Hardaway each had 6, but Penny’s only field goal was the first one of the game (see how unpredictable the game was; Memphis State’s frontcourt was out-playing Georgia Tech’s but the Yellow Jackets’ backcourt was out-playing Memphis State’s).

With under 2 minutes to go, a layup by Malcolm Mackey tied the game at 36.  Then Barry drove on Hardaway and drew a foul.  Penny thought it should have been a charge and batted the ball in frustration.  This resulted in a technical foul being called on Penny.

Barry went on to hit 4 free throws (2 on the technical and 2 on the regular foul) and then connected on a running jumper from the baseline just before the halftime buzzer to put Tech up 42-36 and give Barry 19 points.

This momentum carried over into the 2nd half as Barry hit another three and then got the bounce on a runner.  Despite Matt Geiger picking up his 3rd foul, the Yellow Jackets took a 50-40 lead after a slam by Forrest.

While Georgia Tech was doing this, they were slowing the tempo as well to combat the fact that Cremins did not have a deep bench.  But then Memphis State’s defense stepped up and, led by Hardaway, the Tigers went on a 14-4 run.

Penny had 10 of those 14 points, including the last 8, and hit the tying three-pointer with just under 13 minutes to go in regulation.  Georgia Tech answered with a 6-0 run as Forrest hit a lefty runner from the baseline and later got a steal and layup.

Over the next several minutes, one basket was scored by each team and Geiger had picked up his 4th foul.  With 6 minutes left, Finch took a timeout with his team trailing 63-56.

Following the timeout, Hardaway nailed a three and the scoring picked up again over the final 6 minutes.  Best found Forrest for a baseline jumper.  Billy Smith nailed a pull-up three.  Barry hit a pull-up in the lane for his 28th point.  Reserve Kelvin Allen put back a miss by Penny and Billy Smith followed with two free throws.

Memphis State had cut the lead to 67-66 with 3:21 left.  But they went cold again while Mackey got credit for a basket after Vaughn was called for goaltending and Best found Forrest for a slam.

The Tigers used another timeout with 2:01 left, trailing 71-66.  After Tim Duncan (as noted in the previous Memphis State game, not that Tim Duncan) grabbed an offensive rebound, Hardaway nailed a three to cut the lead to 71-69.

Georgia Tech ran down the shot clock but Best threw the ball away with 1:09 to go.  Following a Tigers miss and another Tech turnover, Hardaway drove and drew a foul from Mackey with 38.7 seconds left.

At this point in his career, Penny was a 65% free throw shooter and finished 7-for-12 on this day.  In this instance, Hardaway missed the first and made the second free throw.  Tech still led 71-70.

Barry then inbounded the ball and went long to Geiger.  Geiger scored on a breakaway and drew a foul.  The three-point play put Georgia Tech up 74-70 with 36.7 seconds left and seemed to be the nail in the coffin.  But the same Georgia Tech team had made an improbable comeback against USC, so it wasn’t over folks!

Douglas put back a missed three by Hardaway and Memphis State used their last timeout with 20.8 seconds left.  Duncan then fouled Geiger 3 seconds later and forced Matt into a 1-and-1.  This time, Geiger missed the front end and Hardaway rebounded.

Like few other than Penny could, Hardaway immediately pushed the ball and Memphis State had a transition opportunity.  Penny found Billy Smith, who pulled up and nailed a banker with 9.3 seconds left to tie the game.  Georgia Tech used its last timeout.

Having to inbound it full-court without timeouts.  Geiger had to get the ball to Mackey in the back-court.  Mackey was immediately trapped and held the ball for 5 seconds trying to find somebody.  Best finally got it but had to throw up a hook shot prayer from the other side of mid-court that went over the backboard.  The game was headed into overtime.

Interestingly on the replay, while Mackey was trapped and Best and Barry were moving to try and get the ball.  Forrest was standing at the same spot that he was standing in the final seconds against USC not moving and waiting for the ball.  Lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same spot.

In overtime, Tech took a 77-74 lead.  But Geiger fouled out with 2:05 left and Memphis State snapped out of its drought again, this time from the free throw line.  Douglas made two after Geiger’s foul and senior Tony Madlock made two more to give the Tigers the lead.

Then after Hardaway blocked a shot by Mackey, Madlock was fouled again with 32.3 seconds left (near the end of the shot clock).  He made two more to make it 80-77 Memphis State.

Georgia Tech got the ball to Barry, who was long on a tying three-point attempt.  Douglas rebounded the miss and got it to Madlock, who was fouled by Barry with 16.9 seconds left.

Madlock made his 5th and 6th consecutive free throw but Tech would get one last chance perhaps when Best drove and scored and then fouled Hardaway (the 65% foul shooter) with 8.3 seconds left.

But after missing the first, Penny made the second free throw to put the game away.  Memphis State had survived another thriller and was going to the Regional Finals to take on a familiar opponent.

Memphis State and Cincinnati were both in the Great Midwest Conference.  But the Bearcats had held the edge so far as they had beaten the Tigers three times so far.  The 4th time would most definitely not be the charm for Memphis State as Cincinnati ran away with it 88-57.

As it turned out, Cincinnati (who was coming from the cinderella regional) would not be the most cinderella team in the Final Four.

Georgia Tech starters (points scored)

James Forrest (16) – Small Forward

Malcolm Mackey (13) – Power Forward

Matt Geiger (5) – Center

Travis Best (13) – Point Guard

Jon Barry (29) – Shooting Guard

Georgia Tech bench (points scored)

Bryan Hill (3)

Ivano Newbill (0)

Fred Vinson (0)

Georgia Tech Coach: Bobby Cremins

Memphis State starters (points scored)

Anfernee Hardaway (24) – Small Forward

David Vaughn (8) – Power Forward

Anthony Douglas (16) – Center

Tony Madlock (10) – Point Guard

Billy Smith (15) – Shooting Guard

Memphis State bench (points scored)

Ernest Smith (8)

Kelvin Allen (2)

Tim Duncan (0)

Marcus Nolan (0)

Memphis State Coach: Larry Finch

penny_hardaway

Penny Hardaway burst onto the scene in 1992 as Memphis State made its tournament run *photo courtesy of Operation Sports

March 27, 1992 – Southeast Regional Semifinals: (#6)Michigan Wolverines 75, (#2)Oklahoma State Cowboys 72

Oklahoma State is Eddie Sutton’s alma mater and both were seeking some form of redemption when Sutton took over as coach in 1990.

Oklahoma State had been known as Oklahoma A&M when they dominated the college scene in the 1940’s.  They were also known as the Aggies at that time when they were coached by Hank Iba, one of the all-time greats.  They also had the game’s first big man in Bob Kurland.  Iba and Kurland led the Aggies to the NCAA Championships in 1945 & ’46 and each won two Olympic Gold Medals in separate Olympics.

Iba made two more Final Four appearances but in his last 16 seasons at the helm of Oklahoma State (Oklahoma A&M became Oklahoma State in 1957, when Eddie Sutton was playing for the Cowboys), they made two NCAA tournament appearances.  And since Iba retired in 1970, the only NCAA tournament appearance for the Cowboys was a 1st round exit in 1983.

So Oklahoma State was looking to regain some of their success from the past and they looked to Sutton, who’s name wasn’t highly thought of in 1990.

Sutton had been highly successful at the helm of Creighton, Arkansas (with a Final Four appearance in 1978), and in his first few seasons at Kentucky.  But his Kentucky tenure ended abruptly, while coaching his son Sean, when the Wildcats were placed on probation after outstanding NCAA violations.  Kentucky went on 3 years probation, which was ending in 1992, and Sutton was out of a job.

But Sutton did come into Oklahoma State looking at some talent who had finished above .500 the last two seasons.  Future (and in some cases, troubled) NBA talent did grace the court in Stillwater.  John Starks and Richard Dumas had been there before Sutton.  But the talent Sutton got was 6’5″ 250 lb “big man” Byron Houston and speedy guard Corey Williams.

Houston was reminding people of Charles Barkley with his height, weight, and low-post power game.  Houston had averaged a double-double the last two seasons and was a co-Big 8 Player of the Year in 1991.  His numbers fell off a bit as a senior in 1992, but Houston still averaged 20.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and was an All-American.  But his final game may have been his worst.

With Houston, Williams, and the transferred Sean Sutton leading the way, Oklahoma State finished 24-8 in 1991, tied for 1st in the Big 8, and a #3 seed in the East Regional.  They made it to the Sweet 16 but were upset by 10th seeded Temple.  Houston finished 6-for-18 in the 72-63 overtime loss.

The Cowboys came back in 1992 with seniors Houston, Williams, Sutton, and Darwyn Alexander combining with freshman big man Bryant “Big Country” Reeves.  They won their first 20 games and climbed as high as #2 in the nation (and may have been #1 had they not suffered their first loss at Nebraska the same day Duke suffered their first loss at North Carolina).

But then Oklahoma State lost 6 of their final 10 games of the regular season and fell to 2nd in the Big 8 at 8-6.  They then lost to Kansas in the Big 8 title game but were still named a #2 seed in the Southeast Regional.  They looked impressive in their first two games against Georgia Southern and Tulane.  In fact, in their 87-71 2nd round win against Tulane, the Cowboys set an NCAA tournament field goal percentage record by going 28-for-35 from the field (80%).

Also noteworthy was the fact that Sutton (both of them) were returning to Kentucky as the Southeast Regional was to be played at Rupp Arena.

But now they were taking on a team that was athletically superior, especially in the front court.  Bryant Reeves had trouble early on as Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, and Eric Riley ran circles around him.  Houston would have even more trouble against the taller Michigan front line.

Webber had a career-high 30 points and Howard added 23 in the Fab Five’s 2nd round victory over East Tennessee State.  They got off to a great start against Oklahoma State led by their front-court mismatches.  The Wolverines had a 27-17 lead with just over 8 minutes to go in the 1st half.

But Oklahoma State’s back-court switched the momentum by going with a full-court pressure and spreading the floor on offense.  Sutton hit a three and had a driving three-point play.  Williams followed with a three and later hit another trey while drawing a foul.  The four-point play put Oklahoma State up 30-29.

Furthermore, Sutton took out a scoreless Reeves and put in freshman Randy Davis (who would transfer following the season after becoming academically ineligible) who had much more quickness.  Davis’ contribution was drawing fouls #2 and 3 on Webber on consecutive possessions and hitting 3 of 4 free throws.

Oklahoma State led 35-33 at the half as Williams had 13 points and Sutton 10.  But Houston was held to 1-for-8 from the field.

However, things still looked good for Oklahoma State when Sutton got a steal early in the 2nd half and had a breakaway.  Webber chased him down and Sutton drew a cheap 4th foul on Webber with 17:54 to go.  Webber had to sit in favor of Eric Riley with plenty of time left.

With that change, Reeves and Houston both scored inside.  But Riley kept Michigan in it with a putback.  However, with 15:41 to go, Howard picked up his 4th foul and Steve Fisher had to go with senior and former walk-on Freddie Hunter.

Hunter played solid minutes and, most notably, drew Randy Davis’ 4th foul as well as continued to shut Houston down.  Reeves got going down low but Michigan’s back-court of Jalen Rose and Jimmy King, as well as Riley, kept Michigan ahead.

King had a driving three-point play to give Michigan a 43-41 lead and Rose scored 8 consecutive points.  Meanwhile, Riley proved to be a big factor down low.  But a three-pointer by Sutton cut the Wolverines lead to 55-54.

By this time, Webber was back in.  But with 7:13 left, Reeves drove on Chris and drew Webber’s 5th foul.  With Webber out, Reeves hit a free throw to tie the game at 55 with his 7th 2nd half point.

But the Cowboys could not take further advantage and Michigan ended up taking a 63-57 lead with 3:56 left when Rose made a three-pointer after a feed from Hunter.

Riley later tipped in a miss and hit two free throws as Riley finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds and Rose had 25 and 11.  Oklahoma State had 2 field goals in a 6 minute stretch and the game looked over when Michigan led 70-63 with 56 seconds left.

But 12 seconds later, Williams nailed a three and the Cowboys took their last timeout.  Then after Rose split a pair of free throws, Williams made another three to cut the lead to 71-69.  Williams fouled Howard with 23.8 seconds to go and the 67% foul shooter made both free throws.

But the Cowboys weren’t done as Sutton nailed a running, leaning three-pointer (that would have been called a two-pointer had replay been around at the time) to cut the lead to 73-72.  Oklahoma State almost stole the inbounds as Darwyn Alexander deflected the pass out of bounds with 8.7 seconds left.  Fisher took a timeout to calm his freshmen.

Rose was fouled with 7.3 seconds left and split the free throws.  Michigan used a timeout to set its defense and then Sutton took it the length of the court.  Sutton tried to find Williams on a backdoor cut but Jimmy King deflected it to Howard and Williams fouled him with 1 second left.

Howard put in the clinching free throw and the Fab Five was moving on to take on Big Ten rival (especially in football) Ohio State, who had beaten them twice this season.

Riley’s bench production more than matched Jamie Skelton’s for Ohio State against North Carolina.  Neither bench would be much of a factor in the Regional Final.

Sutton would continue to rebuild the program at Oklahoma State as Big Country led them for the next 3 seasons.  But Byron Houston had finished his college career with a pathetic 2-for-14 from the field.  Houston’s NBA career would prove to be just as bad but his personal shortcomings proved to be worse.

Michigan starters (points scored)

Ray Jackson (3) – Small Forward

Chris Webber (4) – Power Forward

Juwan Howard (13) – Center

Jalen Rose (25) – Point Guard

Jimmy King (15) – Shooting Guard

Michigan bench (points scored)

Eric Riley (15)

Freddie Hunter (0)

Rob Pelinka (0)

Michael Talley (0)

James Voskuil (0)

Michigan Coach: Steve Fisher

Oklahoma State starters (points scored)

Darwyn Alexander (13) – Small Forward

Byron Houston (4) – Power Forward

Bryant Reeves (9) – Center

Sean Sutton (18) – Point Guard

Corey Williams (25) – Shooting Guard

Oklahoma State bench (points scored)

Randy Davis (3)

Cornell Hatcher (0)

Milton Brown (0)

Terry Collins (0)

Oklahoma State Coach: Eddie Sutton

March 28, 1992 – East Regional Final: (#2)Kentucky Wildcats 103, (#1)Duke Blue Devils 104 (OT)

This is the game!  It is still referred to as the Greatest Game in NCAA history and is kept alive through any NCAA tournament history program/highlight and through I Hate Christian Laettner.

In a documentary chronicling the game, it was said that this may be the closest to the Rocky story (the fact that this game was played at the Spectrum in Philadelphia with the Rocky statue outside may have helped this premise).

Kentucky was once a power but now was searching for their self-respect after their scandal of 1989.  Now they were on the precipice of the Final Four and taking on the new basketball power.

Duke was looking to go to their 5th straight Final Four and 6th in 7 years.  They were also looking to become the first team since UCLA in 1973 to win back-to-back NCAA championships.

With all of that as the main backdrop, the game got underway.  John Pelphrey nailed two three-pointers and Mashburn hit another for Kentucky.  But three layups/dunks by Laettner on assists by Bobby Hurley cut Kentucky’s early lead to 11-10.  Pelphrey also picked up 2 fouls in that stretch.

But Kentucky’s press, which they needed to be effective, started forcing some turnovers and Kentucky went on a 9-2 run to take a 20-12 after a three-pointer by Gimel Martinez.

But Duke stormed back into it after they got out on the break.  They went on an 8-0 run that culminated in a three-point play by Grant Hill off an assist from Hurley in transition.

But despite the Blue Devils eventually taking the lead, they did commit a high amount of turnovers against the Wildcats pressure defense.

This allowed Kentucky to stay in the game despite Pelphrey picking up his 3rd foul not too far after coming back into the game.  Duke’s biggest lead was 7 points as Grant Hill had 11 off the bench and Laettner 10.

Duke led 50-45 at the half.  Mashburn had a quiet 11 points in the 1st half as Kentucky wasn’t looking to him as much as they were against UMass (and Laettner was a better matchup against Mashburn than anyone UMass had).  Pelphrey was effective when he was in the game with 9 points.

However, the Wildcats started slowly in the 2nd half.  Martinez and Pelphrey each picked up their 4th fouls.  Duke ran off to a 64-55 lead with 11:53 left.  Not too far after, Martinez fouled out.  This left freshman Aminu Timberlake with an extended chance against Laettner (remember that).

A three-pointer by Hurley gave Duke their biggest lead at 67-55 and Kentucky used a timeout.

Rick Pitino was able to get his team a bucket as Sean Woods fed Dale Brown on a backdoor cut.  Then they set up the press and Deron Feldhaus got a steal.  Woods then found Mashburn for a three from the top and Coach K had to use a timeout with 10:25 to go.

It didn’t help immediately as Kentucky got another steal and Mashburn nailed another three to cut the lead to 67-63.

Hurley would respond with his 4th three-pointer of the game but Mashburn came right back with a turnaround from the baseline.  As that shot was going in, Laettner (who was in rebounding position) was shoved out of bounds by Feldhaus with Timberlake standing right there.

Laettner mentioned in the 30 for 30 linked at the top of this post that he took note of that push and thought it was Timberlake.

Meanwhile, Hurley would get his 10th assist of the game when he found Thomas Hill for a slam and a foul in transition.  But Hurley also had 8 turnovers.  Dale Brown responded with a three for Kentucky to cut the lead to 73-68.

Then Laettner posted up against Timberlake, backed in and drew a foul while Timberlake fell to the ground.  While he was on the ground, Laettner held a foot over him and then stepped on Timberlake’s stomach intentionally.

Laettner just received a technical but could very well have been thrown out of the game, which obviously would have become a factor.

But Laettner stayed in and his two free throws with 7:40 left gave Duke a 79-69 lead.  But then Mashburn found Brown on a cut for a big three-point play.

Kentucky’s press then became effective again as Duke kept committing turnovers (they had 19 at this point of the game).  Finally, a three-pointer by Woods tied the game at 81 with 5 1/2 minutes remaining.

From there, the teams went back-and-forth but Kentucky didn’t grab a lead until Brown nailed a three to put them up 89-87.  Brian Davis came right back with a breakaway layup for Duke.

The Blue Devils regained the lead at 93-91 when Thomas Hill hit a runner at the end of the shot clock with 1:03 to go.  But Feldhaus recovered a Grant Hill block on Pelphrey and put in a banker to tie the game again.

Duke did not take a timeout and ran down the clock.  Hurley then went 1-on-1 but missed a running jumper.  Kentucky rebounded and got a timeout with 0.8 seconds left (although they probably would have been given more time had replay existed then).  But the Wildcats couldn’t get a shot off as their inbounds pass was deflected and the game was headed to overtime.

Pephrey nailed a three to give Kentucky the early lead.  Then Davis committed his 5th foul on an offensive foul.  Kentucky ran down the shot clock but Thomas Hill came up with a steal.

Duke ran the ball down in transition and gave Hurley a look from three-point range.  He missed but Grant Hill grabbed the rebound and gave Hurley another chance from the top.  This time Bobby made it to tie the game at 96.

Pelphrey then drove against Grant Hill and made a banker in between Hill and Laettner.  Laettner tied the game with two free throws after Mashburn committed his 4th foul.

Laettner then rebounded a miss by Woods and Duke took a timeout with 54.5 seconds left.  They ran down the shot clock and then, off an out of bounds play, Laettner made a tough turnaround double-pump banker from the post with Mashburn in his face.  Duke led 100-98.

Kentucky didn’t use a timeout and were able to get Mashburn open off a pick-and-roll.  Pelphrey fed Mashburn for a layup and a foul.  The three-point play gave Kentucky a 101-100 lead with 19.6 seconds left.

Duke didn’t use a timeout and Kentucky went to their press.  Hurley fed the ball to Laettner on a long pass.  Laettner drove against Mashburn and Jamal reached in and was called for a foul with 14.1 seconds to go.  It was Mashburn’s 5th.

Laettner hit two free throws and Kentucky ran the ball down and called a timeout with 7.8 seconds left.  With Mashburn out of the game, the ball would be in the hands of the Unforgettables.

Sean Woods took the inbounds pass and Pelphrey set a screen which knocked off Hurley.  Woods drove as Laettner switched on to him.  As Feldhaus stood wide open at the baseline, Woods and Laettner got into the air and Woods launched a runner with Laettner’s arms out-stretched.  It banked in with 2.1 seconds left and looked like it would be one of the most unbelievable game-winners in NCAA tournament history.

Duke used a timeout but had to go the full-length of the floor.  The previous time they had to do this against Wake Forest, Grant Hill threw a long curveball to Christian Laettner and Laettner had to gather himself and stepped out of bounds.

But this time, Kentucky didn’t play a man on the inbounds passer as Pitino decided to put Pelphrey as free safety.

So Grant Hill took his time and threw the long pass to Laettner.  Laettner caught it at the top of the key with Feldhaus and Pelphrey right there.  Christian dribbled and turned to his right.  He then launched just before the buzzer sounded and it swished in.

The Duke team celebrated while Thomas Hill had his famous reaction of putting his hands on his head and crying (an amazing reaction for it being so immediate).

Duke had won the most incredible game in NCAA history and now were on to the Final Four.  Christian Laettner also had a memorable game without counting the game-winner.  Laettner was 10-for-10 from the field and 10-f0r-10 from the line.  Hard to get more perfect than perfect.  The perfect game.

For Kentucky, this game was credited with helping get them back on the map.  Kentucky has, for the most part, been at the top of its perch since that game and has had Duke right up there with them.

A rivalry had started because of this incredible game from Philadelphia in 1992.

Kentucky starters (points scored)

John Pelphrey (16) – Small Forward

Jamal Mashburn (28) – Power Forward

Gimel Martinez (5) – Center

Sean Woods (21) – Point Guard

Richie Farmer (9) – Shooting Guard

Kentucky bench (points scored)

Dale Brown (18)

Deron Feldhaus (5)

Travis Ford (0)

Aminu Timberlake (1)

Andre Riddick (0)

Junior Braddy (0)

Kentucky Coach: Rick Pitino

Duke starters (points scored)

Brian Davis (13) – Small Forward

Antonio Lang (4) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (31) – Center

Bobby Hurley (22) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (19) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Grant Hill (11)

Cherokee Parks (4)

Marty Clark (0)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Christian Laettner’s game-winner from close-up, far-away, and reaction *photos courtesy of NY Daily News, Big Blue History, and Masslive

March 29, 1992 – Southeast Regional Final: (#6)Michigan Wolverines 75, (#1)Ohio State Buckeyes 71 (OT)

Compared to the Duke/Kentucky classic, this may have not seemed as much.  But the only thing different between this game and the all-time great game from the previous night was that Duke/Kentucky was higher scoring.

Michigan and Ohio State are perhaps the greatest football rivalry and seemingly, every few seasons, one team has a chance to deny the other a chance for the National Championship.  Now for the first time in basketball, one rival could eliminate the other.

Michigan’s Fab Five were already icons, but their run was adding to the aura.  They had beaten Temple and East Tennessee State before upsetting Oklahoma State despite Chris Webber fouling out.  Non-freshman Eric Riley had come off the bench to lead the Wolverines, along with Jalen Rose, to its victory against Oklahoma State.

Meanwhile, Ohio State was the top seed, but it wasn’t until the 2nd half against North Carolina that their All-American Jim Jackson got it going.  Still, the Buckeyes needed a career-game from Lawrence Funderburke and a big spark off the bench from Jamie Skelton to hold off the Tar Heels in the Sweet 16.

Now Ohio State was on the verge of their first Final Four in 24 years.  They had beaten Michigan twice that season as their experience had taken over at various points.  In the first matchup in Ann Arbor, the Buckeyes held Michigan to 13 1st half points and no three-pointers in a 68-58 victory.  In the 2nd matchup in Columbus, Ohio State finished the game on a 23-10 run in the last 5 minutes to win 77-66.

But now Michigan, who had said Ohio State was a better team than Indiana, had more experience and was eager for a third chance at the Buckeyes.

The game started out quickly as Jim Jackson, normally a 2nd half player, hit two buckets to match Michigan baskets.  Webber connected on a turnaround banker from the post and two free throws but Jamaal Brown hit a three and Mark Baker drove for a bucket.  After 4 minutes, Ohio State led 9-8.

The game got chippy as the scoring continued.  Juwan Howard and Chris Jent bumped each other near the sideline and Jent even head-butted Howard (it seemed like the referees missed that since each player received a technical).

Bill Robinson came off the Ohio State bench and was a factor with 4 points and several hustle plays.  But Michigan was able to stay within 17-16 at the 11:57 mark.  Each team had also committed 6 early turnovers and Webber was proving to be a much bigger factor then he was against Oklahoma State as he drew 2 quick fouls on Funderburke before the under 8 minute timeout.

After that break, Jim Jackson drove baseline for his 6th point and a 24-22 Ohio State lead.  That would be the Buckeyes last lead for awhile.  Howard lobbed to Webber for a slam and his 8th point.  Rose hit a pull-up from the foul line and Howard hit a hook in the lane as Michigan took a 28-24 lead into the last media timeout of the 1st half.

The Wolverines built that into a 37-31 halftime lead after Howard hit a turnaround from the post in the last 5 seconds.

Webber led the Wolverines with 10 points while Howard and Rose each had 8.  Jim Jackson led Ohio State with 9 while Jamaal Brown had 7.

Brown and Jent opened the 2nd half with threes to tie the game at 37.  Then after two free throws by Webber, Funderburke recovered a loose ball and slammed one down to tie the game again.

But Funderburke was not nearly the factor that he had been against North Carolina as Webber was dominating the paint.  C-Webb put back a miss by Howard and later had a thunderous slam after a lob pass by Jimmy King.

Then after Howard got a layup after a touch-pass by Webber on the break, Randy Ayers had to use a timeout about 4 minutes into the 2nd half with his team trailing 45-39.

Michigan would take as much as an 8-point lead but Ohio State stayed in it as the game started to turn into a low-scoring crawl that many of the football games between these programs were known for.

The Wolverines maintained a 57-50 lead when King tipped in a miss by Pelinka with under 10 minutes to go.  But then, like the 2nd matchup, Ohio State’s defense and experience took over.

Although an 11-0 run over the period of 6 1/2 minutes qualifies as a spurt, it didn’t feel like one as much as just a normal flow in which Michigan went cold.

Jim Jackson started it with a spin and a runner in the lane.  Then Skelton hit a running jumper as he and Alex Davis were relieving the starting Buckeye guards at that moment.  Davis tied it at 57 at the 7:46 mark with 3 free throws after Rose fouled him on a shot behind the three-point line.

There were only 4 points scored in the next 3 1/2 minutes, all by Ohio State.  Funderburke split Howard and Webber in the post for a slam and then Jimmy Jackson hit a runner in the lane at the end of the shot clock.

With Michigan desperately needing some answers, Rose (who had emerged as their leader of sorts) hit a pull-up in the lane to end Michigan’s drought.  Then after Webber blocked a driving layup by Baker, King lobbed to C-Webb for a slam to tie the game at 61 with under 2 minutes to go.

Ohio State ran down the 45-second shot clock and Jamaal Brown hit a pull-up from the top as the clock expired after pump-faking Rose.  Ohio State led 63-61 and Michigan took a timeout with 44.2 seconds left.

The Wolverines went back to Rose.  He drove and missed but Webber tipped it in with 30 seconds left.  Ohio State didn’t use a timeout and got it to Jim Jackson at the top of the key to go 1-on-1.

As Jackson drove, Michigan collapsed and deflected his pass to Funderburke.  Jent picked up the ball and had a seemingly easy shot from the baseline.  But he rushed it and missed.  Michigan back-tapped the ball out as the buzzer sounded and everyone tried to catch their breath before the overtime.

The first few minutes of overtime were as much of a defensive battle as the 2nd half.  Over the first two minutes, each team had a basket.  Rose had hit a pull-up from the top at the end of the shot clock.  Jackson had gotten a breakaway slam after Funderburke deflected a pass to Jent.

But then Rose found Jimmy King for a three from the top to put Michigan up 68-65.  Rose followed with two free throws at the 2-minute mark for a five-point lead.

Ohio State got a basket from Jackson at the 1:43 mark to cut the lead to 70-67.  The Buckeyes set up the press after a timeout but Howard would break it and get the ball to Webber, who was way outside guarded by Jent.

After Webber passed the ball to Ray Jackson, he cut to the basket as Jent fell asleep for a second.  Webber got a return pass, scored, and was fouled by a beaten Jent with 1:23 left.  That three-point play would turn out to be the difference as Michigan grabbed a 6-point lead.

Two free throws from Rose would eventually make it 75-67.  Ohio State scrambled back and had a chance to cut the lead to 75-72 with a timeout remaining and the clock running out.  But Jent, who was not having the best ending to the game, missed the three (karma for the head-butt?).  Brown followed up his miss with 3 seconds remaining but it was too-little too-late as it remained a two-possession game.

The Fab Five were on to the Final Four as their magical run continued.  But at Ohio State, the Jim Jackson era was over.  And the program would not recover under Randy Ayers.  The Buckeyes next Tournament appearance would be under Jim O’Brien (and more than a cloud of scrutiny) in 1999.

Michigan would now play another cinderella in Cincinnati, while powerhouses Indiana and Duke matched up in the other National Semifinal.

Michigan starters (points scored)

Ray Jackson (5) – Small Forward

Chris Webber (23) – Power Forward

Juwan Howard (10) – Center

Jalen Rose (20) – Point Guard

Jimmy King (15) – Shooting Guard

Michigan bench (points scored)

Eric Riley (2)

Rob Pelinka (0)

James Voskuil (0)

Freddie Hunter (0)

Michigan Coach: Steve Fisher

Ohio State starters (points scored)

Jim Jackson (20) – Small Forward

Chris Jent (6) – Power Forward

Lawrence Funderburke (12) – Center

Mark Baker (8) – Point Guard

Jamaal Brown (16) – Shooting Guard

Ohio State bench (points scored)

Bill Robinson (4)

Jamie Skelton (2)

Alex Davis (3)

Rickey Dudley (0)

Ohio State Coach: Randy Ayers

jim-jackson-vs-michigan

The Jim Jackson era at Ohio State ended with a Regional Final loss to Jimmy King (background) and rival Michigan *photo courtesy of Getty Images

April 4, 1992 – National Semifinal: (#6)Michigan Wolverines 76, (#4)Cincinnati Bearcats 72

For a six-year stretch from 1958-63, the Cincinnati Bearcats were a basketball powerhouse.

They made 5 consecutive Final Fours, 3 consecutive National Championship Games, and won 2 consecutive National titles.  They also had one of the greatest players ever in Oscar Robertson.

But, other than a brief revival in the mid-70’s with Gale Catlett (who would go on to coach West Virginia for 24 seasons) as head coach, the Bearcats basketball program had been pretty dormant. They went 14 consecutive seasons without making the NCAA tournament.

In 1989, Cincinnati hired Bob Huggins as coach.  Huggins had had a successful run at nearby Akron.  Huggins decided he needed to quickly rebuild the program and started going after Junior College talent.  By 1992, he had 10 transfer, including 8 from the JuCo ranks.

But he had talent.  Herb Jones and Corie Blount were JuCo players of the year in 1990 and ’91, respectively.  Now they were in Cincinnati’s frontcourt along with Terry Nelson.

Jones, a senior, was the leading scorer at 18.2 points per game.  Blount, a junior, averaged 8.4 and 6.3 rebounds, 2nd on the team behind Jones.  Nelson was an undersized physical presence and not much of a scorer.

Huggins’ talented back court included one of his former Akron players in senior Anthony Buford.  The other was, along with Blount, Cincinnati’s only NBA talent.  That was junior Nick Van Exel.

Van Exel gained the starting spot at the point midway through the season and Cincinnati was 18-1 since.  He averaged 12 points per game during the season but stepped it up in the Great Midwest Conference Tournament and NCAA Tournament, averaging 15.7 while shooting 67.4% from the field.

The bench consisted of former starting point guard Allen Jackson, swingman Erik Martin, and former starting center Jeff Scott.  Jackson and Scott were replaced by Nelson and Van Exel after Cincinnati lost to DePaul to fall to 12-3.

They went 18-1 since and beat Penny Hardaway and Memphis State 4 times during that stretch, including an 88-57 drubbing in the Regional Finals.

But Cincinnati and its JuCo stars were still an unknown commodity and had nowhere near garnered the attention of the Fab Five of Michigan.  Michigan had openly talked about wanting to play Duke in the Title Game and, as Anthony Buford had said during the week, it looked like Michigan might be overlooking the 29-4 Bearcats who were a #4 seed in the Midwest Regional.

There wasn’t a shortage of trash-talking throughout the week and even into the pregame.  But the talking ceased a bit and each team got off to a good start.

Chris Webber hit two hooks from down low and Jimmy King hit two threes while Nick Van Exel picked up where he left off with 7 quick points.  Through the first 4 minutes, Michigan was 5-for-5 from the field and Cincinnati was 4-for-5.

The Bearcats were, however, forcing some turnovers due to their press, which they could unleash at any point (whereas most teams can only set up their press after a made basket or on an out-of-bounds play).

The pressure defense turned around the game after Cincinnati’s big men, Blount and Scott, got into foul trouble and Michigan went on a 9-0 run to take a 25-18 lead halfway through the 1st half.

Michigan had the inside advantage but could not take control because the Wolverine guards didn’t have the time to get it inside.  A three-pointer by Buford started an 11-2 run to give the Bearcats a 29-27 lead.

Erik Martin proved to be a spark off the bench despite being under-sized.  He scored 4 points and got some key defensive boards.

Van Exel also found people for scores off steals and penetration as Cincinnati took a 41-34 lead while Michigan went on a 4 1/2 minute field goal drought.

But Eric Riley followed up two misses to break the drought and Webber got a slam off a long pass from Jalen Rose in the final seconds of the half to cut Cincinnati’s lead to 41-38 at the break.

The Bearcats continued to hold the lead into the 2nd half as their press kept Michigan off-balance.  The main problem for the Wolverines was that they were not able to get the ball to either Jalen Rose at the top or inside to Webber or Howard.

Cincinnati took as much as a 50-43 lead before King nailed his 3rd three-pointer of the game and Howard followed up a miss.

The game became a defensive struggle over the next several minutes as Cincinnati kept forcing turnovers and disrupting Michigan’s offense, but the Bearcats could not buy a basket at the other end.  The game would be tied at 56 with 7:45 left.

Michigan then took its first lead in a while when Howard recovered a loose ball and scored on a layup.  The Wolverines then got a spark from a player who was a starter before the Fab Five took hold.

Forward James Voskuil injected his team with some life and scored one of his two big baskets, a driving banker while drawing a foul, down the stretch to give Michigan a 61-58 lead.  This three-point play also drew the 4th foul from Van Exel.

Rose then pushed the ball and found Webber for a slam to put Michigan up 63-58 at the 5:06 mark.  That lead would be increased to 7 before Herb Jones nailed a three and then Buford got a steal and breakaway.  Michigan used a timeout at the 3:29 mark with their lead cut to 65-63.

But on the Wolverines next possession, Howard found Voskuil wide open at the top of the key.  The junior raised up and nailed a three to give the Maize in Blue a 68-63 advantage.

This looked to be a dagger as Cincinnati stayed in it but could not make some key shots/plays.  Michigan took a 74-67 lead when Webber found King for a slam on the break and that looked to be the game.

But Michigan had to survive one more scare.  With 14.1 seconds left, Van Exel hit a double-pump three-pointer from the top (it should have been a two-pointer but there was no replay in 1992) and drew a foul from Voskuil.

The three-pointer cut the lead to 76-72 with Van Exel on the line.  Van Exel missed the free throw to cap his 5-for-10 performance from the line (each team missed 7 free throws but Michigan attempted 8 more).  But the ball was back-tapped to Van Exel and Cincinnati still had a timeout to use.

Van Exel pulled up for three that if it went in, Cincinnati could have used their last timeout to stop the clock trailing by one point.  However, Nick the quick could not nail the three and Michigan held on.

The Fab Five were now one game away from an improbable dream (at least for five freshmen in 1992).

Cincinnati’s run to the Final Four started a run of excellence (even if it wasn’t close to the best run program) for the Bearcats under Bob Huggins over the next decade.

Michigan starters (points scored)

Ray Jackson (3) – Small Forward

Chris Webber (16) – Power Forward

Juwan Howard (12) – Center

Jalen Rose (13) – Point Guard

Jimmy King (17) – Shooting Guard

Michigan bench (points scored)

James Voskuil (9)

Michael Talley (4)

Eric Riley (2)

Michigan Coach: Steve Fisher

Cincinnati starters (points scored)

Herb Jones (14) – Small Forward

Terry Nelson (4) – Power Forward

Corie Blount (1) – Center

Nick Van Exel (21) – Point Guard

Anthony Buford (18) – Shooting Guard

Cincinnati bench (points scored)

Erik Martin (10)

Tarrance Gibson (4)

Jeff Scott (0)

Allen Jackson (0)

Cincinnati Coach: Bob Huggins

webber

Chris Webber looks excited when going up for a big slam as Anthony Buford looked on in the background *photo courtesy of Pinterest

April 4, 1992 – National Semifinal: (#2) Indiana Hoosiers 78, (#1)Duke Blue Devils 81

This matchup had a tremendous amount of hype, although most of it had to do with the coaches.

Mike Krzyzewski had played under Bob Knight at Army and was an Assistant Coach under Knight at Indiana before getting his first coaching job at Army in 1975.

So it was student vs. teacher with two very successful coaches and two very successful programs.

But Duke was still coming off the high of beating Kentucky at the last second.  For most of this game, especially the 1st half, Christian Laettner looked emotionally spent.

Indiana had mainly gotten to the Final Four with its torrid shooting during the NCAA tournament.  They shot 62% against Eastern Illinois, 55% against LSU, 50% against Florida State, and, most impressively, 58% against UCLA in the Regional Final.

They started out the same way against Duke by hitting 8 of their first 10 shots.  Alan Henderson led the way with 9 points early on on 4-for-4 shooting.

But he got help from Damon Bailey, Calbert Cheaney, Jamal Meeks, Matt Nover and Eric Anderson, who each hit a field goal during that early stretch to give Indiana a 21-14 lead.

But Duke stayed in the game thanks to Bobby Hurley.  Hurley hit three early three-pointers and 11 points as Duke cut the lead down to 29-25 with under 8 minutes to go in the 1st half.

But Indiana was still hot from the field and Hurley wasn’t getting much help as, most notably, Laettner was 1-for-6 in the 1st half and 2-for-4 from the foul line for 4 points.

Mike Krzyzewski switched to a zone for a few possessions in which Indiana beat it by driving down the lane for scores.  Indiana regained as much as a 39-27 lead before Hurley hit his 4th and biggest three of the game to stem the tide.

Duke finally got its defense going a little bit and held Indiana to three points over the final 3 minutes of the half.  Hurley finished the half with 18 points and a big three-point play by Thomas Hill with 18.9 seconds left cut Duke halftime deficit to 42-37.

The 2nd half started out worse for Indiana as Cheaney committed his 3rd foul on a charge in which his basket was taken away.  Bailey then committed his 4th foul and, a possession later, Knight picked up a technical.

Meanwhile, Duke’s defense went up another notch and they grabbed a 43-42 lead when Hurley penetrated and found Grant Hill for a layup in traffic.  Duke then went down low to Laettner, who scored and drew a foul.

He missed the free throw but Duke had taken a 45-42 lead and it looked like Laettner was back.  But Christian would not get another field goal attempt for the rest of the game, part of the reason was Indiana’s sagging defense and the other part was Duke not getting him the ball.

Hurley hit his 5th three over Henderson to give Duke a 48-42 lead but the Blue Devils missed several chances to increase it right there.  But their defense held strong and Cheaney committed his 4th foul on a charge.

Finally, a three-pointer by Greg Graham got Indiana their first points of the 2nd half but they were still ice cold.  Meanwhile, Cherokee Parks and Grant Hill followed up misses to give Duke a 55-45 lead.

Then with about 10 1/2 minutes to go, Hill penetrated and found Parks for a slam.  As the freshman slammed one down, Bailey reached in for his 5th foul.  The three-point play gave Duke its biggest lead at 58-45.

Indiana finally got going a bit as Cheaney hit two field goals to stem Hurley’s 6th three-pointer.  Graham then got two field goals to cut the lead to 63-55 with 3:46 left.  Although Indiana was cutting into the lead and Duke was looking tired, the Hoosiers weren’t exactly putting together points at a pace to overcome the deficit before time ran out.

Alan Henderson fouled out on a charge after only 4 2nd half points.  But the Hoosiers got a break with 1:44 left when Grant Hill fouled Graham on a three-point attempt and fouled out.

Duke had already lost Brian Davis to a sprained ankle and their bench was already thin.  So Krzyzewski brought in sophomore guard Marty Clark to help handle the ball.  Graham hit his three free throws to cut the lead to 69-64.  Then Chris Reynolds stole the ball from Hurley on the pressure defense.

The Hoosiers worked it around to Cheaney, who drove baseline and did a 360 but airballed a very tough shot.  Clark rebounded and Graham, who led Indiana with 18 points, fouled out with 1:27 left (even though there was 1:27 left, the final 2 minutes took about half an hour, not a great game to plan anything after).

Clark coolly hit two free throws.  Thomas Hill got a steal and Cheaney committed his 5th foul and became the 4th Hoosier to foul out with 1:16 left.  Indiana now had to try and come back without its top 4 scorers on the season, it looked daunting.

Indiana brought in sophomore and former walk-on Todd Leary.  Hurley hit two free throws and Duke led by nine.  But with under a minute to go, Leary got open off an inbounds and nailed a three from the corner.

No matter, Thomas Hill hit two more free throws and Duke led 75-67 with 45.6 seconds left.  But then Jamal Meeks found Leary for another corner three.  Uh-oh!

Reynolds fouled Clark with 35.1 seconds left and Marty coolly knocked in two more.  Now Indiana went to Leary to make a move.  He got open at the top and nailed his third straight three-pointer to cut the lead to 77-73 with 26.8 seconds left.  Leary was doing much better than he would 18 years later.

Clark was fouled again but this time he missed the second free throw and Laettner fouled Nover on the rebound.  Nover hit two free throws with 24.6 seconds left to cut Duke’s lead to 78-75.

Now Laettner motioned Hurley to come get the ball.  Hurley sprinted to the baseline and got a handoff inbounds pass from Laettner.  Right after Hurley got it, his toes touched the out of bounds line.  Turnover Duke.  Indiana had a chance to tie it with 23.1 seconds left.

Without their top 4 scorers, Indiana’s shooters were Eric Anderson, who struggled after hitting his first shot in this game, and Leary.  Now Duke put Thomas Hill on Leary and didn’t let him get open.

He did for a second as Chris Reynolds penetrated.  But Reynolds went to the other side to Jamal Meeks.  Meeks was a senior that was known as a notoriously poor shooter.  But he was open for a tying three.

Not surprisingly, he clanked it short off the side of the rim.  After a rebound scramble, Antonio Lang was able to come up with the ball and was fouled.  Indiana’s comeback attempt would die and Duke was moving on.

What followed was a post-game awkwardness.  Knight and Krzyzewski kind of shook hands but there was no extended conversation or hugs.  Krzyzewski then got fed up in the post-game about all the questions about Knight and essentially said he was his own man and this was about the players more than the coaches.

Later, when Knight passed the Duke team in the hallway.  He reportedly talked to players but ignored Krzyzewski.  The two didn’t talk until 2001 when Krzyzewski went into the Basketball Hall-of-Fame and Knight presented him.

The two rekindled their friendship thereafter, but between 1992 and 2001, Indiana and Duke matched up twice more with the two coaches on the sideline.  They would also have a memorable NCAA tournament game in 2002.  But all of that was a long way away.

Indiana starters (points scored)

Calbert Cheaney (11) – Small Forward

Alan Henderson (15) – Power Forward

Matt Nover (9) – Center

Chris Reynolds (2) – Point Guard

Damon Bailey (9) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Greg Graham (18)

Eric Anderson (2)

Jamal Meeks (3)

Todd Leary (9)

Todd Lindeman (0)

Indiana Coach: Bob Knight

Duke starters (points scored)

Brian Davis (5) – Small Forward

Antonio Lang (4) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (8) – Center

Bobby Hurley (26) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (11) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Grant Hill (14)

Cherokee Parks (8)

Marty Clark (5)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

bobby-hurley

Bobby Hurley kept Duke alive with 18 1st half points and was a main catalyst in their 2nd half run *photo courtesy of Getty Images

April 6, 1992 – National Championship Game: (#6)Michigan Wolverines 51, (#1)Duke Blue Devils 71

The final score may not look like it but this was actually a pretty good game most of the way through, if not an ugly low-scoring affair.

Michigan was a game away from freshmen carrying a team to a National Championship 20 years before it actually happened (and it was a million times more un-heard of in 1992).

Duke was a game away from becoming the first team in 19 seasons to win back-to-back National Championships.

With all of that on the line, both teams got off to a slow start.  There was no scoring for over 2 minutes before Thomas Hill tipped in a Bobby Hurley miss.  Jimmy King then responded with a three.

But in those first 2 minutes, Christian Laettner committed 2 turnovers.  He committed 2 more after both teams had scored and was bench for Cherokee Parks.

Meanwhile, Chris Webber rebounded a miss by Juwan Howard and slammed it back in.  Hurley responded with a three and the game was tied at 5 at the 15:15 mark.

Laettner came back in but didn’t play much better, although he cut down his turnover-per-minute ratio significantly.  He also drew an offensive foul from Webber, which was Chris’ 2nd.

Thomas Hill followed with a three but Michigan responded with a 7-0 run, capped by a steal and layup by Jalen Rose after Laettner threw a kickout pass right to him.

Laettner finally hit a field goal to stem the tide but then he threw another pass that Rose stole and threw to King for a fast break alley-oop slam.  Michigan now led 14-10 and Laettner had 6 turnovers.

But Duke went on an 11-4 run over the next 4 minutes to take the lead as everyone seemed to be picking up fouls.

Michigan then regained the momentum as Rose found Webber with a long pass for a slam.  Jalen followed by hitting Howard on a 3-on-2 break for a short banker.

Then Webber orchestrated Michigan’s most impressive play of the game when he took the ball in transition, dribbling around several defenders, and hit Rob Pelinka with a behind-the-back bounce pass (which would sometimes be disastrous when Webber tried it in key NBA games).  Pelinka then did a 360 and laid it in to give the Wolverines a 24-22 lead.

Grant Hill would score 6 points late in the half to keep Duke within 31-30 at halftime.  But, like the Indiana game, Duke was fortunate to be that close.  Laettner, in particular, was not looking like himself.  Other than the 6 turnovers, Laettner was 2-for-8 from the field and, at times, was just not hustling and got benched for it.

As the story goes, Bobby Hurley gave his teammates a rousing speech at halftime and everything turned around.

It started when Thomas Hill came up with a steal and Hurley pushed the ball.  He quickly found Laettner for a layup to get him going.  A possession later, Hurley found Laettner for a three-pointer from the top and Christian already had as many points in the 2nd half as he had in the 1st.

Thomas Hill then went 1-on-1 with Rose and made a pull-up from the baseline to make Duke 3-for-3 from the field in the 2nd half.  The Blue Devils then hit two of their next 18 from the field and let Michigan hang around despite the Wolverines’ struggles from the field.

Rose and Webber would each pick up their 4th fouls in the 2nd half while Hurley did the same for Duke.  But after Rose got a breakaway layup following an outlet from Webber which cut Duke’s lead to 48-45, Krzyzewski used a timeout with 6:51 left.

After 33 minutes and 9 seconds, Duke was hanging on by a thread and looked mentally drained, although Laettner had 10 2nd half points so far including two three-pointers.

Coach K had been milking the shot clock over the past few minutes to try and get his team some rest.  The Blue Devils were also short-handed as Brian Davis was ineffective with his sprained ankle that he got against Indiana.  Grant Hill started in his place but Davis and Parks would be Duke’s only subs until the final minute of the game.

But, like the champion they were soon to become, Duke summoned the energy and scored on all but one possession in the final 6:51.

It started off the timeout when Laettner drove baseline, lost the ball on the dribble, but recovered it and hit on a reverse layup.  On their next possession, Duke again milked the shot clock before Grant Hill drove baseline for a reverse layup.

It wouldn’t be Hill’s most impressive play of the last 6:51.  On a subsequent possession, Hill drove past Webber on the baseline, went to the other side of the basket, and did a 180 slam that got the Duke crowd going and put the Blue Devils up 58-47.

Hill later tipped in a miss by the other Hill, Thomas, at the end of the shot clock and found Antonio Lang for a slam that broke Michigan’s press and broke their back with 1:45 to go.

Grant Hill would finish the game with two breakaways that made the final margin what it was.  It would simply be a prelude of what was to come for Grant Hill while he still had good feet.

Meanwhile, Duke’s defense had held Michigan to 20 2nd half points and a season-low of 51.  The Fab Five had come farther than anyone thought they could and would now have to live with the pressure in 1993.

Duke had been ranked #1 all season and finally finished the job.  They did something that hadn’t been done in close to 20 years and would only be done once in the next 20 years.

This back-to-back championships had also culminated a run of 5 straight Final Fours and 6 in 7 years, which was as close as one could come to UCLA’s dynasty of the ’60’s and ’70’s.

Duke would make one more run to a Final Four before encountering their share of problems for the first time in seemingly a while.

Michigan starters (points scored)

Ray Jackson (0) – Small Forward

Chris Webber (14) – Power Forward

Juwan Howard (9) – Center

Jalen Rose (11) – Point Guard

Jimmy King (7) – Shooting Guard

Michigan bench (points scored)

Eric Riley (4)

James Voskuil (4)

Rob Pelinka (2)

Freddie Hunter (0)

Michael Talley (0)

Jason Bossard (0)

Chip Armer (0)

Chris Seter (0)

Michigan Coach: Steve Fisher

Duke starters (points scored)

Grant Hill (18) – Small Forward

Antonio Lang (5) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (19) – Center

Bobby Hurley (9) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (16) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Cherokee Parks (4)

Brian Davis (0)

Christian Ast (0)

Kenny Blakeney (0)

Ron Burt (0)

Marty Clark (0)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

laettner-vs-webberhill-vs-rosebobby-hurley-laettnerduke-92

At top and second from top, Christian Laettner and Grant Hill go against the defense of Chris Webber and Jalen Rose.  Second from bottom and at bottom: Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Coach K and others celebrate Duke’s 2nd straight National Championship.. photos courtesy of Stuff About Minneapolis tumblr, The Players Tribune, USA Today, and Pinterest

1992 would be a top-heavy star-studded NBA draft.  LSU’s Shaquille O’Neal went #1 to the Orlando Magic.  Georgetown’s Alonzo Mourning went #2 to the Charlotte Hornets.  Duke’s Christian Laettner went #3 to the Minnesota Timberwolves.  Ohio State’s Jim Jackson went #4 to the Dallas Mavericks.  N.C. State’s Tom Gugliotta went #6 to the Washington Bullets.  Maryland’s Walt Williams went #7 to the Sacramento Kings.  Arkansas’ Todd Day went #8 to the Milwaukee Bucks.  Alabama’s Robert Horry went #11 to the Houston Rockets.  USC’s Harold Miner went #12 to the Miami Heat.  St. John’s Malik Sealy went #14 to the Indiana Pacers.  LaSalle’s Randy Woods went #16 to the Los Angeles Clippers.  UCLA’s Tracy Murray and Don MacLean went 18 and 19 to the San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons.  North Carolina’s Hubert Davis went #20 to the New York Knicks.  Georgia Tech’s Jon Barry went #21 to the Boston Celtics.  Arkansas’ Oliver Miller and Lee Mayberry went 22 and 23 to the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks.  Alabama’s Latrell Sprewell went #24 to the Golden State Warriors.  Syracuse’s Dave Johnson went #26 to the Portland Trailblazers and Oklahoma State’s Byron Houston was the last pick of the 1st round to the Chicago Bulls.

2nd round picks included UTEP’s Marlon Maxey going to Minnesota, Arizona’s Sean Rooks going to Dallas, Oklahoma’s Brent Price going to Washington, Oklahoma State’s Corey Williams going to Chicago, Connecticut’s Chris Smith going to Minnesota, USC’s Duane Cooper going to the L.A. Lakers, Arkansas’ Isaiah Morris and Georgia Tech’s Matt Geiger going to Miami, Wake Forest’s Chris King going to Seattle, St. John’s’ Robert Werdann going to Denver, Duke’s Brian Davis going to Phoenix, and Michigan State’s Matt Steigenga going to the Bulls.

1992 draft picks only seen in past College Basketball posts included Stanford’s Adam Keefe (from 1989 College Basketball post) going #10 to the Atlanta Hawks, Virginia’s Bryant Stith (last seen in 1991 College Basketball post) going #13 to the Denver Nuggets, Missouri’s Anthony Peeler (last seen playing in 1990 College Basketball post) going #15 to the Los Angeles Lakers, UNLV’s Elmore Spencer (1991) going #25 to the Los Angeles Clippers, and Richmond’s Curtis Blair (1991) going in the 2nd round to the Houston Rockets.

UCLA’s Gerald Madkins and Darrick Martin would go undrafted but eventually get chances in the NBA.

1991 NBA Season – Learning to Fly

MJ '90

 

The Sports Illustrated cover from December, 1990 wondering what we all were *photo courtesy of Sole Collector

Can Michael Jordan and Chicago finally make it to the top?  The Bulls had been rising for 3 years but had run into Detroit and lost each time.  But Chicago wasn’t the only “up-and-coming” team.  The Portland Trailblazers had made a surprise run to the NBA Finals and started out the 1991 season at 19-1.  The Bulls would get off to a slower start that’ll be covered in a bit.

Other changes was that the NBA now had a new major network.  NBC more than tripled the amount that CBS was paying the NBA, and now the NBA on NBC was off and running, setting the stage for this opening.

Everybody from my generation that watched could play the tune in his/her head.  It was, quite simply, the best opening in NBA television history (yep, I said it).

The first NBA on NBC game was actually on the second day of the season when the Lakers traveled to San Antonio and got trounced by the Spurs.  On the league’s opening night, everybody played except for the aforementioned Lakers and Spurs, and Seattle (with 27 teams at the time, there was never an even number of teams with a night off).

One of those games, that was otherwise just a mundane matchup on the marquee, ended up setting a record that still stands after the 2015 season.  It ended up being the highest scoring regulation game in NBA history.

November 2, 1990 – Golden State Warriors 162 @Denver Nuggets 158

For this game to be the highest scoring regulation game in NBA history, there was a pretty lethal combination.  Not only were Denver and Golden State the two highest scoring teams for the 1991 season but they also gave up the most points per game.  Denver, in fact, would set a record by giving up 130.8 points per game during the 1991 season.

The Nuggets had been a run-and-gun show under Doug Moe throughout the 1980’s, but the new run-and-gun style under former Loyola Marymount coach Paul Westhead (who did, in fact, have an NBA championship from 1980 with the Lakers) made the 80’s Nuggets’ defense look like the ’85 Bears.

Westhead brought his Loyola Marymount style of the point guard pushing the ball quickly after a make (or miss, sometimes) and having the shooting guard and small forward head to the baselines and the big guys were the trailers.  It didn’t quite work in the NBA.

Not only had Denver lost Moe as a coach, but stars Alex English and Fat Lever went to Dallas.  The top returning player was 5’10” point guard Michael Adams.  The Nuggets had drafted LSU’s Chris Jackson and had traded conditional draft picks to the Lakers for Orlando Woolridge.  Jackson was not available for this opening game because of side effects for the medication he was taking for turrets.

36-year-old Walter Davis was back as a reserve after turning down a chance to sign with fellow UNC alum, Michael Jordan and the Bulls.  Blair Rasmussen was a good shooting center.  But most of the rest of Denver’s roster was filled with college stars who never quite made it in the pros.  Players like Todd Lichti, Jerome Lane, Joe Wolf, Marcus Liberty and Anthony Cook.  Denver also signed a former LMU star for Westhead, Corey Gaines.

Although he got lots of playing time late in this game in place of Michael Adams, Gaines would be cut 2 1/2 weeks later and spent the next two seasons mostly in the CBA.  The Nuggets also had a young point guard named Avery Johnson, who would be released along with veteran Nugget T.R. Dunn on December 24.  Johnson would sign with the Spurs for the first of three times in January.

For Golden State, head coach Don Nelson had always been an up-tempo, unorthodox coach.  But he had a good, young superstar trio.  Chris Mullin, Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway became known as Run TMC and were the leaders of an entertaining club.  Each averaged over 22 points per game with Mullin leading the way at 25.7.

Beyond that, the only other double figure scorer was Lithuanian Sarunas Marciulionis.  Golden State had big men Rod Higgins and Tom Tolbert and had a healthy Alton Lister at center.  Lister had missed most of the 1990 season with an achilles injury.  They had also drafted Xavier’s Tyrone Hill with the 11th pick and Les Jepsen and Kevin Pritchard in the 2nd round.  Jepsen didn’t make his debut on this night but he would be part of the trade that broke up Run TMC.

The tempo was off-and-running as Golden State led 43-41… after the 1st quarter.  Mullin had scored 10 points, despite spraining his ankle.  He would return and not show much ill-effects.  Orlando Woolridge got going for Denver as he scored 7 points early in the 2nd quarter to bring his total to 16.

Denver led 61-60 with 6:46 to go in the 2nd quarter, but the style may have been taking its effects as Joe Wolf and Todd Lichti each picked up their 4th fouls.

But the scoring continued and the game was looking like a recent NBA All-Star Game (2014, for example).  Neither team stopped the other from pushing the ball or driving the lane and the jumpers were wide open.  It seemed the only thing that slowed both teams down was the tempo (perhaps helped by the altitude of Denver).  The Nuggets were even trying to press, but not getting much success out of it.

Mitch Richmond got going later in the 2nd quarter and finished the half with 21 points, including a pull-up from the elbow with 3 seconds left that gave the Warriors an 87-83 halftime lead (a good chunk of games nowadays have lower FINAL SCORES than 87-83).  Woolridge led Denver with 24 points as he repeatedly drove past Golden State big guys and drew fouls.  Walter Davis had also shown well with 16 points.

Lister had held up in the 1st half, a big key for Golden State coming off his injury, but he barely played in the 2nd half as Nellie went small.  Hardaway started out the 3rd quarter with 5 points as Golden State took a 96-87 lead.  Hardaway had mainly been dishing out the assists, he finished with 18 in this game but had 14 at halftime.

The Warriors led through most of the 3rd quarter, but Denver slowly ran up enough points to inch the margin closer.  They finally took the lead at 115-114 on two free throws by Woolridge.  The scoring went back-and-forth from there, culminating in Tim Hardaway answering a Todd Lichti three with one of his own to put Golden State ahead 123-122.

Hardaway then finished the quarter by penetrating and finding Tyrone Hill for a slam with 0.1 seconds left.  The Warriors continued to lead in the 4th quarter by as much as 138-130 with 8:54 to go.

But it was Corey Gaines and Todd Lichti that led Denver back to within one despite Rasmussen fouling out.  But Hardaway found Tom Tolbert for a layup, Richmond put back his own miss and Mullin scored and drew a foul.  Chris missed the free throw but Golden State still led 150-143.  But Marciulionis fouled out with 4:05 to go (neither Rasmussen or Marciulionis had a particularly good scoring day perhaps because of the foul trouble).

But the big foul out came with Woolridge with under 4:00 to go.  Orlando had scored 37 points and that left Davis as the only scoring option playing with Lichti, T.R. Dunn, Joe Wolf (and Anthony Cook after Wolf fouled out), and Corey Gaines (who, as I mentioned before, was playing instead of Michael Adams in crunch time, probably not a popular or particularly wise move).

Despite this, the 36-year-old Davis brought Denver back into a 152-all tie with a turnaround jumper in the post.  But before you could say “tie game,” Hardaway pushed it back at Denver and found Mullin.  Lichti blocked Chris’s first shot but Mullin recovered, scored, and was fouled.  The three-point play gave the Warriors the lead for good, although Denver surprisingly wouldn’t make it easy.

I say surprisingly for the simple fact that the Nuggets cut it to one when T.R. Dunn, of all people, hit a turnaround in the lane.  Dunn had never averaged over 8.2 points per game in his NBA career and his 12 points on this night would be the only game Dunn would score in double figures before Denver cut him and his NBA career ended in December.

Richmond hit two free throws with 1:48 left to give Golden State a 157-154 lead.  Gaines came back with a driving layup but Hardaway came right back and crossed Gaines over before hitting a runner.  Gaines then found Dunn for a baseline jumper to keep Denver in it.  But then T.R. fouled Hardaway on the press with 57.3 seconds to go.  Tim split the free throws and the Nuggets had a chance to tie it.

Forced into a halfcourt offense for one of the few times on this night, the Nuggets could not find an open Davis.  So Lichti took a jumper from the elbow that bounced three times but didn’t go in.  Golden State knocked the ball out of bounds to give Denver another chance.

This time it would be Corey Gaines who was left open at the top.  He bricked and Mullin rebounded.  Rod Higgins finished the scoring with two free throws.

Denver finished last in the league at 20-62.  They got the 4th pick of the 1991 draft and selected Dikembe Mutombo.  Mutombo’s defense helped Denver only give up 108.6 points per game in 1992 under Westhead’s system.  But the Nuggets scoring dropped to last in the league at 100.7 points per game (imagine, an NBA team averaged 100.7 points per game and finished last.. the good ole days) as Mutombo was the 2nd-leading scorer on the team (not good).  They finished at 24-58 and Westhead was fired.

Denver then drafted LaPhonso Ellis and Bryant Stith in 1992.  Chris Jackson changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and came into his own after struggling under Westhead.  Denver hired their former hero Dan Issel as coach and slowly became the team that would have the biggest upset in NBA playoff history for awhile as its claim to fame.

But nobody who played in this opening game in which the highest number of points was scored without an overtime was around by the time this playoff upset happened.

Golden State starters (points scored)

Chris Mullin (38) – Small Forward

Tom Tolbert (18) – Power Forward

Alton Lister (1) – Center

Tim Hardaway (32) – Point Guard

Mitch Richmond (29) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (9)

Rod Higgins (17)

Tyrone Hill (5)

Kevin Pritchard (6)

Steve Johnson (7)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

Denver starters (points scored)

T.R. Dunn (12) – Small Forward

Orlando Woolridge (37) – Power Forward

Blair Rasmussen (10) – Center

Michael Adams (18) – Point Guard

Todd Lichti (19) – Shooting Guard

Denver bench (points scored)

Walter Davis (33)

Corey Gaines (8)

Jerome Lane (11)

Joe Wolf (4)

Marcus Liberty (2)

Anthony Cook (0)

Avery Johnson (4)

Denver Coach: Paul Westhead

November 6, 1990 – Boston Celtics 110 @Chicago Bulls 108

In a season with championship aspirations, one of the best things to help your confidence is getting off to a fast start.  In 1990-91, the Chicago Bulls did not.

In the opening game at Chicago Stadium, the Philadelphia 76ers took a 19-point halftime lead and won 124-116.  The next night in Washington, Bernard King burned them with 44 points as the Bullets overcame a 9-point halftime deficit to win 103-102.  So the Bulls were now 0-2.

Not much had changed with Chicago from 1990, Phil Jackson had the same starting lineup (Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, John Paxson, and Michael Jordan).  Most of the reserves (Stacey King, Craig Hodges, B.J. Armstrong, Will Perdue) were back.  The changes were trading three draft picks to New Jersey for 6’5″ guard Dennis Hopson, signing undrafted rookie Scott Williams as a free agent, and then signing veteran forward Cliff Levingston as a free agent after losing Ed Nealy to Phoenix and not being able to sign Walter Davis.

Boston, meanwhile, had won their first two games against Cleveland and then at New York.  The Celtics looked like an old team in 1990, but for the beginning of 1991, they looked much younger.  Dennis Johnson and Jim Paxson had retired.  But 6’6″ point guard Brian Shaw rejoined the Celtics after a contract lawsuit between Shaw, the Celtics and the Italian team Shaw signed for in 1990.  Boston had also drafted Dee Brown with the 19th pick.

The trio of Shaw, Brown and Reggie Lewis made the Boston backcourt much quicker.  6’5″ swingman Kevin Gamble also helped in that speed department.  With those four teaming along with big guys Ed Pinckney and Joe Kleine, one could say that the only old players on Boston were the big three from the 1980’s; Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.  The Celtics also had a new coach, although Chris Ford had played for Boston in the early 80’s and had been an assistant coach ever since.

Boston got off to a good start in the 3rd game of the season for both teams.  Pinckney hit two baskets, Bird drove to the lane for a finger roll, and Lewis hit a jumper to put Boston up 8-4 and force Phil Jackson to call a timeout less than 3 minutes into the game.

Boston continued to hold the lead through much of the 1st quarter.  Lewis was challenging MJ and Bird was taking it to Pippen in the post.  Boston was also breaking Chicago’s press and getting out in transition.  The Celtics took a 22-15 lead 8 minutes into the game.

But then the contest went a full 180 degrees and the Bulls started looking like championship contenders.  Pippen, who had struggled in the first two games, started taking it to Bird on offense and got to the line.  Pippen also stepped up on defense as the Bulls got out in transition.  Chicago took a 25-24 lead when Pippen put in his 10th point with an elbow jumper.

The Bulls defense continued to turn it on as Boston went scoreless for the final 3 minutes of the 1st quarter.  Their defense set up breakaway opportunities as Armstrong found Grant for a slam and then Pippen would get two more buckets to finish the 1st quarter with 14 points.  Chicago led 32-24 heading into the 2nd quarter.

A driving layup by Jordan gave the Bulls their biggest lead to that point at 37-25.  Jordan also had a nifty reverse slam in transition later on, but Boston’s bench started to lead them back after Pippen picked up his 3rd foul and Jackson had to go to his bench.

Kevin McHale and Kevin Gamble led the way.  Gamble hit a pull-up at the end of the shot clock.  McHale used an up-and-under move to hit a hook shot from the post and draw a foul.  Then Gamble found Lewis in transition for a layup to cut Chicago’s lead to 39-35.

Chicago’s bench played well enough to hold the lead until Bird hit back-to-back jumpers to tie the game at 51.  Stacey King responded with a turnaround banker from the post for Chicago to give the Bulls a 53-51 halftime lead.

The 3rd quarter started out back-and-forth as Bird continued to hit for Boston (including a driving left-handed flip shot) while Pippen and Jordan led the way for the home team.  But Boston started running into a bad trend as the quarter went on.  Their turnovers went up at a fast rate.  They finished with 24 and 1/3 of them came from Bird.

Despite this, Boston was able to stay with Chicago for awhile.  But then Grant and Paxson hit field goals and then Horace found Jordan for a reverse.  This 6-0 run put the Bulls up 76-69 and forced Ford to call a timeout with 4:25 left in the quarter.  Lewis then picked up his 4th foul and Chicago grabbed a 9-point lead.

It grew to 84-73 with 2:15 left when Pippen got a steal and Jordan got a breakaway slam.  It then grew to 88-75 when Pippen put back his own miss.  But then Scottie picked up his 4th foul and Boston was able to cut the lead to 90-79 heading into the 4th quarter.

Despite Chicago’s run, Bird had made his last 8 field goal attempts.  But the Bulls starters, with Paxson contributing 10 points in the quarter, were looking like a well-gelled unit.

But the bench hadn’t quite gotten there for Phil Jackson and they slowly squandered the lead as the 4th quarter went on.  Boston cut down their turnovers and were able to cut it to 96-90 on two free throws from Shaw.  Then McHale hit a swinging hook shot in the lane while drawing a foul.  That three-point play cut the lead in half and the next three-point play, on a runner from Gamble, tied the game 4 minutes into the quarter.

Jordan responded by going coast-to-coast for a slam after a defensive rebound and then hitting a pull-up banker.  But then Shaw hit a jumper and went coast-to-coast past Jordan for a layup to tie the game.  McHale then hit two free throws and Gamble put back his own miss at the end of the shot clock to force a Chicago timeout with 4:21 remaining and the Bulls down 104-100.

The scoring slowed over the next two minutes as Boston missed a few chances to increase their lead (most notably when McHale missed two free throws).  A turnaround jumper by Grant in the lane cut the Celtics led to 106-104.  Then Parish committed an offensive foul with under 2:00 remaining.  Pippen then hit a pull-up from the foul line to tie the game with 1:40 remaining.

Bird hit a wing jumper for his 9th consecutive field goal (Bird sat out for most of the 4th quarter and Lewis sat out the entire quarter as Dee Brown, in his 3rd NBA game, played in the back court with Shaw).  But Jordan responded by hitting a pull-up from the elbow after a Grant handoff.

After two jump balls, Chicago regained possession with a chance to take the lead.  But Jordan was just long on a pull-up from the wing and Shaw rebounded.  Boston went for the last shot originally without taking a timeout, but Pippen almost made the disastrous by deflecting a pass to Bird out of bounds.  Ford used a timeout with 6.9 seconds remaining.

The Celtics had their veteran big three on the court with Shaw and Brown.  McHale inbounded but couldn’t find anybody other than Parish out beyond the three-point line.  Parish drove to the foul line and pulled up over Cartwright but threw an airball.  But Brian Shaw boxed out Jordan nicely and was able to grab the ball out of the air and put it back in at the buzzer to give the Celtics a stunning win.

Despite losing by 20 to the Bulls in Boston Garden 3 days later, the Celtics would break off two 8-game winning streaks and then a 6-gamer to bring their record to 29-5 on January 11 and help Chris Ford become the All-Star Game coach for the East.  However, things would come back to earth when Bird missed a month with his recurring back injury and McHale was out 14 games with torn ligaments in his ankle.

For the Bulls, this would be the last time they would lose 3 games in a row while Michael Jordan was in a Chicago uniform.  They recovered by winning 3 in a row before traveling to Utah a week after this game.

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (24) – Small Forward

Ed Pinckney (7) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (8) – Center

Brian Shaw (20) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (13) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (19)

Kevin Gamble (15)

Dee Brown (4)

Joe Kleine (0)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (23) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (8) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (10) – Center

John Paxson (13) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (33) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (3)

Stacey King (10)

Craig Hodges (2)

Dennis Hopson (4)

Will Perdue (2)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

brian shaw

Brian Shaw’s game-winning putback gave the Celtics a victory in Chicago *photo courtesy of Trading Card Database

November 13, 1990 – Chicago Bulls 84 @Utah Jazz 82

A week after suffering a heart-breaking loss at the buzzer, Chicago would deliver the same from a not-so-unexpected source.

The Bulls had rebounded from their 0-3 start by winning their last three games.  The Utah Jazz were off to a 2-2 start and had made only one major change in their roster from the previous season.  The Jazz traded veteran two-guard Bobby Hansen, Eric Leckner and three draft picks (including a 1990 1st rounder) to Sacramento as part of a three-team deal with Washington.  The Jazz got back scoring guard Jeff Malone from the Bullets.

Malone teamed with his fellow name-sake Karl Malone, John Stockton, Thurl Bailey and Mark Eaton in Jerry Sloan’s starting lineup.  Off the bench came 2nd year man Blue Edwards, 11-year veteran Darrell Griffith (who was in his final season), point guard Delaney Rudd and big man Mike Brown.

Nobody would mistake this game for Golden State/Denver (and perhaps it gave a little preview to the games these two teams would play in the NBA Finals in ’97 and ’98).  It was a grind-it-out game where nobody shot well.  Both teams showed off their great defense in this one as each held the other to 38% from the field.

The Bulls started out by hitting one of their first eight from the field.  Karl Malone scored 8 early points to give Utah a 10-4 lead and force Phil Jackson to call a timeout at the 6:45 mark.  If you didn’t believe my previous paragraph, only a 10-4 score (and an 84-82 final) in the first 5 minutes and 15 seconds.

Jordan finally got going to bring the Bulls back into it.  He got a steal and a breakaway layup after a behind-the-back dribble to get away from Thurl Bailey.  Later, MJ hit on a scoop shot to tie the game at 18 late in the quarter.

With 4.3 seconds remaining, Blue Edwards hit two free throws that looked to be giving the Jazz a 20-18 lead going into the 2nd quarter.  But then Will Perdue fired a long pass down to Jordan, who touch-passed it to Stacey King for a layup with 1.6 remaining.  But MJ wasn’t done.  Jordan then stole Stockton’s long inbounds pass to half court and pulled up for a 30-foot three-pointer and nailed it at the buzzer.

Jordan’s heroics gave Chicago a 23-20 lead at the quarter break and gave him 13 points to counteract the Mailman’s 12.  Almost unbelievably, that would be Chicago’s only three-point attempt of the game.

The Bulls kept the lead in the 2nd quarter as King started out with two more buckets.  STACEY G. BUCKETS!!! THE G STANDS FOR GETS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!! sorry, had to (only people who listen to Stacey King as a Bulls broadcaster will understand that reference).

But the Bulls could never run away and hide.  Their poor shooting and the Jazz bench, led by Edwards, kept them in the game, along with the offensive contributions of John Stockton and Thurl Bailey.  B.J. Armstrong, who had been a big key in the Bulls three previous victories, contributed with back-to-back baskets.  John Paxson also hit two jumpers.

The Bulls would get 1 point combined from Pippen and Jordan in the 2nd quarter but managed to hold a 46-42 halftime lead when Horace Grant found Bill Cartwright for a baseline jumper with 2.9 seconds remaining.

The 3rd quarter started out badly for the Bulls.  Paxson picked up his 4th foul and Chicago missed their first 8 shots.  Meanwhile, Stockton hit two free throws after the Paxson foul and then found Jeff Malone for a breakaway and Karl for a jumper from the top.  A baseline jumper by Jeff Malone after Karl found him on an inbounds pass gave Utah a 50-46 lead and forced a Phil Jackson timeout with 9:47 to go.

But then Utah missed their next 10 shots and Jordan scored 8 points in a row after Cartwright initially broke Chicago’s drought with a jumper from the foul line.  Sloan was forced to use a timeout at the 6:03 mark of the quarter with the Bulls up 56-50.  Karl Malone then closed the quarter with 9 points to bring his total to 23 and bring Utah back into a 64-all tie entering the 4th quarter.

Utah would then take the lead as Darrell Griffith hit back-to-back buckets.  It increased to as much as 77-72 when Stockton hit a pull-up from the top.  But Pippen found Jordan for a baseline jumper and then MJ found Grant for a transition layup.  Jordan finally tied the game at 80 with a pull-up from the foul line with 3:13 to go.

The Jazz responded as Mark Eaton rebounded a Karl Malone airball and slammed it back in.  The Jazz had a few chances to increase that lead but never could.  Pippen found Paxson for a pull-up in transition to tie it at 82 with 1:35 remaining.

Karl Malone then missed a long wing jumper at the end of the shot clock.  Pippen then had his jumper blocked by Eaton, which concluded a 2-for-15 shooting day from Scottie Pippen (it would be one of only five times that Pippen didn’t score in double figures during the season).

Then with under 30 seconds remaining, Stockton dropped a pass down to Karl Malone on their usual pick and roll.  But Malone missed a driving hook against three guys and Chicago rebounded.  Jackson used a timeout with 15.9 seconds remaining.

The Bulls had advanced the ball before their timeout call so they had to inbound in the back court.  It turned out to be no problem as Paxson brought it up against Stockton and found Grant at the top.  Horace found Pippen at the left wing while superman (MJ) was getting free in the post.

Pippen dropped the ball into Jordan against Jeff Malone.  Bailey immediately doubled but Michael ran away from both of them and got off a fadeaway jumper from the wing that fell through at the buzzer.  Michael Jordan had saved the day for Chicago again and now the Bulls were over .500 for the first time all season.

The Bulls would eventually get going with a 7-game winning streak after a 5-6 start.  They had another 7-game winning streak in January that pulled them into a game lead over Detroit in the Central Division.  The Bulls had gotten killed in Detroit on December 19 (as Pippen had a worse game than he did in Utah, shooting 2-for-16) but managed to beat the Pistons on Christmas Day in Chicago.

But as the Bulls pulled into Detroit on February 7 (just before the All-Star break), they trailed the Pistons by a game and a half and hadn’t won in the Motor City since Game 1 of the 1989 Eastern Conference Finals.

For Utah, this was the 2nd loss of what turned into a 4-game losing streak.  Sloan moved Blue Edwards into the starting lineup in Thurl Bailey’s place (Bailey would be traded to Minnesota in November, 1991 for Tyrone Corbin).  The Jazz then got going with a couple of 6-game winning streaks and battled San Antonio for the Midwest Division crown for the 2nd straight season.

But for the 2nd straight season, Utah would finish a game behind the Spurs as the Jazz concluded at 54-28.  Then, for the 2nd straight season, Utah took on Phoenix in the 1st round and this time the Suns had home court advantage.  But the Jazz won Game 1 in Phoenix by a whopping score of 129-90 and went on to win the series in 4 games.  They lost in the next round to top-seeded Portland 4-1.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (5) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (8) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (8) – Center

John Paxson (8) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (29) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (10)

Stacey King (6)

Dennis Hopson (4)

Will Perdue (2)

Cliff Levingston (4)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Utah starters (points scored)

Thurl Bailey (7) – Small Forward

Karl Malone (28) – Power Forward

Mark Eaton (2) – Center

John Stockton (13) – Point Guard

Jeff Malone (8) – Shooting Guard

Utah bench (points scored)

Blue Edwards (10)

Darrell Griffith (10)

Mike Brown (0)

Delaney Rudd (4)

Utah Coach: Jerry Sloan

November 13, 1990 – Phoenix Suns 112 @Los Angeles Lakers 111

The Bulls weren’t the only future ’91 Finalist to get off to a slow start.  The Los Angeles Lakers, under their new coach Mike Dunleavy, had lost in the NBA on NBC opener in San Antonio and had suffered two home losses to Portland in overtime and to New York.  Their only victory was against the Sacramento Kings.

Dunleavy came in looking to transition the Lakers to the half-court game.  The key would be post ups for Magic Johnson and James Worthy, and getting Byron Scott open off screens.  It was a slow transition to this point as the Lakers looked stagnant on offense and were inconsistent, at best.

The Lakers had lost Michael Cooper to the Italian League.  Orlando Woolridge and Mark McNamara were traded away for conditional draft picks.  But Sam Perkins was signed as a free agent and Terry Teagle was acquired from Golden State for a 1991 1st round pick.  Perkins and Teagle had some good games in the first few but had not quite found their niche.

Mychal Thompson, who was in his last season, was now coming off the bench and 2nd year Serb Vlade Divac was starting in the middle to go with Magic, Scott, Worthy and A.C. Green.  Larry Drew was now Magic’s backup at point and 1st round pick Elden Campbell and 2nd round pick Tony Smith would get some key playing time as the season went on.

While the Lakers were off to a slow start, Portland was already well on their way to overtaking the division title.  But another team from the Pacific Division was trying to do the same.  The Phoenix Suns had beaten the Lakers in the playoffs the previous season and now were trying to show off how much they had grown.

Phoenix’s main scorers came from the perimeter in Kevin Johnson, Jeff Hornacek and Tom Chambers.  Hornacek had been injured earlier in the season and was coming off the bench until he fully returned to form.  3rd year defensive ace Dan Majerle was starting in his place.  Mark West still manned the middle with great defense and some unexpected offense.  Former Laker Kurt Rambis was still the Suns starting power forward, but not for long.

The bench, along with Hornacek, featured 1989 6th man of the year Eddie Johnson, but not for long.  Rookies Cedric Ceballos and Negele Knight (both 2nd round picks) and 2nd year man Kenny Battle were contributing along with 3rd year players Andrew Lang and Tim Perry.  Ed Nealy was signed away from the Bulls to add depth in the middle.

For this game, James Worthy was determined to get off to a fast start.  He hit a jumper from the foul line, put back a Divac miss, and then went coast-to-coast for a swooping breakaway dunk.  His 6-0 run put the Lakers up 10-6 and forced Cotton Fitzsimmons to use a Phoenix timeout.

The Lakers ended up taking as much as an 8-point lead as Worthy had 11 1st quarter points.  But Phoenix managed to stay in it despite 12 1st quarter turnovers.  A corner three from Hornacek cut the Lakers lead to 28-23 at the end of the quarter.

Cedric Ceballos and Kenny Battle made contributions off the bench to help bring Phoenix back.  A breakaway three-point play from K.J. (Kevin Johnson) after a steal cut the lead to 34-32.  But Worthy would keep L.A. ahead with 11 more points in the 2nd quarter, including a three.

L.A. retook a 52-44 lead when Magic found Teagle for a turnaround jumper from the baseline.  This was Magic’s 9,000th career assist and he got an ovation for it at the next timeout.

But the momentum didn’t sustain as Ceballos led Phoenix back with 6 points to cut the Lakers halftime lead to 56-54.

The lead changed hands in the 3rd quarter before Phoenix ran off 8 straight points to take a 74-69 lead, done with a three from Hornacek, a transition three-point play by K.J. and a slam from West on the break on a Chambers assist.

Chambers and Hornacek then led the way for the rest of the 3rd quarter, with K.J. contributing a pull-up jumper with 1 seconds remaining, as Phoenix took an 88-84 lead heading into the 4th.

But then with the game heading towards winnin’ time, Magic took control to bring the Lakers back.  He answered a field goal by Chambers by putting back his own miss and then going coast-to-coast with a running hook to give L.A. a 94-92 lead.  He later connected on a pull-up from the wing at the end of the shot clock.

The Lakers took a 4-point lead but K.J. brought the Suns back by morphing into K.J. from the 1990 playoffs.  He hit two big jumpers to keep the Suns in range but his biggest contribution came after the Lakers retook a 104-102 lead and Chambers and Hornacek each had 5 fouls.

K.J. penetrated and found West for a layup to tie the game and then he found Hornacek in transition for a pull-up jumper to give Phoenix the lead with 3:01 left.  He later found Hornacek for another jumper to put the Suns ahead 108-104.  But then Worthy tipped in a missed three from Scott for his 35th point and then Phoenix had a 24-second violation with 1:40 left.

Scott then connected on a pull-up jumper in the lane to tie the game at 108 with 1:23 left.  Fitzsimmons called a timeout and went to Chambers, who connected on a driving banker to give Phoenix the lead again.  Then after Scott missed a jumper, K.J. got out for a breakaway layup and a 112-108 Suns lead.

Dunleavy used a timeout with 41.3 seconds remaining.  He went to Magic, naturally, and he penetrated and found Divac for a layup and a foul.  But Vlade missed the free throw and Phoenix rebounded.  However, there was still a 6-second differential between the shot clock and the game clock, so the Lakers decided to play it out defensively.  It ended up working better than expected when Majerle took a jumper with still 6 seconds on the shot clock.  He missed, Divac rebounded and the Lakers called a timeout with 9.6 seconds left.

On this final possession, the Lakers disfluency on offense came to a head.  There was no movement and they seemed unsure what to do.  Finally, Worthy went 1-on-1 against his former teammate Rambis, and drew a foul when Rambis reached in with 1.1 seconds left.

Big Game James had uncharacteristically struggled from the foul line in the early season.  He was 6-for-9 on the game going into these two attempts, after going 9-for-14 in the first 4 games.  He made the first but he missed the second.  Majerle rebounded and the game ended just like that.

The Lakers had the most heartbreaking of their 4 losses in 5 games.  They would get off to a 2-5 start before winning 8 games in a row (including a victory at Phoenix).  But their big streak came just before the All-Star break as the Lakers won 16 games in a row.  At the All-Star break, they were 35-11, good for 2nd best record in the league behind the 39-9 Portland Trailblazers.  Phoenix was 30-16 at the break and would have to play catch-up again.

There was no bad losing streak or anything for Phoenix but they couldn’t match the Lakers 16-game winning streak.  There were some bad losses as the Suns lost to the Clippers one night after this great win over the Lakers.  Kurt Rambis was taken out of the starting lineup after that loss and replaced by Kenny Battle.

Battle could not contribute as a starter as much as he did off the bench and was released in January.  Rambis moved back into the lineup before the Suns made a move to try and add some muscle and scoring inside.  On December 7, Eddie Johnson and two future draft picks were traded to Seattle for Xavier McDaniel.

McDaniel, Chambers, Hornacek and K.J. gave the Suns some scoring punch but not much defense.  It all came to a head in the 1st round of the playoffs against Utah (after a 55-27 season) when the Suns 4 stars played inconsistently on offense and gave up 15 and 12 points to Utah’s backup big man Mike Brown (a career 5 points per game scorer) in the last two games in which Phoenix lost the series 3-1.

McDaniel would be traded to New York before the start of the 1992 season and Phoenix would have to wait another season to get its inside scoring, muscle and toughness.  But when they got it, they were off and running.

Phoenix starters (points scored)

Tom Chambers (20) – Small Forward

Kurt Rambis (2) – Power Forward

Mark West (16) – Center

Kevin Johnson (24) – Point Guard

Dan Majerle (10) – Shooting Guard

Phoenix bench (points scored)

Jeff Hornacek (18)

Eddie Johnson (2)

Cedric Ceballos (10)

Kenny Battle (8)

Tim Perry (2)

Phoenix Coach: Cotton Fitzsimmons

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (36) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (7) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (15) – Center

Magic Johnson (20) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (17) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Sam Perkins (8)

Terry Teagle (8)

Larry Drew (0)

Elden Campbell (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

February 7, 1991 – Chicago Bulls 95 @Detroit Pistons 93

So now the All-Star break was just about here and the Chicago Bulls were once again behind the Detroit Pistons in the standings of the Central Division.  Detroit was 34-14 going into this game and Chicago was 31-14.

After a 13-2 start, Chuck Daly’s club had a stretch where they lost 7 of 8 games.  But then Chicago came up on the schedule for the first time that season and the site was where the Pistons had beaten the Bulls decisively in Game 7 in 1990, the Palace at Auburn Hills.  Detroit and Chicago gave a repeat performance as the Pistons won handily 105-84.  Scottie Pippen, who had the infamous migraine headache in Game 7, was 2-for-16 from the floor and Jordan was the only Bulls player in double figures.

The teams matched up again on Christmas Day in Chicago and Jordan’s 37 points carried the Bulls to a 98-86 win as they pulled away in the 2nd half.  Detroit followed up that loss with 11 straight wins and an 18-3 stretch heading into this Bulls game.  But in late January, their star was felled by the injury bug.  Isiah Thomas had, perhaps, been playing with torn ligaments in his wrist for awhile but finally had to settle for surgery and wouldn’t be back until April.

This meant that Joe Dumars moved to the point and Vinnie Johnson moved into the starting lineup (Vinnie was not shooting well that season).  Detroit signed veteran John Long to be the third guard.  Other than that, Detroit remained the same from 1990.  Dennis Rodman, James Edwards and Bill Laimbeer were still the starters up front, with Mark Aguirre and John Salley coming off the bench.

Detroit’s offense suffered without Isiah but its defense held opponents to 94.9 points per game at mid-season, which at the time was among the tops in league history since the advent of the shot clock.

Chicago now had its opportunity to take control in the Central Divsion.  They had 5 and 7-game winning streaks in December and January but needed that extra boost.  A win in Detroit would certainly do that.  The Bulls were 0-6 at the Palace all-time in the regular season (the building had opened before the 1989 season) and were 1-12 including the playoffs.

Scottie Pippen certainly seemed to have more confidence then he had in, at least, his last two appearances at the Palace.  He got a coast-to-coast flying slam in transition early on.  But Detroit, as usual, was up to the task as Vinnie Johnson scored 10 early points and the Pistons made 6 straight field goals at one stretch to take a 20-15 lead.

Back-to-back jumpers by Horace Grant cut into that lead and Chicago cut Detroit’s advantage to 26-25 at the end of the 1st quarter.  Pippen had 9 points for the Bulls and Jordan had 8.

The 2nd quarter was a struggle-fest offensively as each team’s bench got into the game.  Aguirre did score 11 of Detroit’s 15 points in the quarter, including the last 10 (the Pistons bench had all 15).  The Bulls bench hadn’t quite come together and Phil Jackson had to keep Pippen and Jordan in the game (usually, either Pippen or Jordan was in the game for the entire 48 minutes).

The two stars put the Bulls ahead late in the quarter and they held a 44-41 halftime lead.  Pippen had 13 points and Jordan 12.

For the 2nd half, Detroit got James Edwards and Dennis Rodman involved offensively early on.  Neither scored a field goal in the 1st half but Edwards got a driving scoop shot in the lane and Rodman got two transition layups.  Bill Laimbeer also got going with 5 points.

Despite that, the Bulls stayed with the Pistons and Edwards was forced to the bench after committing his 4th foul.  A pivotal moment came with 6:28 remaining in the 3rd.  Bill Cartwright was setting up for low post position when he was called for an offensive foul against Laimbeer and it looked like Bill was hit in the face with an elbow.  Cartwright argued the call and got ejected (strangely Detroit got 1 free throw out of it, you’d think they’d get two if Cartwright was ejected for two technicals).

Cartwright had been known for “inadvertently” hitting opponents (and teammates) with rogue elbows.  But upon looking at the replay, Cartwright’s elbows never contacted Laimbeer (but perhaps his head did).  Billy had gotten away with another flop (Laimbeer wore a nose protector for most of that season, could we really be sure that Laimbeer’s nose was broken?).

Although Cartwright wasn’t much of a scorer, the Bulls felt his loss and one particular important aspect of the game.  Defensive rebounding.  Laimbeer and Rodman gave the Pistons an ample amount of second shots as both finished with double figure rebounds.

Laimbeer also contributed 10 points in the quarter as Detroit took a 70-69 lead heading into the 4th.  Early in the 4th, a putback and then two free throws from Laimbeer put the Pistons up 80-76.

Detroit would gain as much as a 5-point lead three times as it looked to be slipping away from the Bulls.  But a member of Chicago’s maligned bench did step up and would continue to grow to the point of becoming a starter two years later.  B.J. Armstrong hit two big jumpers during that stretch and was in the game down the stretch along with another player who would become a key cog but was still a rookie this season, Scott Williams.

The Bulls managed to cut it back to 87-85 as Edwards and Aguirre each picked up their 5th fouls.  Laimbeer hit two free throws and then it became Michael Jordan time.

Jordan drove baseline and double-pumped a shot while he was fouled.  Incredibly (because, you know, Michael Jordan was never lucky on a basketball court), Jordan had the ball knocked away from him but managed to more-or-less fist it into the basket for a three-point play.  It was 89-88 with 2:10 left.

Then after Edwards missed a jumper, Aguirre went over the back of Jordan for his 6th foul.  MJ hit two free throws to give the Bulls the lead.  After an exchange of turnovers, Laimbeer’s corner jumper to give Detroit the advantage back went in-and-out and Grant rebounded.

Dumars was then called for a foul on Jordan away from the ball and Michael made two more free throws with 55.5 seconds left.  Vinnie Johnson came right back with a pull-up from the foul line but Jordan responded by beating the trap for a jumper from the left wing.  The Bulls led 94-91 with 37.1 seconds to go.

Edwards hit a turnaround from the baseline after rebounding a miss from Vinnie.  There was 28.2 seconds remaining and Detroit decided to play straight up defense and not foul.  But after Chicago called a timeout with 14.7 left, Dumars fouled Jordan on the inbounds pass.

Michael missed the first free throw but made the second.  After a Detroit timeout, Laimbeer got free for a three from the corner.  He back-rimmed it as Pippen challenged but the rebound was tipped to Dumars.  Joe D front-rimmed a high-arcing jumper.  Detroit got one more shot as Vinnie got the ball but his shot was back-rimmed.  Rodman got one more tip at the ball but the buzzer had finally sounded and the Bulls had escaped with a win.

For Chicago, this would be the 2nd win of what turned into an 11-game winning streak and a 20-1 stretch to not only take control of the Central Division but the Eastern Conference.

Detroit would find life tough without Isiah Thomas as they lost 5 in a row in late February and had only one stretch during the second half of the season in which they would win more than two games in a row.  Detroit finished 3rd in the East with a 50-32 record but did have Isiah back for the playoffs.

The Pistons also beat the Bulls at the Palace late in the year.  But could the teams get back to the Eastern Conference Finals to face each other?

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (20) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (9) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (4) – Center

John Paxson (8) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (30) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (12)

Stacey King (4)

Dennis Hopson (4)

Will Perdue (0)

Cliff Levingston (4)

Scott Williams (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (11) – Small Forward

James Edwards (7) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (25) – Center

Joe Dumars (11) – Point Guard

Vinnie Johnson (12) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (19)

John Salley (6)

John Long (2)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

February 10, 1991 – NBA All-Star Game @ Charlotte: East 116, West 114

It was time for a second expansion city to host All-Star Weekend.  The Charlotte Hornets were in their 3rd year in the league and didn’t have the likes of Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning yet, so they didn’t have any all-stars.

But Michael Jordan was making a return to his home state and, in essence, became the “hometown favorite,” although James Worthy and Brad Daugherty were also from North Carolina and went to UNC.

The highlight of All-Star Saturday may have been this:

Or if you like the Dunk Contest, you had this:

All in all, Saturday may have been the most exciting part of the weekend as the crowd was pretty subdued for the actual All-Star Game on Sunday.  The play was pretty sloppy most of the time but you can’t expect players who don’t play together often to look like a well-drilled machine (although I suppose you could go by today’s standards and let the offense do whatever it pleases).

It was a special comeback story for Bernard King, who was starting with Larry Bird injured.  King was a more than worthy candidate as he was averaging 28.4 points per game for the Washington Bullets.  It was his highest average since before he had torn ligaments in his knee in 1985.

With Isiah Thomas also injured, his teammate Joe Dumars took his starting spot.  But Dumars only played 15 minutes and was the East’s only true point guard.  Jordan assumed the role of point guard most of the time and had 10 turnovers to go with his 5 assists.

But the East was bigger than the West and Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing took advantage by out-rebounding the West thoroughly.  Barkley actually received the MVP award based on his rebounding performance.

Barkley had originally not wanted to play because of a minor fracture in his ankle, but Barkley had played in Philadelphia’s last 4 games and the NBA told him he needed to be in Charlotte.

Barkley got going with a baseline jumper and then a putback of a Bernard King miss to give the East a 12-6 lead.  Jordan tried his best to excite the crowd as he drove to the line, extended his right arm up in the air with the ball and then pulled it back for a double-pump runner.  Barkley also found Jordan for a slam but Magic Johnson kept the West in it with a lefty banker over Ewing and then a three-pointer from the wing.

Barkley then showed off his skills by going coast-to-coast for an over-the-head two-handed slam.  The East held the lead until Dominique Wilkins came up short on a breakaway windmill slam.

Tom Chambers drove for a layup and James Worthy followed with a steal and pull-up jumper with 4.4 seconds remaining to put the West ahead 23-22 after 1 quarter.  For an All-Star Game, that was a low scoring quarter, and it was due to the sloppiness.

Each team’s bench became a factor early on in the 2nd quarter as the teams matched each other.  Kevin McHale, Kevin Duckworth, Ricky Pierce, Alvin Robertson, Worthy, Wilkins, Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Tim Hardaway and Brad Daugherty got involved in the scoring column.

The West took a bit of a lead midway through the quarter when Magic hit a three, Hardaway found David Robinson for an alley-oop slam, and then Robinson put back a miss to make the score 49-43.

But then Jordan came right back, drove down the lane, hung in the air, and finished a double-pump reverse while drawing Robinson’s 4th foul.  The Admiral (who had a chance, he felt, of getting called to the Persian Gulf.. who knows if it may have happened had Operation Dessert Storm gone on longer) had to sit down and the West lost what little size they had (Hakeem Olajuwon was out for two months with an eye injury).

The teams went back and forth until the last two minutes of the half with the West up 58-56.  Barkley put back a miss to get his double-double in the 1st half and then he split a pair of free throws (he finished the 1st half with 11 points and 11 rebounds).

Hersey Hawkins went coast-to-coast from half-court to finish a breakaway layup.  Then Jordan took over with two free throws, a flying slam and then a pull-up jumper from the wing with 6.8 seconds remaining to give the East a 67-58 halftime lead.  Jordan finished with 19 points.

The 3rd quarter became a little bit more of a foul fest as each team shot a bunch of free throws.  The West did come back and cut the lead to 94-92 after 3 quarters.

The 4th quarter was also a defensive struggle.  Jumpers from Chambers and Hardaway gave the West the lead and were the only field goals scored in the first two minutes of the quarter.

Clyde Drexler put back a miss and then John Stockton found Chambers for a slam on a 4-on-2 break.  The West now had a 100-95 lead.  But Patrick Ewing rebounded a Wilkins miss and scored.  Then Jordan found Barkley on the break for a layup.  A turnaround jumper by Ewing over Chambers, who was now playing center for the West, gave the East the lead.  Then Jordan went coast-to-coast past three guys for a layup.

The East eventually took a 112-107 lead with 2:46 to go before Kevin Johnson hit a free throw.  K.J. missed the second shot but Robinson rebounded and scored to cut the lead to two.  Jordan then drove down the lane off a Barkley pick and scored.  K.J. came back with a pull-up jumper.  Ewing hit a baseline jumper.  Chris Mullin hit two free throws with a minute and a half to go.  The East led 116-114.

The East ran down the shot clock but couldn’t get a good shot.  Barkley finally got the ball, pump faked three times, and had his shot blocked by K.J.  Johnson then saved the ball from going out of bounds as the shot clock went off, but he saved it back to the East.

However, it appeared to be West’s ball because of the shot clock violation.  The officials ruled though that the East would get possession, in essence saying that K.J. had possession when he blocked the shot and then saved the ball.  It was a bad call but it didn’t end up costing the West.

Mullin rebounded a miss from Ricky Pierce (who would only be on the Milwaukee Bucks for 5 more days before being traded to Seattle for Dale Ellis).

Robinson then turned the ball over but gave the West a chance to get it back when he tied up Barkley.  The West won the jump ball and called a timeout with 15.5 seconds remaining.

Portland coach Rick Adelman called for a two-man play between Magic Johnson and David Robinson.  The pick-and-roll was botched and Robinson kicked back out to Magic, who found K.J. at the right wing.  K.J. launched a three for the win that looked good but would be touched by Karl Malone before hitting the front rim (the ball actually was probably short and the Mailman mis-timed his jump, Mailman don’t deliver on Sundays).

Malone was called for an offensive goaltending with 2.9 seconds remaining and it finished off the game as Jordan took the inbounds and ran out the clock.

The East had escaped and Barkley had his All-Star MVP with 17 points and 22 rebounds (the most in an All-Star Game since Wilt Chamberlain in 1967).

The second half of the season started with the 1st place Celtics taking on the 2nd place Lakers.  It would turn out to have a special meaning in retrospect.

West starters (teams) and point totals

Chris Mullin (Golden State Warriors) 13 – Small Forward

Karl Malone (Utah Jazz) 16 – Power Forward

David Robinson (San Antonio Spurs) 16 – Center

Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers) 16 – Point Guard

Kevin Johnson (Phoenix Suns) 5 – Shooting Guard

West bench (teams) and point totals

Kevin Duckworth (Portland Blazers) 6

Clyde Drexler (Portland Blazers) 12

James Worthy (Los Angeles Lakers) 9

Terry Porter (Portland Blazers) 4

Tom Chambers (Phoenix Suns) 8

John Stockton (Utah Jazz) 4

Tim Hardaway (Golden State Warriors) 5

West Coach: Rick Adelman (Portland Blazers)

East starters (teams) and point totals

Bernard King (Washington Bullets) 8 – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (Philadelphia 76ers) 17 – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (New York Knicks) 18 – Center

Joe Dumars (Detroit Pistons) 2 – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls) 26 – Shooting Guard

East bench (teams) and point totals

Alvin Robertson (Milwaukee Bucks) 6

Dominique Wilkins (Atlanta Hawks) 12

Robert Parish (Boston Celtics) 2

Kevin McHale (Boston Celtics) 2

Ricky Pierce (Milwaukee Bucks) 9

Brad Daugherty (Cleveland Cavaliers) 8

Hersey Hawkins (Philadelphia 76ers) 6

East Coach: Chris Ford (Boston Celtics)

1991-All-Star-Game-Fleer barkley MVP

The five starters for the East squad in 1991 (from left to right: Michael Jordan, Joe Dumars, Patrick Ewing, Bernard King, and Charles Barkley).  It was the guy on the right end that ended up getting the MVP *photos courtesy of basketballchannel.fr and Pinterest

February 15, 1991 – Boston Celtics 98 @Los Angeles Lakers 85

At this moment during the NBA season, it was almost like it was the’80’s all over again.  The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers had two of the three best records in the league.  Boston was 37-12 and the Lakers were 36-12.

For Boston, Larry Bird had returned from his back injury that kept him out a month on February 6.  The Celtics were 3-0 with Bird back in the lineup and on a 5-game winning streak.  However, Kevin McHale was now out for a few weeks with a sprained ankle.  Still, Boston had won their last two games at Seattle and Golden State.  They would get set for perhaps their best performance of the year.

The Lakers had gotten back to the top of the standings with a 16-game winning streak that went from January 9 until the All-Star break (this included a blowout win over the Larry Bird-less Celtics at Boston Garden).  They lost their first game after the break at Phoenix but rebounded with a win against Minnesota.

But they ran into trouble early on against Boston when Robert Parish got going offensively, with help from some great passes from Bird.  Bird had a casual drop-off feed to Parish for a layup to give Boston a 4-0 lead.  The Lakers came back with 6 points in a row but then Brian Shaw found Parish twice for layups (one of which resulted in a three-point play).  Then Bird hit a jumper and found Shaw on a 4-on-2 break for a layup.  Boston led 13-6 halfway through the 1st quarter.

The 37-year-old Parish just kept it going from there as he scored 9 field goals and 21 points in the 1st quarter.  This included a slam after a baseline drop-step, as well as a number of turnaround fadeaway jumpers from the post.  Nearly single-handedly, Parish gave Boston a 35-27 lead at the end of the 1st quarter.

The Lakers scored the first 6 points of the 2nd quarter and forced Chris Ford to call a timeout 2 minutes in.  Terry Teagle came off the bench to score 6 points and Sam Perkins, who was normally in the starting lineup but not in this game, hit a hook shot from the post to tie the game at 39.  Parish played most of the 2nd quarter before taking an extended break, so it wouldn’t Parish this time that would carry the Celtics.

Reggie Lewis and Kevin Gamble took advantage of their matchups and got open shots from the lane, as well as out in transition.  They scored all of the Celtics points on their 11-0 run to take a 50-39 lead, and the Celtics finished the 1st half ahead 58-47 when Lewis made a fall-away from the baseline at the buzzer.  Gamble had scored 10 2nd quarter points and Lewis had 9.

Again the Lakers started out strong in the 2nd half and cut the Celtics lead to five several times, but it was Parish and Lewis that made several baskets to hold them off.  Parish scored 6 points and Lewis had 9 more as the quarter got to its late stages.

An A.C. Green tip-in cut the Celtics lead to 75-72 with under a minute and a half to go.  But then Lewis hit two pull-up jumpers to being his total to 22 points (all of which came after the 1st quarter).  Gamble then hit two free throws with 0.5 seconds remaining in the quarter to put Boston ahead 81-72 going into the 4th.

Bird would seem more or less lost in the shuffle of some of his teammates performance.  But Larry finished with a triple-double despite not shooting well.  The Lakers could not make a sustained run in the 4th quarter as they started 3-for-13 from the field and only scored 13 points.

The closest they got was 85-79 when Terry Teagle hit back-to-back baskets.  But a lefty layup from Gamble and a high-arcing turnaround by Parish, for his 29th point, kept the Lakers at bay.  Bird would then stick a big nail in the coffin with a three to put the Celtics up 92-81.

The Lakers wouldn’t recover in this game but they would beat Portland two days later to get closer to the Blazers in the standings.  The teams would face off again at the Forum in late March, with the Lakers still a game and a half behind.

The Celtics would take their winning streak to 7 games and played very well over the next month.  But they would be passed in the standings by the scalding hot Chicago Bulls, who won 20 of 21 games.  Those two teams would face off in a classic on the final day of March with Boston now 2 and a half games behind Chicago in the standings.

But this particular game between Boston and L.A. would end up taking some underlying significance.  It would be the last time that Larry Bird and Magic Johnson faced each other in an NBA game, and perhaps in any game anywhere.

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (14) – Small Forward

Larry Bird (11) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (29) – Center

Brian Shaw (10) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (26) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Dee Brown (2)

Ed Pinckney (4)

Michael Smith (2)

Joe Kleine (0)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (23) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (8) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (10) – Center

Magic Johnson (21) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (4) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Sam Perkins (7)

Terry Teagle (12)

Mychal Thompson (0)

Tony Smith (0)

Elden Campbell (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

bird magic

At the Great Western Forum on February 15, 1991, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson faced off for the final time in their careers *photo courtesy of Vox

March 12, 1991 – Philadelphia 76ers 133 @Atlanta Hawks 129 (2OT)

The Atlanta Hawks were getting pretty tired of the Philadelphia 76ers.  Not only had Philly beaten them three times, but Atlanta had blown two games against them.  At the end of this game, the Hawks would be petrified.

In the standings, the Hawks were one game ahead of Philly at 35-27, while the 76ers were 33-27.  The Hawks had finished at 41-41 in 1990 and missed the playoffs by a game.  Mike Fratello resigned as coach and was replaced a month later by Bob Weiss.

The Hawks still had the core of Dominique Wilkins, Kevin Willis, and Doc Rivers as their main stars.  Spud Webb, John Battle, and Jon Koncak were still around.  Moses Malone had turned 35 at the tail end of the 1990 season and was starting to fade.  He wasn’t an all-star for the first time since 1977.

But the team around those guys that made three straight Eastern Conference semifinal appearances from 1986-88 was going away.  Randy Wittman, Tree Rollins, and Scott Hastings had left after the 1988 season.  Antoine Carr was traded to Sacramento in February, 1990.  Cliff Levingston signed with the Bulls prior to the 1991 season.

The Hawks didn’t have much new blood to replace them.  Tim McCormick had been acquired from Houston in a trade.  Sidney Moncrief came out of retirement for one last go-around.  Players like Duane Ferrell, Rumeal Robinson and Sean Higgins had been drafted but hadn’t helped out much.  But the Hawks were back in the playoff race.

Philadelphia had won the Atlantic Division in 1990 but were 12 games behind Boston at the moment.  Head Coach Jim Lynam’s big loss had come earlier in the season when point guard Johnny Dawkins tore ligaments in his knee and was lost for the season.  The 76ers had signed Rickey Green at the beginning of the season as a backup, but he became a starter and averaged 10 points per game (his highest average since 1985-86) despite turning 36 over the summer.  Andre Turner was signed as a backup after the Dawkins injury.

Charles Barkley was still at his All-Star level as he won the MVP of the All-Star Game, although he had been struggling with injuries throughout the season, most notably a foot injury that had been lingering since January and almost kept him out of the All-Star Game.  Hersey Hawkins had joined him in the game as the 3rd year guard averaged 22.1 points per game.  Rick Mahorn was still the enforcer down low.

To add more scoring, the 76ers acquired Armen Gilliam from Charlotte in exchange for Mike Gminski.  Gilliam and 6th man Ron Anderson provided some punch at the forward position.  Philly also had 7’7″ Manute Bol as perhaps a little more than a novelty.

Lynam’s team had won 7 games in a row after going 6-16 from the end of December until the middle of February.  But they had now lost 3 out of 4 games.

They got off to an early 6-2 lead against the Hawks before Atlanta scored 6 in a row.  Philly retook a 12-10 advantage halfway through after Barkley got two slams, including a double-pump breakaway dunk.  Green then hit two jumpers but Doc Rivers got the Hawks back into it with two three-pointers.

It stayed back and forth as Atlanta took a 27-26 lead into the 2nd quarter.

The benches then became a factor as John Battle got 4 points early in the 2nd quarter.  Then a three-point play by Moses Malone on a turnaround jumper gave the Hawks a 34-28 lead.  But then Ron Anderson hit two jumpers, rookie Brian Oliver (who, being a Georgia Tech alum, got a nice hand from the crowd when he entered the game) went coast-to-coast for a layup.  Turner then found Gilliam for a layup to give Philly a 36-34 lead.  It would be their last advantage for awhile.

Battle and Moncrief drove for layups.  Kevin Willis tipped in a miss and then hit a short jumper.  Battle then drove coast-to-coast for a layup to put Atlanta ahead 44-38 and force Lynam to call a timeout with 5:07 left.

The Hawks continued their momentum and took as much as a 15-point lead.  But a reverse slam from Barkley and then a pull-up jumper from Hawkins (his first two points of the game) with 6.8 seconds remaining cut Atlanta’s halftime lead to 60-49.

Atlanta’s balance had counteracted Philly’s attack, which was mainly Barkley.  But the 3rd quarter was different.

Gilliam hit a turnaround from the post and Hawkins hit a three.  Then Mahorn and Gilliam hit jumpers to cut the lead to 62-58.  But Atlanta ran off 6 in a row and would continue to hold onto the lead.

But Hawkins got going a little bit and big field goals by Green and Anderson had cut Atlanta’s lead to 77-76 heading into the 4th quarter.

Atlanta increased its lead again as Moncrief hit two field goals, including a three, and Doc Rivers scored 8 points.  Atlanta took a 94-86 lead halfway through the 4th quarter.

Barkley then slammed on Moncrief and drew a foul.  Gilliam got a layup to cut the lead to three but Moncrief and Wilkins responded with jumpers.  Battle then hit four free throws to put Atlanta ahead 102-93 with 3 minutes left.

But a significant portion of the last three minutes were mishandled by the Hawks.  Their only points for most of it were two free throws from Wilkins.  But Dominique did not help the cause by committing two big turnovers.

Hawkins drove and finished with the left hand against Malone.  Gilliam scored the other 7 points, culminating with a running hook across the lane, on Philly’s 9-2 run to cut the lead to 104-102 with 36.2 seconds remaining.

Atlanta ran down the shot clock and Battle went 1-on-1 against Hawkins.  He spun in the lane, double-pumped in the air, and got the roll on a tough shot that seemed to finish Philly off with 18.5 remaining.  But they couldn’t get a rebound after Green missed a three and the Hawks ended up knocking the ball out of bounds with 8 seconds left.

Anderson then inbounded to Barkley, who launched a long three-pointer and nailed it with 5.4 remaining.  Oliver then fouled Wilkins after a timeout and Dominique nailed both with 4.4 to go.  Philadelphia used a timeout.

Anderson inbounded to Moses this time.  But before Atlanta could foul him, he returned the ball to Anderson for an open three from the right wing.  Ron nailed it with 1.5 left to tie the game.

Weiss designed a seemingly brilliant play in the Hawks timeout as they lobbed it to Wilkins near the basket.  But he missed a turnaround and the game was heading into overtime.  Atlanta had blown another opportunity to beat Philadelphia.

The teams battled to a 112-all tie before Battle nailed back-to-back jumpers to put the Hawks ahead again with 1:41 left.  Atlanta had a chance to increase that lead after Gilliam was called for a travel.  They ran down the shot clock and Doc Rivers missed a three.

At the other end, Barkley nailed another triple to cut it to 116-115 with 33.3 seconds left.  The 76ers then played straight up defense and rebounded a miss by Rivers.  Wilkins then stole the ball but missed a driving shot instead of holding it to run out the clock and/or get fouled.  Mahorn then controlled that rebound and called a timeout with 5.9 left.

They went to Barkley up top against Wilkins.  Charles pump faked Dominique into the air and drew a foul with 2.2 left.  But Barkley missed the first and could only tie the game as he made the second free throw.  Weiss then designed the same play but this one, more than the last one, should have worked.

Wilkins got a perfect lob facing the basket but missed a layup.  Atlanta had blown another chance to beat Philadelphia in 1991 but they could still win the second overtime.

They got off to a good start again and took a 126-122 lead with just over a minute remaining when Spud Webb drove the lane for a banker.  But Philadelphia came right back at the Hawks and Hawkins was grabbed by Battle on a breakaway with 1:02 remaining.  It was called a flagrant foul on Battle, which meant two shots for Hawkins and the ball to Philadelphia.

Hawkins made both of his shots and then Barkley connected on a pull-up from the baseline to tie the game at 126.  Battle penetrated and hit a pull-up banker from the elbow and forced a Philly timeout with 33.8 to play.

Barkley got it in the post and was doubled.  He kicked out to Green who swung the ball to Anderson in the corner beyond the three-point line.  Anderson nailed it with 22 seconds left to give the 76ers their first lead since 36-34.

Atlanta called a timeout and then Barkley gave Philly’s foul to give and made the Hawks inbound it again.  Hawkins then stole Webb’s inbounds pass to Wilkins.  Anderson was fouled with 8.3 to go and made both free throws.

After another Atlanta timeout, Philly went with the strategy that the Hawks had failed at at the end of regulation and fouled Moncrief before he could launch a game-tying three.  With 5.3 seconds left, Moncrief made the first and missed the second on purpose.  But Anderson grabbed the rebound and finished off the game with two free throws.

Atlanta, after being swept by Philadelphia in the season series, finished one game behind the 76ers in the standings at 43-39, good for 6th in the East.  They took Detroit to 5 games before getting throttled 113-81 in the 5th game.

The Hawks would then go through some changes in the back court before the 1992 season.

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Armen Gilliam (25) – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (34) – Power Forward

Rick Mahorn (10) – Center

Rickey Green (14) – Point Guard

Hersey Hawkins (16) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Ron Anderson (27)

Andre Turner (3)

Brian Oliver (2)

Manute Bol (2)

Philadelphia Coach: Jim Lynam

Atlanta starters (points scored)

Dominique Wilkins (29) – Small Forward

Kevin Willis (17) – Power Forward

Tim McCormick (10) – Center

Spud Webb (12) – Point Guard

Doc Rivers (16) – Shooting Guard

Atlanta bench (points scored)

John Battle (26)

Moses Malone (9)

Sidney Moncrief (10)

Duane Ferrell (0)

Jon Koncak (0)

Atlanta Coach: Bob Weiss

March 13, 1991 – Chicago Bulls 102 @Milwaukee Bucks 101

The Bulls were in the midst of a 20-1 stretch in which they were routinely blowing teams out.  This was one of the few times they were threatened in this streak.

Chicago was now 45-15 and 1/2 a game behind Boston for the best record in the East.  Detroit was now 7 1/2 games behind the Bulls and Milwaukee was 8 1/2 games back.

The Bucks had just come off a 96-85 win over the reeling Pistons in the Palace.  For Del Harris’ team, it snapped a 2-game losing streak.  But that was far from their worst streak of the season.  On a 20-day stretch in January, the Bucks were 2-10.  This halted them after a 25-8 start, which put them 1st in the Central Division.

Milwaukee’s strength for most of the season was their trio of guards.  There was point guard Jay Humphries, shooting guard Alvin Robertson and 1990 6th man of the year Ricky Pierce.  Despite coming off the bench, Pierce was the Bucks’ leading scorer at 22.5 points per game.  But he wanted to renegotiate his contract and the Bucks refused.

As the trade deadline approached, rumors were flying rampant that Pierce would be traded.  He finally was on February 15 when he was dealt to Seattle for Dale Ellis.  Ellis had averaged over 20 points per game in 4 seasons with the Sonics, but was only at 15 ppg in 1991 as he missed 17 games with a foot injury.

Ellis would now become the 6th man for Milwaukee behind Humphries and defensive ace Robertson, who was acquired from San Antonio in 1989 for Terry Cummings.

The front court looked a lot different in Milwaukee than before.  Fred Roberts and Jack Sikma were still there, they were 2 of 7 players to average in double figures for Milwaukee.  But gone were Randy Breuer and Paul Mokeski.  Breuer was traded to Minnesota for Brad Lohaus in 1990 and Mokeski had signed with Cleveland in 1989 as a free agent.

Larry Krystkowiak was still recovering from his knee injury that he suffered in the 1989 playoffs.  He played briefly at the end of the 1990 season but was lost for the entirety of 1991.  To help fill the void, Milwaukee drafted Michigan’s Terry Mills with the 16th pick in the 1990 NBA draft.

But Mills would be traded in August to Denver for Danny Schayes.  On that same day, veteran Paul Pressey would be traded to San Antonio for Frank Brickowski.  Just like that, Milwaukee had its big people for 1991.  Schayes, Brickowski, Roberts, Sikma, and Lohaus would be the white-wash frontcourt in Milwaukee for the next few seasons (minus Sikma, who would retire following the 1991 season).

Milwaukee’s shooting gave them the early lead over the Bulls in this game.  Robertson hit two three-pointers and Roberts hit another to put the Bucks up 13-8.  Later, two driving layups by Jay Humphries put the Bucks up 19-12.

Michael Jordan and Horace Grant were the main scorers for the Bulls.  Jordan had 12 1st quarter points and led the Bulls back into a 27-24 lead after an 8-0 run.

But Jeff Grayer, Milwaukee’s 1st round pick in 1988 who hadn’t panned out, hit a baseline jumper and then Lester Conner, a backup guard acquired from New Jersey earlier in the year, found Ellis for a layup with 2.8 seconds left to give Milwaukee a 28-27 lead heading into the 2nd quarter.

An 8-0 Bulls run put them up 40-32 and forced Del Harris to call a timeout with 7:55 left in the 2nd quarter.  The Bulls grew that lead to as much as 10.  Jordan, Grant and Scottie Pippen led the way.  Jordan had 19 points at halftime and Grant had 16.

But Milwaukee cut it back to 55-50 at halftime as Schayes led the way with 14 points.  Humphries also had two more driving layups to finish with 8 points.

The Bulls went cold in the 3rd as Jordan had to score 9 of the first 11 points to keep Chicago afloat.  Brickowksi and Schayes each got two field goals inside, Robertson hit a three, and Fred Roberts scored 5 points, including a three-point play to give Milwaukee a 68-66 lead.  Humphries then drove down the lane for a lefty layup to force Phil Jackson to use a timeout at the 3:50 mark.

The Bulls were able to right themselves and pull back into a 78-all tie entering the 4th quarter.

Milwaukee surged ahead again helped by a technical on Will Perdue.  Two free throws from Dale Ellis made it 85-80.  Then a three-point play by Ellis thwarted a Bulls rally and put the Bucks ahead 88-84.

While Milwaukee was able to hold off the Bulls for awhile, they couldn’t put the game away.  Their best chance came with under 3 minutes to go and the Bucks leading 97-92.  Milwaukee had the ball but Fred Roberts missed a runner from the baseline.  Pippen hit a free throw to cut it to four.

Then Grant got a steal and Pippen pushed it ahead to John Paxson.  Paxson nailed a pull-up three from the right wing to cut the lead to 97-96 with 1:18 left.

After a timeout, Roberts tipped in a Schayes miss to make it 99-96.  Robertson then committed a foul on Jordan in the post with 55.2 seconds left.  MJ made only 1 of 2 as he was 9-for-14 from the line that night.  Schayes rebounded the missed second free throw and Milwaukee used a timeout with 45.5 seconds to go.

But the Bulls defense forced a 5-second inbounds violation.  With a chance to tie it, Pippen drove the lane but committed an offensive foul with 37.4 left.

With a chance to, again, put the game away, Milwaukee ran down the shot clock and Humphries drove.  He threw up an airball on a runner and Pippen rebounded.  He got the ball ahead to Paxson who, again, nailed a pull-up three (this time from the left wing) to give Chicago a 100-99 lead with 16.7 seconds left.  Milwaukee used their last timeout.

The Bucks worked the ball to Schayes at the foul line but Jordan came up with a steal.  MJ was fouled by Humphries with 5.4 left and made the two free throws this time.  Milwaukee had to go quickly without any timeouts.

Roberts got the ball ahead to Frank Brickowski, who nailed a pull-up jumper from the wing at the buzzer that looked to be the tying three-pointer.  However, replay showed that Brickowski had both toes on the three-point line.

The referees conferred (at the time, they couldn’t look at the replay) and made the right ruling.  The shot was called a two-pointer and the Bucks lost by one.  This was obviously a very unpopular call in Milwaukee, although there were also a lot of Bulls fans there.

Milwaukee would finish at 48-34, two games behind Detroit for 2nd in the Central and 3rd in the East.  But they would be at a disadvantage for the playoffs.  Dale Ellis had suffered an injury during this game with the Bulls when he appeared to come down awkwardly after going up for a driving shot that was blocked.

It didn’t look serious at the time and Ellis played for two more weeks.  But it ended up being a herniated disk in his lower back that had caused weakness and numbness in his leg muscles.  It finished him for the season and required surgery over the summer.

The Bucks signed Adrian Dantley at the tail end of his career to try and fill the void for the playoffs, but he couldn’t.  The Bucks were swept by Philadelphia in the 1st round.

Milwaukee would not make the playoffs again until 1999.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (14) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (22) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (3) – Center

John Paxson (10) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (39) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (4)

Craig Hodges (2)

Will Perdue (8)

Dennis Hopson (0)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Milwaukee starters (points scored)

Fred Roberts (18) – Small Forward

Frank Brickowski (10) – Power Forward

Danny Schayes (19) – Center

Jay Humphries (12) – Point Guard

Alvin Robertson (11) – Shooting Guard

Milwaukee bench (points scored)

Dale Ellis (17)

Jack Sikma (3)

Brad Lohaus (5)

Jeff Grayer (6)

Lester Conner (0)

Milwaukee Coach: Del Harris

March 17, 1991 – Philadelphia 76ers 105 @Boston Celtics 110

Less than a week after polishing off the Atlanta Hawks in double overtime, Philadelphia had passed them in the standings and were now in 5th place in the East.

But they were 12 games behind Boston in the Atlantic Division and, before the game, Boston’s magic number to clinch the division was 7.  But the Celtics had been passed in the East standings by the Bulls, who was now a game ahead of Boston.

The Celtics had won 6 of their last 7 games despite not having Kevin McHale for a portion of them.  McHale was still out for this game with a sprained ankle.  Boston had tried to help their depth by signing former 76er Derek Smith.  But Smith still hadn’t played that season after knee surgery.  He would get some time later and made a big impact in a big playoff game.

But for now, Boston went with Ed Pinckney and Joe Kleine as the backups.  Neither had been getting playing time or giving production lately.  But still, Boston’s starters were intact with Larry Bird back from his back injury.

Bird hit three straight jumpers after missing his first few shots to give Boston an early lead.  But Charles Barkley and Hersey Hawkins led Philadelphia back.

The 76ers’ All-stars hit back-to-back threes to give Philly a 20-16 lead.  Barkley then lobbed a ball to Armen Gilliam for a layup.  Soon, after Barkley and Hawkins hit field goals, Philadelphia had a 26-18 lead with just over 2 minutes left in the 1st quarter.

But then Boston got on a roll with their ball movement.  Kevin Gamble got a layup after Reggie Lewis, Robert Parish and Brian Shaw each threw a pass without a dribble.  Shaw later found Gamble with a behind-the-back pass for a baseline jumper.

Dee Brown got into the act off the bench with a jumper, Parish hit two free throws and then Shaw hit a hook shot as Boston finished the quarter on a 10-0 run and took a 28-26 lead into the 2nd quarter.

The Celtics then took an 8-point lead three minutes into the 2nd quarter as Gamble hit two jumpers and then found Brown for another.  But Philadelphia’s bench came alive as Ron Anderson scored 6 points and Andre Turner did the same with two three-pointers.  They tied the game at 44 before the Celtics went inside.

The 76ers really didn’t have anybody to match Robert Parish down low.  Bird found him for a hook and then a turnaround jumper from the post.  Parish then put back a Lewis miss and, finally, the 37-year-old got out on the break and scored on a lead pass from Brown.

The Celtics were also helped when Barkley committed his 3rd foul just before the half.  All of this contributed to a 56-48 halftime lead for Boston.

Parish got two more field goals to start the 3rd.  Kevin Gamble hit three more from the floor, but Philly was able to within range and cut it to 68-63 when Gilliam blocked a shot and then finished on the break.

But Boston pushed it right back to 75-65 when Bird made a three from the top.  Barkley committed his 4th foul late in the 3rd but stayed in the game.  Boston took their biggest lead to that point when Brown made a three to make the score 82-69.  The 76ers cut it back to 84-74 going into the 4th quarter.

The Celtics then executed their offense to near perfection early on in the 4th quarter.  Lewis hit a jumper in the lane.  Brown found Shaw on a cut for a layup.  Parish hit a running hook in the lane.  Bird hit a three after a Parish handoff and then Shaw found Parish for a layup on a pick-and-roll.

Boston took their biggest lead at 98-82 when Bird nailed his third three-pointer.  It looked to be the nail in the coffin.  But Philly wasn’t like they are 25 years later, they didn’t give up.

Gilliam started the run with a turnaround fall-away jumper from the baseline.  Barkley then put back an Anderson airball and drew Gamble’s 5th foul.  Hawkins would later foul Gamble out with a double-pump runner from the baseline.  This cut Boston’s lead to 100-91 with about 3 1/2 minutes left.

But then Parish hit a high-arcing fall-away jumper in the lane.  Brown followed by getting a steal and going coast-to-coast on a 2-on-1.  Still, Barkley hit two jumpers to cut it back to nine with under 2:00 left.

Then Hawkins hit two free throws, got a steal, and fed Gilliam for a breakaway.  Chris Ford had to use a Boston timeout with 1:16 left and the lead down to 104-99.

But Boston got a big basket from their young star, Reggie Lewis, to stem the tide at the end of the shot clock.  That and an offensive rebound by Shaw on the next possession followed by free throws helped hold off Philly for this ball game.

Philadelphia would end up finishing with a 44-38 record, good for 5th in the East.  They swept a depleted Milwaukee Bucks team before taking on the Bulls in the 2nd round.

Boston could not keep pace with Chicago as they lost 3 of their next 4 games.  But they would host the Bulls two weeks later, still trailing by only 2.5 games.

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Armen Gilliam (12) – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (38) – Power Forward

Rick Mahorn (2) – Center

Rickey Green (11) – Point Guard

Hersey Hawkins (23) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Ron Anderson (9)

Andre Turner (10)

Kenny Payne (0)

Manute Bol (0)

Philadelphia Coach: Jim Lynam

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (16) – Small Forward

Larry Bird (23) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (28) – Center

Brian Shaw (10) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (14) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Dee Brown (15)

Ed Pinckney (2)

Joe Kleine (2)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

March 29, 1991 – Portland Blazers 109 @Los Angeles Lakers 105 (OT)

Every season since 1981, the Pacific Division champion had been the Los Angeles Lakers.  But now they were 1 1/2 games behind the Portland Blazers with just 4 weeks left.

The Blazers had started the season 19-1 and held the best record in the league for the entire campaign.  They were suddenly the new team on the block after getting to the Finals against Detroit in 1990.  Rick Adelman’s Blazers had returned everybody and even added some pieces.

The starting lineup of Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter in the backcourt, Jerome Kersey and Buck Williams at the forwards and Kevin Duckworth in the middle remained intact.  Cliff Robinson had made major strides in his second season.  Guards Danny Young and Drazen Petrovic were retained but their playing time diminished because of an off-season addition.  Wayne Cooper and Mark Bryant remained from the front court.

But Portland’s big addition came when they traded 1989 1st round pick Byron Irvin and two future picks to the Sacramento Kings for veteran guard Danny Ainge.  Ainge provided championship experience from his days in Boston.  But it took away playing time from a young star in Drazen Petrovic.  Petro would be traded to New Jersey in January in part of a 3-team deal that brought Walter Davis to Portland.

With all of that, the Blazers felt they were set.  Although they had a 3-8 stretch from the end of February until mid-March, the Blazers kept their lead tenuously.  But then they ripped off 4 straight, including a win at Seattle in which they were down 24 points in the 3rd quarter.  Their comeback ability would be tested again.

The Lakers had beaten Portland in 2 of their 3 matchups so far during the season.  But the Lakers had seen only 10 minutes of Jerome Kersey in those three games.  Kersey got a field goal early on in this one but the Portland offense was carried by Porter, as he scored 9 quick points to give the Blazers an 11-4 lead.  Mike Dunleavy had to use a Laker timeout with just 3 1/2 minutes gone by.

But then L.A. got it together led, as usual, by Magic Johnson and James Worthy.  Magic scored 8 points, including a three-pointer, and had at least 4 assists on feeds to Worthy and Byron Scott.  Worthy had 10 points to lead the way and a Lakers 9-0 run late in the quarter helped put them ahead 28-22 going into the 2nd quarter.

The going was slow for the Trailblazers as they didn’t score a field goal in the first 7 minutes of the 2nd quarter.  They didn’t get on the boards, a very big key to their success, and just looked sluggish overall, not an uncommon thing in the dog days of an NBA season.

L.A. increased its lead to double digits as Worthy kept his attack going and the Lakers got help from their bench, most notably in rookie Tony Smith.  L.A. went on a 7-0 run late in the half as Scott got two breakaway layups and then Worthy hit a three for his 20th point and a 53-34 Lakers lead.  A layup by Kersey with 2.8 seconds left in the half cut it to 53-36 at halftime.

The Lakers kept the attack going for the first 3 minutes of the 3rd quarter and had a 65-44 lead when Sam Perkins hit a turnaround jumper from the post.  Magic had a chance to increase that advantage but missed a layup.

Portland had not been able to get out on the break, their strength, because of a lack of rebounding and effort defensively.  They had also not gotten Kevin Duckworth, an All-Star in 1991, involved down low.

But then Duck hit his first field goal on a lefty runner to cut it to 65-46.  Then Portland got out on a 4-on-1 break and Porter found Duckworth for a slam.  The Blazers energy picked up and they got stops defensively.  A big key to this was switching Buck Williams onto James Worthy to neutralize his low post game.

Williams also contributed offensively with a three-point play on a running banker, after Portland recovered a loose ball at half-court, to cut it to 65-53.  Kersey and Drexler got steals on the next few possessions, leading to layups by Porter and Kersey, respectively.  Dunleavy had to use a Lakers timeout with 4:23 left, and that may have been a possession or two too late.  Portland trailed 65-57.

Drexler penetrated and found Kersey at the top for a jumper.  Drexler then drove down the lane for a finger roll and the lead was four.  A lefty layup by Magic stopped the 17-0 run but didn’t switch the momentum.  Kersey hit another jumper and Porter went coast-to-coast for a layup and the score was 67-66 L.A.

Drexler then nailed a pull-up three from the top to give Portland the lead in the same quarter in which they were trailing by 21.  The Blazers did not make a substitution until the final minute of the quarter.  They took a 71-69 lead into the 4th when Drexler drove coast-to-coast for a layup in the matter of 4 seconds to end the period.

The Blazers had the momentum but Worthy kept L.A. in it with two jumpers on feeds from Tony Smith.  Smith and L.A.’s bench helped give the Lakers the advantage again.  This time, Terry Teagle was the main cog with 7 points to give the Lakers an 84-80 lead.  Teagle later came up with a steal and drew Jerome Kersey’s 5th foul.

Magic would hit four straight free throws to give the Lakers a 92-84 lead with under 4 minutes to go.  But Portland turned the switch on again (or the Lakers turned their switch off) and suddenly, Cliff Robinson hit a turnaround jumper from the post and Porter hit a step-back jumper from the corner.

The Blazers would also show off their hustle again as they recovered another loose ball before Porter penetrated and found Duckworth for a slam and a foul.  Duckworth would follow that with a hook shot from the baseline to give Portland a 93-92 lead.  Magic came back with a driving layup and Porter hit a free throw to tie the game at 94 with a minute to go.

The Blazers recovered Porter’s missed second free throw but couldn’t get a good shot as Porter airballed a driving shot.  But then Worthy threw a swing pass to the wing out of bounds when a teammate wasn’t where he may (or may not) have been supposed to be (Worthy also threw that pass before looking).

The Blazers used a timeout with 24.4 seconds left.  Drexler missed a pull-up jumper and Byron Scott rebounded.  The Lakers had no timeouts so Scott had to dribble the length of the floor and just barely missed a long three at the buzzer.  The game was headed to overtime.

The teams would then trade baskets for most of it.  Drexler found Porter for a jumper.  Magic hit Perkins on a cut for a three-point play to foul out Cliff Robinson.  Kersey hit two free throws.  Perkins hit two more with 3 minutes left after drawing Duckworth’s 6th foul.  Danny Ainge nailed a corner three.  Byron Scott connected on a three from the top.  Drexler banged into Perkins and hit a finger roll in the lane.

Magic responded by hitting a runner in the post after a baseline spin and drawing the foul.  The three-point play gave the Lakers a 105-103 lead.  But Porter hit a pull-up from the baseline to tie it with 35.5 seconds left.  It was, literally, who will blink first.

The Lakers would thanks to a blocked shot from Terry Porter.  Magic got past Ainge in the post and seemed to be in for another layup when Porter came over and blocked his shot like a big man.

The Blazers then went on the transition and Drexler found Williams for a layup and a foul.  Buck missed the free throw and Worthy rebounded and called timeout with 19.5 seconds left.

L.A. went to Worthy in the post.  He found a cutting Perkins for a seemingly easy shot, but Sam missed the layup.  The rebound was up for grabs and there was a scramble for it before Buck Williams dove on it and got it ahead to Drexler for the game-sealing breakaway slam with 3.3 seconds left.

It also turned out to be a Division-sealing win.  For Portland, this was win number 4 in what would become a 16-game winning streak.  They finished at 63-19, good for the best record in the league.  L.A. would have the 2nd best record in the West at 58-24 but would be relegated to the 3rd seed and a date with the 52-win Houston Rockets.

But, as it turned out, Portland didn’t have things as rosy as it seemed and L.A. would get another chance at the team who overtook their Pacific Division title streak.

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (25) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (12) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (9) – Center

Terry Porter (26) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (22) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (10)

Danny Ainge (3)

Danny Young (2)

Wayne Cooper (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (26) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (12) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (6) – Center

Magic Johnson (23) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (17) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (7)

A.C. Green (4)

Mychal Thompson (6)

Tony Smith (4)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

March 31, 1991 – Chicago Bulls 132 @Boston Celtics 135 (2OT)

It was a regular season Sunday afternoon classic.  The Chicago Bulls were 2.5 games ahead of the Celtics for the best record in the East, and with 3 weeks remaining in the season, Boston had to make their final move to try and take the top spot.

The Bulls had finally comeback to earth a bit after winning 20 of 21 games.  They were 3-2 in their last five games and their long home court winning streak had come to an end at the hands of Houston.  But the Bulls still had a 9 game lead in the Central Division with 12 left to play.

Boston had clinched the Atlantic Division two days earlier when Robert Parish hit a game-winner to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers.  The Celtics would even have an answer for Michael Jordan early on as Reggie Lewis blocked two of his jump shots.

Lewis was an inch taller than Jordan, even if he was a little thinner, and had the same athletic ability.  But it turned out to be a big moment in his short career as he ended up blocking 4 shots of Jordan’s.

Michael finished the 1st half 3-for-11 from the field and only 7 points as Boston led 53-47 at the half.  Lewis was a big factor offensively as well.  He hit a step-back jumper from the wing at the buzzer to end the 1st quarter with the game tied at 28.

Boston was also welcoming back Kevin McHale for the first time in 16 days.  McHale had been out with a sprained ankle and played a little bit in the first half but became a difference maker down the stretch.

Boston held the lead through much of the 2nd and 3rd quarters but their biggest advantage was 8 points.  Dee Brown was a major factor off the bench along with Lewis and Larry Bird.  Kevin Gamble, Robert Parish, and Brian Shaw all played steadily as well.

Jordan got it going in the 3rd as he scored 10 points to bring his total to 17.  Scottie Pippen led the Bulls with 19 at that point, but there wasn’t much contribution from anyone else and the Bulls trailed 86-78 heading into the 4th quarter.

Boston’s lead would then increase.  Brown got a three-point play to bring his point total to 17.  McHale then got a layup off a feed from Ed Pinckney to put Boston up 91-80 and force Phil Jackson to use a timeout with 10:29 left.

Later, McHale got the bounce on a three-pointer that put Boston up 96-82 and led Marv Albert to comment that it just might not be the Bulls day.  But this game was far from over and craziness was just beginning.

Bird committed his 4th foul and Jordan and Pippen led the Bulls on an 8-0 run.  Bird halted it briefly with a three to bring his point total to 23.  The teams then traded baskets for the next few minutes before a banker from Pippen got it to 105-101.  Bird answered with a turnaround fall-away from the post and Chicago used another timeout with 4:04 to go.

But Boston would be held scoreless for almost the rest of regulation.  Meanwhile, Cartwright put back a Jordan miss.  Pippen nailed a three from the wing and then hit two free throws after drawing Parish’s 5th foul.  Pippen now had 30 points.  Jordan later hit two free throws to put the Bulls up 110-107.

The Bulls twice had a chance to increase that lead and put the game away but they couldn’t.  Finally, Bird got a chance to tie the game with a three.  He missed long but Brian Shaw got the rebound and kicked out to Reggie Lewis.  Lewis rose up and connected on his only three-pointer of the season (!) and tied the game with 19.4 seconds left.

Lewis then defensed Jordan on the next possession and the Bulls threw the ball away with 3 seconds left trying to find MJ.  Lewis had given Boston a chance to win it and Bird came oh so close to doing so.

Bird inbounded to McHale after a timeout.  McHale was then doubled by Bird’s man, Pippen, but was able to give Larry a return pass for an open three.  The ball hit the back rim, bounced high and hit nearly the top of the backboard, it then hit the front rim and bounced away.  The crowd let out a huge groan while Pippen, amongst all of Chicago, gave a big sigh of relief.  The Bulls were playing their first overtime game of the season.

Robert Parish was the big factor in the first 4 minutes of overtime as he hit three jumpers from the post to give Boston a 118-113 lead.  But then he fouled out with 1 minute to go and Jordan hit two free throws to cut the lead to three.

Jordan then stripped Lewis on the drive and Pippen took the loose ball away from McHale and pushed it.  Pippen settled and then found John Paxson behind him for a game-tying three-pointer from the left wing with 32.4 seconds left.

Boston used a timeout and went to Bird inside.  He would be doubled by Pippen and Grant, each blocked an attempt from Bird before Chicago controlled it with 10 seconds left.  Phil Jackson signaled to Jordan to push the ball and not use a timeout.  Michael came up short on a pull-up jumper and Bird rebounded.  Boston called timeout with 1.1 seconds left.

Chris Ford decided to go with a lob play for the high jumping Dee Brown.  But Pippen and Grant saw it coming and defended it.  Grant ended up with the interception and called timeout with 0.4 seconds left.

This would give the Bulls one last chance at a catch-and-shoot.  They almost pulled it off.  Pippen inbounded to Jordan at the right baseline.  Michael went up with a long turnaround jumper from the baseline with Lewis in his face.

As Jordan released the shot, referee Mike Mathis was indicating that the attempt came too late.  This would turn out to be a heart-breaker for the Bulls as Jordan nailed the fall-away and the Bulls were celebrating for a second before realizing that Mathis was frantically blowing his whistle waving off the basket.

The replays seemed to me to confirm that Jordan just took a little too much time in turning around and releasing the ball.  The call was correct and they didn’t even need replay.

With that adding to the craziness of Bird’s miss at the end of regulation (5:34 of same video), one wasn’t quite sure what to expect in the 2nd overtime, or how it will end.

Bird hit two turnaround jumpers from the mid-post area and then Brown nailed a baseline jumper to give Boston a 124-120 lead with 3:08 left.  Bird then got the bounce on another fall-away after drawing a foul.  The three-point play put Boston up 127-122.

But the Celtics’ chance to increase the lead went by the wayside as Lewis missed two free throws.  Jordan then answered Bird’s three-point play by essentially doing the same thing.  He pump faked a man from the elbow, drew a foul, and got the bounce on a field goal.

But then Shaw found Bird for a baseline jumper and then Brown drove down the lane off a Bird screen for a layup.  Boston was up 131-125 with just about a minute to go and Chicago used a timeout.

The craziness continued.  Pippen handed off to Paxson while setting a screen on John’s man.  Paxson launched a three while Pippen’s man, Lewis, went out to challenge.  The three went in and Lewis was called for a foul.  The four-point play cut the lead back to 131-129.

Brian Shaw answered with a wing jumper and then Ed Pinckney rebounded a Jordan miss.  But Lewis couldn’t put it away at the foul line as he split a pair.  Pippen then connected on a three to make it 134-132 Boston.  Lewis again couldn’t put it away as he split a pair of free throws.

Chicago used its last timeout with 15 seconds left.  But they couldn’t add to this crazy game as Jordan missed two game-tying three-point attempts and Boston held on.  Jordan finished a 12-for-36 from the field, but was 13-for-13 from the line.  The Bulls had a 35 to 19 advantage in free throw attempts and a 32 to 12 advantage in makes.  All in all, it didn’t matter.

Chicago went on a rare two-game home losing streak a week later.  They would look to end it against the New York Knicks, the team they would match up against in the 1st round.  The Bulls held a 1-game lead against the Celtics at that moment.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (35) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (15) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (5) – Center

John Paxson (28) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (37) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (8)

Craig Hodges (0)

Will Perdue (2)

Cliff Levingston (2)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (12) – Small Forward

Larry Bird (34) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (15) – Center

Brian Shaw (11) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (25) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Dee Brown (21)

Kevin McHale (10)

Ed Pinckney (7)

Stojko Vrankovic (0)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

Reggie-Lewis-Michael-Jordan

On this day at least, Reggie Lewis got the better of Michael Jordan (Bill Cartwright and Robert Parish look on) *photo courtesy of In All Airness

April 9, 1991 – New York Knicks 106 @Chicago Bulls 108

With a little less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Chicago Bulls were hanging onto the top spot in the East by one game over Boston.  The Celtics had nearly caught up to the Bulls because Chicago had lost back-to-back home games, including an overtime decision to a Charles Barkley-less Philadelphia team.

Meanwhile, New York was one game behind the Indiana Pacers for the 7th spot in the East.  The Knicks had won an Atlantic Division title in 1989 but they fell off in the 2nd half of the 1990 season before rebounding to beat Boston in the 1st round.

They fell off more in 1991 and fired head coach Stu Jackson after a 7-8 start.  Jackson was replaced by veteran coach John MacLeod, who was in his last NBA head coaching duty (he would go on to coach at Notre Dame).

New York had lost Johnny Newman in the off-season to free agency but filled that void by signing John Starks.  Starks had played in the CBA and WBL the previous season after 36 games with Golden State in 1989.  He would take advantage of his opportunity with the Knicks.

The 25-year-old Starks would come off the bench along with Trent Tucker and Mark Jackson in the back court as veteran Maurice Cheeks and Gerald Wilkins started.  Jackson’s play had not quite recovered after getting benched at the end of the 1990 season.  He would never fully regain his confidence in New York after an all-star 1989 season.

The back court was solid but the weakness may have been in the front court for New York behind the starters of Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley and Kiki Vandeweghe.  Kenny Walker’s minutes and play went down considerably in what would be his last season in New York.  1st round pick Jerrod Mustaf would not make it.  Brian Quinnett could shoot and had some good games as a result.

Despite being stabilized by MacLeod, who did a good job despite players not being happy that Jackson was fired, the Knicks could never get any streak together.  Their longest win streak was 5 and their longest losing streak was 4.  They teetered around the .500 mark the entire year but were guaranteed a playoff spot with Cleveland, the closest team to New York in the standings, being 8 games behind them.

But would they face the Bulls who were going for their 4th win in 4 games against New York in 1991, or Boston who they beat in 1990.

Either way, they weren’t healthy at this moment.  Gerald Wilkins had gone on the injured list at the end of March with a severely sprained ankle.  He would miss the rest of the regular season but be back for the playoffs.  Charles Oakley was also out for this game with a knee injury that put him on the pine for the better part of two weeks.  Tucker and Walker would be in the starting lineup for them.

Despite Walker picking up two early fouls, New York pulled to an early 8-8 tie.  But then Scottie Pippen kicked out to Michael Jordan for a three from the wing.  Pippen followed with two slams, one on an offensive rebound and the other in transition.  MacLeod had to use a timeout with 7:24 left in the 1st quarter.

The Bulls increased that lead to 9 when Bill Cartwright got a steal and fed Jordan in transition for a slam.  MacLeod had to call another timeout 2 minutes after calling the first one.  But then he brought in Starks who scored 7 quick points.  This sparked a 9-0 run that tied the game at 21.

But Jordan hit five free throws and then a pull-up jumper after fending off Starks.  Cartwright also added two buckets and Chicago increased their lead back to 33-23 at the end of the 1st quarter.

But then the Bulls bench came in and were out-played.  Starks, Quinnett, Jackson, and Eddie Lee Wilkins all scored field goals to bring New York to within 33-31 and force Phil Jackson to use a timeout with 9:34 left.

Six points from Pippen put the lead back briefly at 43-33 before Kiki Vandeweghe led a Knicks run to tie the game at 45.  Vandeweghe was usually a spot-up shooter but, in this game, he was driving to the hole and finishing.  Kiki finished the 1st half with 11 points to lead New York along with Starks and Quinnett.

But Jordan took over at the end of the 2nd quarter with a hanging bank shot in the lane and then a drive and score with 0.9 seconds left to put the Bulls up 57-54 at the half.  Jordan had 22 and Pippen 13.

Pippen would lead the way in the 3rd quarter with 11 points.  Late in the quarter, B.J. Armstrong found Scottie for a corner three that put the Bulls up 79-74 and gave Pippen his 10th field goal in 10 attempts.  He would miss his next two but Scottie was showing how much he had come on after a slow start to the regular season.

A tip-slam by Cartwright on a Jordan miss with 5.2 seconds left in the 3rd put Chicago up 84-76 heading into the 4th quarter.

The Bulls bench would help increase that lead to as much as 13 in the first 5 minutes of the quarter.  Jackson even took Jordan out with the Bulls announcers hoping they wouldn’t have to see Michael for the rest of the game.

But the Knicks turned up their intensity with a three-guard lineup.  Mark Jackson led the way with 6 points as the Knicks rattled off an 8-1 run that made Jackson put Jordan back in.

The Knicks doubled MJ every time he got the ball and Jordan was content to pass it out and rely on teammates.  Jordan only scored 6 points in the 2nd half and 2 in the 4th quarter.

A banker by Ewing cut the Bulls lead to 101-97 and then, after a steal, Jackson was fouled with 2:35 left.  He split the free throws but the Bulls announcers were being reminded of the game Chicago blew to Philly two days earlier in which the Bulls had the lead throughout.

But Pippen would ease the reminder for a minute as he nailed a big three from the top after Cartwright swung the ball out to him.  Walker put back a miss with under 2 minutes left but then John Paxson, who had hit some clutch shots in 1991 (but the best was yet to come), nailed a pull-up at the end of the shot clock.

Chicago led 106-100 with 1:32 left but Ewing hit two free throws after a Cartwright foul.  New York then got a steal and Jackson found Ewing for a short jumper in the lane.  The Bulls tried to go to Jordan, but he was doubled and passed outside.  Paxson this time missed a pull-up at the end of the shot clock and Horace Grant fouled Walker on the rebound.

Kenny tied the game at 106 with two free throws at the 42.5 second mark.  The Bulls were forced to use a timeout as their killer instinct lacked.

Jordan again got the ball and was doubled.  So he kicked out to Pippen at the top.  Scottie looked like he was going to launch a three but spotted Paxson at the baseline and gave him the ball.  Paxson faked a lunging Walker and then nailed a pull-up with 22.2 seconds left.

Cartwright then came up big defensively as he first knocked the ball away from Ewing as Patrick was going up for a shot in the lane and then stole a pass to seal the game.

The unsung tandem of Paxson and Cartwright may have ended up saving the top seed in the East for the Bulls.  This win kicked off a 6-1 finish to the season for Chicago.  Their record was 61-21 and they would match up with the 39-43 Knicks in the 1st round, and New York would rue the day.

The Bulls would also be helped by Boston finishing the season at 2-6 as Larry Bird sat out all but one of those games with back problems.  Boston would finish at 56-26 and had a much tougher time with Indiana then the Bulls had with New York.

New York starters (points scored)

Kiki Vandeweghe (19) – Small Forward

Kenny Walker (6) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (21) – Center

Maurice Cheeks (8) – Point Guard

Trent Tucker (6) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Mark Jackson (15)

John Starks (13)

Brian Quinnett (11)

Jerrod Mustaf (3)

Eddie Lee Wilkins (4)

Greg Grant (0)

New York Coach: John MacLeod

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (27) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (10) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (11) – Center

John Paxson (13) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (28) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (5)

Stacey King (0)

Craig Hodges (4)

Will Perdue (6)

Cliff Levingston (4)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

April 25, 1991 – West Quarterfinals, Game 1: Houston Rockets 92 @Los Angeles Lakers 94

Nothing like kicking off the NBA playoffs with some controversy.  For the first time since 1981, the Los Angeles Lakers did not win the Pacific Division.  This meant they got a chance to play a decent 52-30 Houston Rockets team.

The Rockets had been a so-so 41-41 team in 1990.  They started off the season as a so-so team but a peculiar thing got them going.  On January 3, in a game against the Chicago Bulls, superstar center Hakeem Olajuwon was elbowed in the face by Bill Cartwright.  The blow broke the orbital bone around Olajuwon’s right eye and forced him to miss about 2 months.

Without their superstar, Don Chaney’s Rockets seemed to be in trouble.  They were 20-20 on January 22 but then won 7 of their next 8 games.  They went 9-3 in February and then, once Olajuwon came back, had a 13-game winning streak in March.

The difference was that they upped their intensity on defense and shared the ball on offense, as opposed to looking for one guy.  The Rockets still had cornerstones in Otis Thorpe, Vernon Maxwell, Buck Johnson and Sleepy Floyd.  But they had made some moves to improve.  Kenny Smith was acquired from Atlanta for two players and a draft pick.

Smith and Maxwell were the key catalysts from the backcourt who spearheaded Chaney’s team.  They, along with Thorpe, averaged over 17 points per game to help the offense without Olajuwon.  Hakeem still averaged 21.2 points per game but took less shots once he came back and everyone was involved.

Even with 52 wins, the Rockets still finished 6th in a strong Western Conference.  But many figured they’d challenge the Lakers, they were the only team in the West to beat L.A. in a playoff series in the 1980’s.

However, Houston’s reliance on the jump shot hurt them early in Game 1 as they got off to a slow start.  Meanwhile, Byron Scott was hitting his jump shot.  He hit three of them in the first 4 minutes to give L.A. a 9-4 lead.

Then it was James Worthy and Sam Perkins who got going to give the Lakers a 9-point lead.  L.A. was up 25-18 at the end of the 1st quarter as Scott led the way with 9 points.

The Lakers took as much as an 11-point lead in the 2nd quarter as Don Chaney searched for anyone who could get it going.  He finally found a guy in rookie Dave Jamerson.  Jamerson was a 6’5″ guard from Ohio University who would only play in 3 NBA seasons.

But in the 2nd quarter of this game, he got attention for two reasons.  First, he sparked the team by hitting a jump shot and then putting back a miss.  Second, he drew two punches from Lakers reserve Terry Teagle that cost Los Angeles his services for the rest of this game and Game 2.

Suddenly, Jamerson was the target to L.A. boos and he didn’t flinch.  He hit three more free throws to cut the Lakers lead to 35-31 before Sam Perkins nailed a three.

But the Rockets were sparked (pun absolutely intended) and, for the rest of the 1st half, played like the team that had come together in February and March.  Floyd, Thorpe, Smith, Johnson, and Maxwell all got involved (Hakeem only scored 2 points in the quarter) and Houston came back to take a 50-49 lead on a putback from Thorpe.

But then Magic penetrated and found Perkins for a layup with 3.6 seconds left in the half to take a 51-50 lead to the locker room.

The good things did not continue for Houston as they became a jump shooting team in the 3rd quarter, and not the kind that was making the jumpers.  But L.A. could not take full advantage as nobody seemed to be picking up the spark.

The Lakers held a lead throughout the quarter and went into the 4th ahead 71-66.  Byron Scott still led the way with 16 points, including 7 in the 3rd quarter.

The benches sparked the teams early on in the 4th quarter.  Jamerson scored 5 more points, including a technical free throw after an L.A. illegal defense, and took a lot of playing time from an uneven Vernon Maxwell (uneven in terms of shooting the ball, this time) in the late going.  Larry Drew contributed big for the Lakers a Teagle’s absence.

The Lakers continued to lead until Scott picked up his 5th foul and Kenny Smith made two free throws to tie the game at 80.  A Worthy touch-pass found Perkins for a slam and then a Perkins steal led to a break opportunity that ended with a three-point play from Magic.  This put L.A. ahead 85-81 as Houston was mounting up missed opportunities.

But back they came with under 5 minutes to go.  Smith penetrated and found Thorpe for a baseline jumper.  Then Hakeem kicked out to Kenny Smith for a jumper from the top to tie the game.

Magic gave L.A. the lead again when he put back his own miss.  But Houston would hustle its own offensive rebound and Olajuwon hit a turnaround jumper in the lane and drew a foul.  The three-point play put the Rockets up 88-87 with 3 minutes left.

But Houston would go scoreless for the next 2 1/2 minutes.  L.A. couldn’t fully take advantage but had a 91-88 lead after two free throws from Vlade Divac and then a layup from Divac off a Worthy feed.

The Lakers had the ball too with under a minute to go but Magic missed a driving shot.  Maxwell then got a breakaway basket on a goaltend from Divac to cut it to 91-90 with 28.8 seconds left.

With the 4 second difference between the shot clock and the game clock, Houston decided to play straight up defense.  It almost worked and perhaps should have.

Magic backed in and then kicked out to Byron Scott with the shot clock running down.  Scott pump faked, dribbled into the elbow area on the right side, and made a jumper over two guys with 3.5 seconds left.

Originally, it was called a shot clock violation.  But then after the officials discussed the play, they gave Scott the basket.  Houston argued vehemently but the officials weren’t allowed to look at replay yet in the NBA.  The replay was also inconclusive as they graphic shot clock showed 0 with the ball still in Scott’s hands but there was no definitive red light on the basket at that time in the NBA.

With it still being the dark ages, the basket counted and the Lakers had a 93-90 lead with 3.5 seconds left.  It would hold as Houston threw their inbounds pass out of bounds.

The Lakers had survived and would win Game 2 without Teagle.  But the Lakers, and Teagle, would have to deal with a Houston crowd in Game 3.

Houston starters (points scored)

Buck Johnson (8) – Small Forward

Otis Thorpe (10) – Power Forward

Hakeem Olajuwon (22) – Center

Kenny Smith (15) – Point Guard

Vernon Maxwell (12) – Shooting Guard

Houston bench (points scored)

Dave Jamerson (12)

Sleepy Floyd (8)

David Wood (5)

Larry Smith (0)

Houston Coach: Don Chaney

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (14) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (17) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (17) – Center

Magic Johnson (17) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (20) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Larry Drew (8)

Terry Teagle (1)

A.C. Green (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

teagle

Terry Teagle had to be restrained by Houston’s “Mr. Mean” Larry Smith after throwing two punches at Dave Jamerson for, what seemed like, no good reason *photo courtesy of itunes

April 26, 1991 – West Quarterfinals, Game 1: Seattle Sonics 102 @Portland Blazers 110

The Portland Trailblazers had stormed into the playoffs by winning 16 of their final 17 games of the regular season.  They looked to be the prohibitive favorite to win it all.  They had set a franchise record with 63 wins after a Finals appearance the year before.

The Seattle Supersonics had missed the playoffs in 1990 and now had almost a whole new look to their team.  Bernie Bickerstaff left to become the general manager of the Denver Nuggets.  K.C. Jones was brought out of retirement to coach the Sonics.

They drafted Oregon State’s Gary Payton with the 2nd pick to add to the young nucleus of Dana Barros and Shawn Kemp (who were back-to-back 1st round picks in 1989).  When he was drafted, Kemp had actually not played basketball since graduating high school in 1988.  He had committed to Kentucky but had a low SAT score and would be ineligible for his freshman year.  He left the team in November 1988 after he was accused of pawning two gold chains that had been reported stolen from his teammate Sean Sutton, the son of then Kentucky head coach Eddie Sutton.  Sean Sutton did not press charges, but Kemp transferred to Trinity Valley Community College in Texas.  After a semester at TVCC, where he did not play, 19-year-old Shawn Kemp declared himself eligible for the 1989 NBA draft.

After averaging only 6.5 points per game as a rookie, Kemp upped it to 15 in 1991, along with 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.  Kemp would average a double-double over the next 6 seasons.

While Kemp and Payton were stars in the making, they were not quite there in 1991.  The Sonics did some wheeling and dealing to try and further their development.  Xavier McDaniel was traded to Phoenix for Eddie Johnson.  Dale Ellis was shipped to Milwaukee for Ricky Pierce.  Olden Polynice was traded to the Clippers for Benoit Benjamin.

Kemp, Payton, Johnson and Benjamin would be starters along with Sedale Threatt over the last half of the year.  Pierce came off the bench along with Barros, Derrick McKey, Michael Cage and Nate McMillan.

The play was inconsistent throughout the year as the new players were still getting used to each other.  But a 5-game winning streak in April clinched a playoff spot for Seattle.  They finished at 41-41, which was the same record they had in 1990.

They then would show their metal against Portland despite not being given a chance.  Kemp started the scoring with a three-point play and then Payton found him for a slam in transition.

But Portland’s starters played like a well-gelled unit and took the lead.  Jerome Kersey and Clyde Drexler led the way, with Buck Williams and Kevin Duckworth contributing.  Terry Porter didn’t quite get into the act as he scored his only field goal of the game on a reverse layup with just over 3 minutes left in the quarter.

But Portland still steadily grew their lead with Kersey leading the way.  Jerome scored 12 points in the 1st quarter and gave the Blazers their biggest lead at 29-19 with a slam on a 4-on-1 break.  But two jumpers from Ricky Pierce cut the lead to 31-23 at the end of the 1st quarter.

The 2nd quarter was a helluva lot more sloppy as neither bench came in and contributed much.  Kersey would bring his 1st half point total to 18 with two free throws to give the Blazers a 50-43 halftime lead.

Portland kept their lead in the 3rd as Shawn Kemp helped with a technical after pushing a Blazers player.  But Seattle made a run led by Eddie Johnson.  E.J. scored 10 straight Seattle points to cut the lead to 62-61.

But the Sonics could never grab the lead as Portland answered with baskets when Seattle cut their lead to one point.  Drexler would hit three big baskets in that stretch to eventually put Portland ahead 73-68.  Then Clyde got a steal and fed Kersey for a slam on a 4-on-2 break.

Kersey finished the quarter with 28 points and Portland was further helped when Ricky Pierce was called for a technical after arguing a call.  But even with all of that, Portland led only by 6 at 78-72 going into the 4th quarter.

The Sonics player that had helped Eddie Johnson the most in the 3rd quarter was Payton.  The rookie scored 6 points to keep Seattle in the game and was actually doing a stellar job on Drexler at the defensive end.  Meanwhile, Porter was being shut down by Sedale Threatt.

Despite Payton’s stellar game, he would be benched in the 4th quarter in favor of Ricky Pierce.  A logical move going in but it exploded in K.C. Jones’ face.  Pierce could not get going offensively but, more importantly, Drexler exploded on his offensive end.

Portland’s bench would finally get some buckets as Cliff Robinson and Danny Ainge started the 4th quarter with field goals.  But six points from Eddie Johnson cut the lead to 85-82.

Drexler then started a Portland run by hitting a three from the top.  Later, Clyde back cut Pierce for a layup off a Buck Williams feed.  Drexler would then feed Danny Ainge on a cut for a layup.  This put Portland up 93-85 with 6:09 to go and forced a Seattle timeout.

But Seattle would not go away.  After committing his 5th foul, E.J. nailed a three from the top to cut the lead to 96-92.  But Drexler hit two free throws and, with under 2 minutes left, hit a driving banker after switching to his left hand.

That shot gave Portland a 100-96 lead.  Then with under a minute left when Kersey nailed a pull-up jumper from the top to give Portland a 104-98 lead.  Kersey later found Drexler for a layup with 32.4 seconds left.

The icing on the cake would be thrown in when Ainge threw a long pass to Drexler for a breakaway slam.  This gave Portland a 108-102 lead.  Drexler finished the 4th quarter with 19 points and finished the game with 39.

Game 2 would prove to be more of the same.  Seven Blazers finished in double figures but needed a 4th quarter run to put the game away 115-106.  The same thing was happening in Game 3 as well.  But a different result would be had.

Seattle starters (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (33) – Small Forward

Shawn Kemp (10) – Power Forward

Benoit Benjamin (12) – Center

Gary Payton (6) – Point Guard

Sedale Threatt (15) – Shooting Guard

Seattle bench (points scored)

Ricky Pierce (17)

Derrick McKey (6)

Michael Cage (2)

Dana Barros (0)

Nate McMillan (1)

Seattle Coach: K.C. Jones

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (31) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (10) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (12) – Center

Terry Porter (7) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (39) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (3)

Danny Ainge (6)

Walter Davis (2)

Mark Bryant (0)

Danny Young (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

drexler_payton

Gary Payton had done a credible job on Clyde Drexler in Game 1 of the playoffs, but Drexler scored 19 points in the 4th quarter to lead Portland to a win while Payton was on the bench *photo courtesy of Sonics Rising

April 27, 1991 – West Quarterfinals, Game 2: Golden State Warriors 111 @San Antonio Spurs 98

We’ve now come to the peak time of Run TMC.  They would be together for only 2 seasons and this was their only playoff appearance.

The Golden State Warriors finished the season at 44-38 (their best record since 1982, a year they didn’t make the playoffs) and won their last 5 games to hold off Seattle and grab the 7th spot in the West.

Their final regular season victory came over the Utah Jazz.  This would give the Midwest Division championship to the San Antonio Spurs for the second straight year (and, for the second straight year, they finished one game ahead of Utah).

The Spurs followed up their 56 win 1990 season by going 55-27 in 1991.  They had the same coach in Larry Brown and the same starters in Rod Strickland and Willie Anderson at guard, Sean Elliott and Terry Cummings at forward, and superstar center David Robinson.  But they were much harder hit by injuries.

This led to a bit more inconsistency in their regular season, but the Spurs finished it out by winning 14 of their final 19 games, all with those five starters in tact.

The bench would be a bit different for Brown.  Paul Pressey was acquired from Milwaukee for Frank Brickowski.  Sidney Green would be acquired from Orlando.  Avery Johnson would be signed at mid-season after being let go by Denver.  David Wingate would be the only main bench player who remained from 1990, and he was slowed by a hamstring injury.

Golden State also made some small alterations to their bench during the season.  Steve Johnson was let go.  Paul Mokeski and Mario Elie were signed.  Vincent Askew would then be added late in the year.

Don Nelson pulled a surprise when he started the less known of those three guys in Game 2.  Mokeski had been a fixture (for better or worse) in Milwaukee through the ’80’s and Vincent Askew was, at least, familiar to college basketball fans who remember him from Memphis State.

Mario Elie had gone to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s high school in New York and actually played a year with Chris Mullin.  Elie then went to American International before being a 7th round pick of Don Nelson’s Bucks in 1985.  He didn’t make the team and played in Ireland, Argentina, Portugal, the USBL and the CBA before finally getting his chance with the Philadelphia 76ers on December 28, 1990.

That was when Elie signed a 10-day contract with Philly.  He didn’t get a second 10-day contract.  But he did get a second chance with the Warriors on February 23.  He would sign for the rest of the season on March 5.

Elie was a 6’5″ bull of a forward who would develop into an outstanding shooter.  But for now he was a driver and defensive player, perhaps the reason he moved up the depth chart in Golden State.

He would get the chance to start Game 2 after the Warriors were torched in Game 1.  Although the final score was only 130-121, it wasn’t that close.  Willie Anderson led the way with 38 points.  Rod Strickland added 30 and severely out-played Tim Hardaway.  David Robinson also added 30.

The Warriors had tried to be physical with Robinson, almost setting off two altercations, but that had not been effective.

The Spurs looked to do the same thing in Game 2 as they hit their first 5 shots.  Cummings hit a turnaround from the baseline.  Anderson fed Robinson on a cut for a three-point play (those two shots happened before the Warriors even attempted a field goal).

Anderson then stuck a three and Cummings drop-stepped to the baseline for a layup.  The Spurs led 10-2 with 9:34 left and Don Nelson used a timeout.

Mitch Richmond then got the Warriors going with two jumpers.  Tim Hardaway followed with two more as the Warriors climbed back into it.  Richmond put back a Hardaway miss on the break and then Sarunas Marciulionis tied it at 18 with a driving layup past Sean Elliott.

The Spurs re-took a 5-point lead after Richmond picked up his 3rd foul.  But then an 8-0 run by the Warriors put them ahead where they stayed.  Golden State led 27-26 at the end of the 1st quarter.

Marciulionis scored 6 points early in the 2nd quarter and then a Tim Hardaway three put Golden State up 36-29 and forced a Larry Brown timeout with 7:35 left.  Brown would soon lose Elliott to a broken nose for the rest of the game.

The first timeout didn’t help either as Brown had to call another after back-to-back field goals from Tyrone Hill.  The Warriors then took a 42-31 lead after Mullin blocked an Anderson shot and Hardaway found Marciulionis for a transition layup.

The Spurs made some noise late in the 2nd quarter with a 10-0 run to cut the lead back to 46-45.  A three from Hardaway versus two defenders put Golden State up 51-47 and kicked off the run that ended up finishing the Spurs.

The half ended with Marciulionis scoring his 12th point on a driving layup and then Jim Petersen (Golden State’s “center” for the day) hitting a running hook against Robinson.

In Game 1, the 4 Warriors “centers” had put up 0 points against Robinson.  In this game, Hill and Petersen already contributed with Tom Tolbert’s to come in the 2nd half.  This helped the Warriors gain a 55-47 halftime lead.

Golden State used its speed and quickness to get off to a good 2nd half start as well.  Hardaway hit a wing jumper.  Mullin found Richmond for a layup on a 4-on-1 break.  Elie penetrated and found Petersen on a cut for a layup against Robinson.  Richmond then hit two free throws and got a slam off great passing.

The Warriors now led 65-47 and were on a 17-0 run.  Robinson finally broke it with a tip-in but the Admiral’s problem was that he wasn’t getting the ball enough.  Strickland and Anderson struggled in the 2nd half while trying to get their shots (Strickland struggled all game while Anderson had 14 points in the 1st half).  Cummings was effective as well, but he and Robinson didn’t see the ball nearly enough to take advantage of the smaller Warriors.

Golden State would hold that advantage for the rest of the 3rd as Mullin got going after hitting 1 of his first 8 shots from the field.  The Warriors led 84-67 heading into the 4th.

Nellie had gone away from his fast-moving free-wheeling game a bit toward the end of the 3rd quarter and started playing the clock.  At first, it didn’t matter as the Warriors were hitting their jumpers, led by Tom Tolbert.

San Antonio went on a 7-2 run to cut the lead to 90-78.  But then Elie hit a tough runner against Cummings and Tolbert nailed his second and third jumper of the period.  A corner three by Mullin after penetration from Hardaway put the Warriors ahead 99-81.

But then they went cold and San Antonio made their run of the 2nd half.  It wouldn’t turn out to be much of one as they went on a 10-0 run over the span of about 4 minutes.  The closest they got was 101-93 with around 3 minutes left.

But then Elie hit two free throws and the Spurs committed back-to-back turnovers to end their cause.  Golden State had gotten their split with the favored Spurs and now San Antonio had to deal with the prospect of going to Oakland and dealing with the raucous Golden State fans.

Golden State starters (points scored)

Mario Elie (6) – Small Forward

Chris Mullin (27) – Power Forward

Jim Petersen (5) – Center

Tim Hardaway (20) – Point Guard

Mitch Richmond (16) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (16)

Rod Higgins (6)

Tom Tolbert (6)

Tyrone Hill (9)

Vincent Askew (0)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

San Antonio starters (points scored)

Sean Elliott (1) – Small Forward

Terry Cummings (26) – Power Forward

David Robinson (28) – Center

Rod Strickland (8) – Point Guard

Willie Anderson (19) – Shooting Guard

San Antonio bench (points scored)

Paul Pressey (12)

Sidney Green (4)

David Wingate (0)

Avery Johnson (0)

Sean Higgins (0)

San Antonio Coach: Larry Brown

April 30, 1991 – East Quarterfinals, Game 3: Chicago Bulls 103 @New York Knicks 94

It turned out that the new top dog in the Eastern Conference came into the playoffs on a mission.  In Game 1, the Bulls held Patrick Ewing to 6 points and destroyed the Knicks 126-85.  The Bulls then used a 4th quarter run to pull away in Game 2 89-79.

The Knicks had Gerald Wilkins returning for the playoffs and had Charles Oakley back.  But their overall structure was still lacking and, while they played well for a bit, they weren’t much of a match for the Bulls.

Wilkins had struggled in the first two games but came out strong in Game 3.  He hit a three-pointer from the top and then got a breakaway slam that forced Phil Jackson to use an early timeout.

Scottie Pippen would be the early factor for the Bulls as he scored 9 points to help Chicago come back and tie it at 19.  But then Kiki Vandeweghe scored his 8th point on a drive down the lane.  Ewing put back a miss by Wilkins.  Wilkins then scored on a finger roll in transition that forced another Jackson timeout with 3:33 left and New York ahead 25-19.

Wilkins and Pippen each had 11 points in the 1st quarter as New York went ahead 31-25 at the period break.

The Knicks bench then got going in the 2nd as Trent Tucker and Jerrod Mustaf, who were each playing their final games in a Knicks uniform, provided a spark.

The Bulls only answer seemed to be Pippen as New York ran to a 45-33 lead on Vandeweghe’s three-pointer.

But then things turned around as the Bulls hustled two offensive rebounds before Michael Jordan hit a jumper in the lane.  Jordan followed with a steal and B.J. Armstrong got a breakaway layup.  Then Armstrong came up with a steal and Craig Hodges got a breakaway layup.

After a Vandeweghe free throw was taken away by a lane violation, Pippen drove down the lane and, with the left hand, slammed one down on Ewing (it wouldn’t be the best dunk on Ewing in this game and it wouldn’t be Pippen’s best dunk on Ewing in their careers, poor Patrick).  John Paxson then got a breakaway layup to cut the lead to 46-43 and force John MacLeod to use a timeout with 3:24 left.

The Bulls would stay within four before Jordan unleashed his dunking ferocity on Ewing.  Michael originally drove baseline but was cut off by Oakley.  But MJ pivoted and then quickly spun baseline.  Ewing was there to help with no avail (poor Patrick, he was one of the best rim protectors in NBA history).  Jordan dunked on him and drew a foul.

The three-point play cut the Knicks lead to 54-53 at the half.  Pippen finished with 17 points while Jordan had 13.

The teams continued to trade baskets for the first 3 minutes of the 3rd quarter before the Bulls started to take control.  Jordan drove down the lane for a layup to put Chicago up 61-60.  Then MJ found Pippen for a transition slam to force a Knicks timeout.

Jordan then connected on a fall-away from the mid post after driving and reverse pivoting.  Later, MJ stole a rebound from Oakley and hit a jumper to put the Bulls ahead 67-63.

Jordan later nailed another pull-up from the elbow and then Paxson made a jumper at the end of the shot clock to put the Bulls up 71-67.  Jordan, later, hit a turnaround fall-away jumper from the post and then drove baseline for a score to make it 76-69 Bulls.

Jordan would finish the 3rd quarter with 15 points.  Will Perdue ended the quarter with 5 points on two offensive rebounds.  His latest tip-in put Chicago ahead 83-71 going into the 4th quarter.

The Knicks disorganization on offense came out at this time.  Instead of getting Ewing the ball, they settled for jumpers and not very good ones.  But when Ewing did get the ball, he couldn’t deliver either.

The closest New York got in the quarter was 8 points.  But they would be held off by the 6 offensive rebounds and 16 points from Will Perdue, who was playing so well that Bill Cartwright didn’t come back into the game after picking up his 4th foul in the 3rd quarter.

Chicago would move on to play the Philadelphia 76ers for the second straight season in the playoffs.  It was the first time in the Michael Jordan era that the Bulls swept a playoff series.

For New York, John MacLeod would be fired 2 days later and eventually replaced by former Lakers coach Pat Riley.  With that and a few trades and signings, a new identity would take shape in New York.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (21) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (9) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (4) – Center

John Paxson (14) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (33) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Will Perdue (16)

B.J. Armstrong (2)

Craig Hodges (2)

Stacey King (2)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

New York starters (points scored)

Kiki Vandeweghe (20) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (8) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (20) – Center

Maurice Cheeks (11) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (15) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Trent Tucker (12)

Jerrod Mustaf (8)

Mark Jackson (0)

John Starks (0)

Brian Quinnett (0)

Kenny Walker (0)

New York Coach: John MacLeod

April 30, 1991 – West Quarterfinals, Game 3: Los Angeles Lakers 94 @Houston Rockets 90

The jump shooting Rockets were dying by the jump shot in the first two games.  They were also dying with Lakers such as Vlade Divac and Byron Scott killing them, along with Magic and Worthy.

Meanwhile, Houston’s role players were not coming through.  The biggest examples were the struggles of Buck Johnson and Sleepy Floyd off the bench.

But now on their home court, the Rockets figured to come with their biggest charge.  Houston was not the most welcoming place for James Worthy after he had gotten arrested there earlier in the season for attempting to solicit prostitutes.  It would also not be the most welcoming place for Terry Teagle, who was booed after punching Dave Jamerson in Game 1.  Teagle was 0-for-4 and a non-factor.

Houston did come out with energy early on as they forced 3 Laker turnovers and Otis Thorpe, who had not been in the offense enough, got two buckets.  Buck Johnson also hit an early wing jumper after Hakeem Olajuwon kicked the ball out of a double team.

The Lakers though were able to stay with them as Magic and Worthy led the way.  But the supporting cast wasn’t getting off for L.A. unlike the first two games.

Otis Thorpe led the way with 12 points as Houston took a 24-23 advantage going into the 2nd quarter.

Thorpe then started the 2nd quarter by going coast-to-coast for a layup and then he kicked out to Kenny Smith for a jumper to put the Rockets up 30-23.

Later, Olajuwon hit two turnaround jumpers and then Vernon Maxwell connected on a three to put Houston up 39-29 and force a Lakers timeout with 5:07 left in the half.

The Lakers wouldn’t let the lead grow any bigger as Worthy finished the half with 16 points while Magic had 14.  Houston held a 46-39 lead at the break.

Magic got started quickly in the 2nd half with two field goals and a feed to Worthy for a layup.  Magic kept going as he was realizing that he needed to score to keep L.A. in it.  He went coast-to-coast twice for layups to give the Lakers a 55-54 lead.

The teams traded baskets for the rest of the quarter.  Most of the Lakers baskets came from Magic, who had 16 points in the 3rd quarter.  His latest was a drive for a three-point play that put L.A. up 66-65 going into the 4th quarter.

Houston regained momentum and took a 74-70 lead when Kenny Smith nailed a three-pointer on a kickout from Olajuwon.  But Magic scored twice from the post and then Byron Scott got going with a runner in transition to tie the game at 76 with 6:46 left.

The Lakers then took a three-point lead and Houston looked done after Byron Scott stole a bad outlet pass and Magic hit on a scoop.  But Magic turned the ball over on the next possession and the Rockets got a 3-on-1 break.

It was more like a fast break that would be run today.  Instead of everyone going toward the basket, Maxwell camped at the three-point line and got a pass from Thorpe.  He settled for the three and nailed it to tie the game at 84.  Today, we see people run to the three-point line often on a 3-on-1 break.  In 1991, it was absolutely blasphemous but it got the Houston crowd going after they had been relatively quiet for most of the game.

Then after another turnover from Magic, Kenny Smith hit a pull-up jumper with 1:35 left to give Houston a lead.  But then after a Lakers timeout, Sam Perkins hit a pull-up from the wing after Magic kicked out from the post.

Olajuwon responded with a fall-away in the lane but then Byron Scott nailed another big jumper after Magic kicked out of another double-team in the post.

The Rockets could not answer on their next possession as Kenny Smith barely missed a jumper from the top.  Perkins rebounded and L.A. used a timeout with 30.8 seconds left.

Again, the Lakers went down low to Magic Johnson.  He was doubled and kicked out to Worthy.  James then swung the ball to Scott on the baseline.  Byron connected on another jumper and L.A. led 90-88 with 16.9 seconds left.

After a Houston timeout, Don Chaney had Otis Thorpe throw the ball inbounds.  Thorpe couldn’t find anybody and tried to call a timeout.  Instead, he was called for a 5-second violation (I think the count was a bit quick) and the Lakers got the ball.

The game pretty much ended there as Perkins and then Divac hit a pair of free throws and the sweep was a reality.

Houston had overachieved in many people’s eyes in 1991.  In 1992, they came back down to earth as they finished at 42-40 and missed the playoffs.  Don Chaney was fired at mid-season and replaced by Rudy Tomjanovich.  Hakeem Olajuwon repeatedly requested to be traded up until the early part of the 1993 season.  But all would soon be fixed in Houston.

For the Lakers, it was old hat… on to the next round.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (22) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (16) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (8) – Center

Magic Johnson (38) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (8) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

A.C. Green (4)

Terry Teagle (0)

Larry Drew (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

Houston starters (points scored)

Buck Johnson (12) – Small Forward

Otis Thorpe (21) – Power Forward

Hakeem Olajuwon (21) – Center

Kenny Smith (12) – Point Guard

Vernon Maxwell (13) – Shooting Guard

Houston bench (points scored)

Larry Smith (4)

Dave Jamerson (4)

Sleepy Floyd (2)

David Wood (1)

Houston Coach: Don Chaney

May 2, 1991 – West Quarterfinals, Game 4: Portland Blazers 89 @Seattle Sonics 101

In the first two games in Portland, Seattle had hung around but could not overtake the Blazers in close games.  It would be different in Game 3 as Seattle only trailed by two with 10 seconds left.

Sedale Threatt then hit a tough three from the top to give the Sonics the lead.  Gary Payton then stole the inbounds pass and Seattle had forced a Game 4.  Now the Sonics were looking to do something that no #8 seed had done since the NBA went to an 8-team per conference format.  They were looking to force an all-or-nothing Game 5.

The Sonics had gotten big performances from Eddie Johnson in Games 1 & 2.  He was 3-for-11 in Game 3 but Threatt and Benoit Benjamin, who became a factor for the first time all series, scored 29 and 26 points, respectively.  Derrick McKey had also contributed off the bench with 13 points and 7 rebounds.

Johnson came back to life in Game 4 as he scored 6 points in the first 5 minutes to give Seattle a 14-9 lead.  The other Sonics starters had gotten into the scoring column at that point as well.  That balance made Seattle look like Portland.

The Blazers starters had been pretty consistent throughout the series.  Other than Terry Porter’s 7 points in Game 1, all five starters had scored in double figures in all three games.  Cliff Robinson also contributed double figures in Games 2 & 3.

But Eddie Johnson continued to pull away from the pack as he nailed a three to put the Sonics up 17-11.  Threatt followed with a pull-up jumper in transition to give Seattle an 8-point lead.

Shawn Kemp then scored 8 of Seattle’s final 10 points of the 1st quarter.  This helped hold off Portland, who cut the lead to 29-27 at the end of the quarter.  Jerome Kersey led the way with 13 points.

McKey would start his contribution in this game with a three-point play that put the Sonics up 36-29 early in the 2nd quarter.  But 5 straight points from Cliff Robinson cut the lead back to two.

Seattle then surged as McKey scored 3 points, Eddie Johnson got a three-point play and Benoit Benjamin got a layup off a feed from Nate McMillan.  This put Seattle up 44-34.  Porter then scored 7 straight Blazer points but Seattle still held a 50-43 lead at the half.  Eddie Johnson led the way with 16 points.

Portland started the 3rd quarter on an 8-2 run and cut the lead to 54-52.  But a problem was starting to arise for the visiting Trailblazers, and it manifested in the 3rd and 4th quarters.

Portland was really struggling from the foul line and this, in essence, would keep them behind on the scoreboard.  They would finish the game at 20-for-39 from the foul line.  In a game that they lost by 12, they would have a great chance had they shot a halfway decent percentage.

The contribution of Eddie Johnson also helped hold off the Blazers as he scored 10 points in the 3rd quarter, including 6 in a row when Portland had cut the lead to 66-64.

But the Blazers were still charging and hanging around, only trailing 76-72 entering the 4th quarter.

They would then tie the game at 76 when Cliff Robinson got a layup with 2 1/2 gone by.  Danny Young then hit a driving banker at the end of the shot clock to give Portland their first lead since 5-4.

The Blazers had a chance to increase that lead but Benjamin blocked a shot by Robinson.  McKey then tied it with two free throws.  Portland would take two more leads on the next few possessions but Seattle would come right back.

A pull-up by Threatt gave Seattle an 84-82 lead.  Clyde Drexler tied it with a wing jumper.  But then Nate McMillan gave Seattle a lead by putting back his own miss with 4:49 to go.

McKey then scored back-to-back baskets as Portland continued to miss free throws.  Then, with 2:38 left, Threatt hit a high-arcing pull-up jumper from the wing at the end of the shot clock to put Seattle ahead 92-85.

Kevin Duckworth, who was a non-factor for Portland, then missed two free throws as the pressure from the Seattle crowd was amped.  Eddie Johnson would get two breakaway layups and Threatt hit another three at the end of the shot clock that put the game away.

What also hadn’t helped Portland in this game was 20 turnovers and then 17 offensive rebounds by Seattle.  As a result, the Trailblazers would be the first #1 seed to be pushed to a Game 5 by a #8 seed.

But they would not be the first #1 seed to lose to a #8 (Seattle would later be involved in that).  The Trailblazers won Game 5 119-107, as 6 players finished in double figures and helped Portland to a 20-point halftime lead.

The Trailblazers would have an easier time with Utah in the 2nd round, despite most of the games being close.  Portland beat the Jazz in 5 games and then awaited a Pacific Division rival in the Western Finals.

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (20) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (8) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (5) – Center

Terry Porter (17) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (19) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (13)

Danny Ainge (1)

Danny Young (6)

Mark Bryant (0)

Walter Davis (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

Seattle starters (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (34) – Small Forward

Shawn Kemp (12) – Power Forward

Benoit Benjamin (14) – Center

Gary Payton (6) – Point Guard

Sedale Threatt (15) – Shooting Guard

Seattle bench (points scored)

Derrick McKey (15)

Ricky Pierce (2)

Michael Cage (1)

Nate McMillan (2)

Seattle Coach: K.C. Jones

May 3, 1991 – East Quarterfinals, Game 4: Boston Celtics 113 @Indiana Pacers 116

The Indiana Pacers came into this series having won only one playoff game in their NBA history.  But after losing a close Game 1 in Boston Garden, Chuck Person personally delivered their first ever NBA road playoff win in Game 2.

The “Rifleman” nailed a then-playoff record 7 three-pointers and scored 39 points.  Included in this output was a lot of trash-talk that made him popular with the Boston crowd (especially since most of his gyrations were directed at Larry Bird).  All in all, it contributed to a 130-118 Pacers win.

But, with all that momentum, the Pacers came home and laid an egg.  Person scored 6 points and took only 8 shots.  Indiana had to make a comeback to cut their defeat to 112-105.

Boston had 5 guys average in double figures so far (Bird, Parish, Lewis, Shaw, and McHale off the bench).  Indiana had been getting a contribution from their young back court of Michael Williams and Reggie Miller and from the 6th man of the year in Detlef Schrempf.

Players like Person, Miller, Rik Smits, and Vern Fleming had been drafted by Indiana in the 80’s.  Schrempf and big man LaSalle Thompson had been acquired in 1989 trade deadline deals.  Williams and veteran forward Mike Sanders had been signed as free agents.

All except Williams had contributed to a playoff team in 1990.  That team had been swept by eventual champion Detroit.  But things weren’t going as smoothly in 1991 under coach Dick Versace.  On December 20, Versace was replaced by Bob Hill.  Hill eventually turned around the defense and Indiana got back into it with a 6-game winning streak in February (including a win over Boston).

They finished at 41-41, two games ahead of the Knicks for the final playoff spot.  But, on the verge of being eliminated, Reggie Miller came out aggressive in the 1st quarter after getting off to slow starts in the first 3 games.

Miller hit three of his first four shots, but Boston was up to the challenge early on.  Brian Shaw and Kevin Gamble hit two field goals and Bird also hit his first jumper.  The Celtics took an 18-12 lead before Miller led Indiana back.

Indiana then raced to a 29-23 lead despite their big men of LaSalle Thompson, Rik Smits and Greg Dreiling getting into early foul trouble.  But then Boston came back to tie it at 36 at the end of the 1st quarter.

The quick pace continued in the 2nd quarter.  Dee Brown and Kevin McHale contributed off the Celtics bench to help Boston grab a 53-46 lead 5 minutes into the quarter.

But Miller and Person brought the Pacers back.  Miller had 23 points at halftime, which included no three-pointers.  But Boston’s big 3 from the last 11 seasons also had big halves.  McHale had 16 off the bench, Parish had 14 and Bird added 12.  All of this helped Boston take a 69-64 halftime lead.

In the 3rd quarter, Reggie Lewis joined the party.  Lewis went right at Reggie Miller and drew his 3rd and 4th fouls, forcing him to the bench.  He also scored 9 points in the first 5 minutes to help Boston build an 84-71 lead.

Although they couldn’t keep up that pace, the Celtics maintained a lead and had it at 95-85 after Bird nailed a turnaround fall-away in the post.  Indiana then went for the last shot of the quarter.

They almost didn’t get it off but, just before the buzzer, Mike Sanders, not your typical three-point shooter, nailed a trey from the corner to cut the lead to 95-88.  That shot seemed to get the Pacers going.

Michael Williams attacked the basket early on in the 4th quarter and either got buckets for himself or a teammate or got to the foul line.  Williams, who would set the NBA record for most consecutive free throws made at 97 in 1993, made four straight that cut the lead to 103-100.

From there, Chuck Person and his mouth took over.  He scored 7 straight points to give Indiana a 107-105 lead with 3:38 left.  With the lineup Indiana had on the floor, Larry Bird had to guard Person.  And while Person didn’t go to the basket (Chuck topped out at 3.8 free throw attempts per game during his best season, so he didn’t get to the line often at all), he nailed three straight jumpers including a three with Larry playing off of him.

Lewis hit a step-back jumper from the baseline over Miller to tie the game at 107.  Person then got the ball back guarded by McHale, who was coming off foot injuries all season.  Person hit a pull-up from the top over Kevin and continued to talk.  But McHale came back with a turnaround in the lane for his 24th point to lead Boston.

Person was guarded by Parish on the next possession but didn’t end up scoring.  Boston got the ball back but gave it up on a turnover.  Person then pulled up and nailed a deep three for a 112-109 Pacers lead.

Indiana then got the ball back and ran down the shot clock.  Vern Fleming then found LaSalle Thompson for a deep corner jumper at the buzzer to put Indiana up by 5 with 1:24 to go.  It seemed like Indiana couldn’t miss and the game looked over.

But Boston cut it back to 116-113 when Bird nailed a runner with 28.7 seconds left.  With a 4-second differential between shot clock and game clock, Boston decided not to foul and played straight up defense.

Then Person did something he hadn’t done in awhile, he missed a jumper.  Following was a rebound scramble, there was a jump ball between Schrempf and Lewis with 5.9 seconds left.  Lewis and Boston controlled and called a timeout at 4.1.

With Bird and McHale, and his improved three-point weapon, on the floor, the inbounds went to rookie Dee Brown.  Brown couldn’t find anyone and ended up launching a three that went in-and-out.

The Pacers had forced the older Celtics to a do-or-die Game 5 and were making an impact in the NBA playoffs for the first time in their history.  But they would have to deal with pride, mystique, and history in Boston Garden, where Larry Bird put on one of his last impact performances on the big stage.

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (6) – Small Forward

Larry Bird (18) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (18) – Center

Brian Shaw (9) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (22) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (24)

Dee Brown (14)

Ed Pinckney (2)

Derek Smith (0)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

Indiana starters (points scored)

Chuck Person (30) – Small Forward

LaSalle Thompson (10) – Power Forward

Greg Dreiling (1) – Center

Michael Williams (18) – Point Guard

Reggie Miller (27) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Detlef Schrempf (11)

Vern Fleming (10)

Rik Smits (2)

Mike Sanders (7)

Kenny Williams (0)

Indiana Coach: Bob Hill

bird person

One of the subplots of this 1st round series was the open trash talk between Larry Bird and Chuck Person, and it was only beginning before Game 5 *photo courtesy of Amazon

May 3, 1991 – West Quarterfinals, Game 4: San Antonio Spurs 97 @Golden State Warriors 110

Unlike Indiana, when Golden State got a split on the road, they took advantage.  The Warriors hit 20 of their first 25 shots in Game 3 and shot 57% from the field for the game.  But they had to hold off a late San Antonio rally to win 109-106.

This put the Warriors in position to become the 3rd #7 seed to defeat a #2 seed in the 1st round, and this would be the second time Golden State could pull it off after sweeping Utah in 1989.

The strategy that had worked against the Jazz was working again.  Don Nelson pulled his center from the basket and had him play “point” center in an effort to draw David Robinson away from the basket.  From there, Nelson employed a modern strategy with the drive-and-kick game with Run TMC leading the way.

At the other end, Nelson had three big guys (Jim Petersen, Tyrone Hill, and Tom Tolbert) to bang and try to tire out Robinson.  The Admiral had three good games so far but wasn’t getting any consistent help.  None of the other starters had had three good games so far (it didn’t help that Sean Elliott was playing through a broken nose).

But things looked different at the start of Game 4.  Four of the five Spurs starters (all except Willie Anderson) came out aggressively and were scoring while Golden State was ice cold from the field.  Petersen and Mario Elie picked up two early fouls for the Warriors and San Antonio had a 22-13 lead 8 minutes into the game.

But then perhaps the biggest Warriors advantage in the series came on, their bench.  Rod Higgins and Sarunas Marciulionis came into the game while San Antonio also had to go to their bench, who had lacked for production.

Tim Hardaway got the Warriors going with two field goals and then a feed to Mitch Richmond for a pull-up in transition.  Golden State went on an 8-0 run while San Antonio didn’t get the ball to David Robinson down low.

San Antonio still held a 28-25 lead at the end of the 1st quarter as Elliott scored 4 of his 9 points in the last few minutes.

But Golden State was just starting to get their game going.  Higgins drove and kicked out to Hardaway for a three to tie the game at 30.  Then Hardaway hit a fall-away from the baseline while drawing a foul from Paul Pressey.  The three-point play put Golden State up 33-32 and gave Hardaway 14 points.

Hardaway then nailed a step-back jumper from the wing before Chris Mullin got a three-point play on a double pump shot from the baseline.  But, all the while, San Antonio stayed in it with Elliott and Rod Strickland hitting jumpers or going to the basket.

But the Spurs still weren’t getting it inside to Robinson nearly enough, which would end up costing them once the jumpers stopped falling.  Meanwhile, Mullin snuck inside of his man on a missed free throw from Tom Tolbert and put it back in.  Marciulionis then drove and kicked out to Rod Higgins for a three.

Richmond and Mullin then kept Golden State ahead until they put on a late run before halftime.  The key was Rod Higgins, who hit a jumper from the foul line, swung the ball to Mullin for an open jumper, took a touch pass from Mullin as he cut by Robinson for a layup, and then nailed a three to put the Warriors ahead 62-53.

A slam by Robinson cut the lead to 62-55 at the half but that was only David’s 6th field goal attempt so far.

Robinson and Terry Cummings had 11 points while Elliott and Strickland had 13.  But Willie Anderson, who had 38 points in Game 1, was scoreless.  Meanwhile, Hardaway had 16, Mullin 15, Richmond 11, and Rod Higgins had 12 off the bench.

The 2nd half would be more of the same.  San Antonio’s offense went south, with Robinson not getting a field goal attempt until over halfway through the 3rd quarter.  Golden State’s continued on led by Hardaway.

Tim got a lot of shots from ball movement and then in transition as he hit several pull-up jumpers as defenders backed off fearing the killer crossover.  The Warriors took as much as an 80-64 when on a three-point play from Marciulionis.

But the Spurs made a late run and cut the lead to 82-73 heading into the 4th quarter.  The Spurs continued that run as Golden State slowed down their pace a bit.

Two field goals by Anderson cut the lead to 84-79 with 9:33 left and forced Nelson to use a timeout.  But then, in the next 30 seconds, Richmond hit a jumper from the foul line and then Hardaway hit a pull-up three in transition.  This forced Larry Brown to use a timeout.

The Spurs stayed within striking distance but could never get its offense going consistently.  They would also be stymied by two Warrior daggers at the end of the shot clock.  First, Hardaway hit another three and then Marciulionis connected from the deep wing while he was fouled.

San Antonio got to within 95-89 but couldn’t get any closer and, eventually, had to play the foul game.  The Warriors nailed all but one of their free throws down the stretch and the final daggers were put in by a driving layup from Mullin and then a Hardaway feed to Tolbert for a slam.

The Warriors had upset the 55-win Spurs and now were on to play the Lakers.  Little did Warrior fans know at the time, but this would be their last playoff series win for 16 seasons and this would be the pinnacle of Run TMC.

San Antonio starters (points scored)

Sean Elliott (23) – Small Forward

Terry Cummings (11) – Power Forward

David Robinson (18) – Center

Rod Strickland (21) – Point Guard

Willie Anderson (8) – Shooting Guard

San Antonio bench (points scored)

Paul Pressey (6)

David Wingate (10)

Sean Higgins (0)

San Antonio Coach: Larry Brown

Golden State starters (points scored)

Mario Elie (4) – Small Forward

Chris Mullin (23) – Power Forward

Jim Petersen (2) – Center

Tim Hardaway (32) – Point Guard

Mitch Richmond (17) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (14)

Rod Higgins (14)

Tom Tolbert (4)

Tyrone Hill (0)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

OAKLAND, CA - 1989: (L) Tim Hardaway #10, (C) Mitch Richmond #23 and (R) Chris Mullin #17 of the Golden State Warriors sit on the bench during a game played in 1989 at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1989 NBAE (Photo by NBA Photos/NBAE via Getty Images)

OAKLAND, CA – 1989: (L) Tim Hardaway #10, (C) Mitch Richmond #23 and (R) Chris Mullin #17 of the Golden State Warriors sit on the bench during a game played in 1989 at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1989 NBAE (Photo by NBA Photos/NBAE via Getty Images)

May 5, 1991 – East Quarterfinals, Game 5: Indiana Pacers 121 @Boston Celtics 124

The Indiana Pacers had come back against the Boston Celtics in Game 4 by their pressure defense and their fast tempo.  While Boston did have a younger roster in 1991, their key factors were still the older guys in Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.

Each’s production had dropped in the 2nd half in Game 4 after good 1st halves.  Larry Bird, in fact, went scoreless in the 4th quarter.  Each also had to deal with Chuck Person when Indiana went to its small lineup with Person and Detlef Schrempf at forward.  Person scored 12 straight points down the stretch and was guarded at certain points by Bird, McHale, and Parish.

But Larry Bird was still the legend, and he got the Celtics off quickly in the first 2 1/2 minutes of Game 5.  He got fouled on a drive to the basket and hit two free throws.  He started a fast break with a long outlet pass that ended with Kevin Gamble finding Reggie Lewis for a dunk.  He then hit a pull-up jumper from the top in transition to give Boston a 10-4 lead.

Bird and Person had been a big subject with their trash-talking throughout the series.  After Bird hit his jumper, he got back to guard Person.  Person was set to call a timeout but Bird was talking to him before he did that.

But “The Rifleman,” as he was called, responded in kind.  Person hit a turnaround fall-away from the post.  He then hit on a driving scoop shot.  Finally, Chuck hit his first three-pointer of the game to give Indiana an 11-10 lead and force Chris Ford to use a timeout with 7:42 left.

Ford had an answer for Person sitting on his bench.  Veteran Derek Smith had been signed by Boston in mid-season but had been unable to play up until the final weeks of the season as he was rehabbing his knee, trying for one more run in the NBA.  Smith had starred at Louisville and was a budding star for the Clippers when he injured a knee and never fully recovered.

But, on this day, Smith would be perhaps the biggest factor in a Celtics victory.  He came off the bench during that timeout and shut down Person, who did not score for the rest of the quarter.

Smith also contributed offensively with 10 points and got the Boston crowd into the game, mostly by shutting down Person who was a target of the boobirds.

Smith’s contribution helped the Celtics grab a 35-25 lead at the end of the 1st quarter.  But the drawback of Smith’s production was that he picked up 3 fouls in guarding Person (and was also not used to extended minutes).

Boston held a lead through the early part of the 2nd quarter but could not increase it from 10.  A three-point play by Person cut the lead to 41-36 and started an Indiana run.  Michael Williams had a three-point play and Reggie Miller nailed a three.  But Indiana was held off from taking the lead by Bird, who hit three field goals in that stretch.

But after the Pacers had cut it to 48-46, Bird was out-top and had the ball knocked away from him by Mike Sanders.  Larry dove after the ball and ended up tipping it away but on his dive, Bird’s cheek-bone hit the floor hard and Larry was down for several seconds before being able to get up and walk off the floor to the locker room.

With Larry out for the final 4 minutes of the 1st half, the Pacers did force a 58-all tie at halftime.  Bird had led the way with 15 points but it was unclear whether he would be able to play in the 2nd half.

Bird had a bruise on his cheekbone and was told that he probably had a concussion (this was the days before any talk of “concussion protocol”).  He did not come out onto the floor with his teammates to start the 2nd half as he continued with headaches.

Boston and Indiana traded hoops at the start of the 2nd half.  They were doing it at a fast pace, much to Indiana’s liking.

Then mid-way through the quarter, Bird jogged back out of the locker room and got an eruption from the Garden.  Bird re-entered the game as Michael Williams was shooting two free throws to tie the game at 73.

At first, the psychological effect didn’t touch the Pacers as Person nailed a step-back three from the wing to put Indiana ahead 78-75 and did his biggest boasting after that shot.

But Bird later got a defensive rebound and threw a perfect outlet pass to Reggie Lewis for a slam.  Indiana could not grab more than a three-point lead and Bird hit his first jumper since returning to put Boston up 83-82.  From there, the psychological advantage was in Boston’s favor.

It also helped that Bird, somehow, continued his stellar play.  He hit Lewis on an outlet for another breakaway slam.  He connected on a runner from the baseline.  Then Bird got past Detlef Schrempf (never really known for his defense) to the baseline and hit on a reverse while drawing the foul.  The three-point play gave Boston a 90-86 lead.

Derek Smith would go out with 5 fouls over the next few minutes and Indiana cut it back to 92-89 on a Reggie Miller jumper.  But then Bird posted up Mike Sanders.  He tried to spin baseline but got knocked off-balance.  While the foul was called, Larry threw up a high-arcing fall-away that hit nothing but net.

The three-point play helped Boston surge to a 100-91 lead at the end of the 3rd quarter and Larry had scored 12 points since re-entering the game.

The 4th quarter started with Lewis and Parish hitting field goals and forcing Bob Hill to use a timeout with a minute and a half gone by and Boston having their biggest lead at 104-91.

Bird would get a breakaway layup and Parish got another field goal after a baseline spin.  Then with about 7 minutes left, Lewis hit two free throws after Miller picked up his 5th foul to give Boston a 112-96 lead.

But then Indiana’s pressure that had brought them back in Game 4 started to affect the Celtics again.  Bird went to the bench and Boston went into a drought.  A three-pointer by Person cut it to 114-102 with 5:29 left and forced a Boston timeout.

Boston had to call another timeout with 4:12 left after 5 straight points from Vern Fleming cut the lead to 116-107.  Bird came back into the game and stemmed the tide briefly with a jumper from the top.

But then the Pacers made their big run.  Miller got a breakaway layup to cut the lead to 118-111 with under 3 minutes to go.  Person followed with a steal and feed to Michael Williams for a breakaway.  Then Schrempf hit a runner in the lane with 1:42 left to cut the lead to 118-115.

Despite Indiana cutting into the lead, they only had one timeout left.  This would be a factor.  Bird rebounded a miss by Dee Brown at the end of the shot clock and drew a foul from Williams.  But Larry split his free throws and Miller found Schrempf for a reverse to cut the lead to 119-117 with 1:03 left.

Brian Shaw drove and drew a foul from Michael Williams with 43 seconds left.  Shaw split his free throws and Indiana decided that this was the time to use their last timeout.

Lewis was called for a loose ball foul on Schrempf after a knock-away.  But Detlef split his free throws and only cut the lead to 120-118.  But then Indiana’s pressure forced the biggest turnover of the game as Kevin McHale was called for an over-and-back violation at half court.

With no timeouts and 22.3 seconds left, the ball was sure to go to Person.  But how.  Chuck posted up at first with Smith on him but Vern Fleming, guarded by a much slower Larry Bird, couldn’t get Person the ball (Bird also used his savvy to drop back and cut off the passing angle, but it was said after the game that Fleming should have attacked Bird 1-on-1).

So Chuck stepped out to the three-point line and took an off-balanced trey with Bird and Smith lunging at him.  The shot was short and took a bad bounce to where Fleming couldn’t get the offensive rebound.  Shaw got it instead and drew a foul on Williams with 6.6 seconds left.

Shaw, this time, made two free throws that seemed to put the game out of reach at 122-118.  But then Person connected on a three-pointer from Lexington, Massachusetts (it was from somewhere in the neighborhood of 35-40 feet) to cut the lead to one.

Shaw was then fouled by Williams again as the Boston timekeeper, perhaps, got away with killing another second on the clock and getting it down to 1.5 (this is why you want home court advantage in the big games, kids! ..but then again, today they’d take 20 minutes looking at replay and re-adjusting the clock.  They’d get the time right, it would just take forever for them to do it and it would’ve given the Pacers a free timeout.. remember they don’t have any).

Shaw hit two free throws again and Schrempf came up short on a desperation fling.  Boston had survived and would play Detroit in the next round.  But this would prove to be Larry Bird’s last great playoff moment (although I will count Game 6 of the 1992 Semifinals.. we’ll get to that in the next NBA post).

Indiana starters (points scored)

Chuck Person (32) – Small Forward

LaSalle Thompson (8) – Power Forward

Greg Dreiling (0) – Center

Michael Williams (23) – Point Guard

Reggie Miller (22) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Detlef Schrempf (20)

Vern Fleming (6)

Rik Smits (6)

Mike Sanders (4)

Indiana Coach: Bob Hill

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (2) – Small Forward

Larry Bird (32) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (21) – Center

Brian Shaw (13) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (22) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (13)

Derek Smith (12)

Dee Brown (4)

Ed Pinckney (5)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

May 8, 1991 – West Semifinals, Game 2: Golden State Warriors 125 @Los Angeles Lakers 124

One could also argue that this was the peak of Run TMC.  This game was up-and-down, thoroughly entertaining, and Golden State pulled a win out of their ass.

Game 1 was much to the Warriors disadvantage as Chris Mullin sat with a sprained knee.  The Lakers won 126-116 and weren’t as affected by the matchup problems the Warriors presented as the Spurs were.

The Lakers had four post-up options in their starting lineup and, especially if the Warriors went small, they could take advantage down low.

To start out Game 2, Chris Mullin was on Magic Johnson.  Mullin was never known for his foot quickness but he had quick hands and was a big body that Magic couldn’t back in and post up.  While it took a quarter for Magic to adjust to this, the Lakers stayed in it as James Worthy took advantage of his matchups against the inexperienced Mario Elie and the shorter Mitch Richmond.

Worthy had 14 1st quarter points and Sam Perkins, despite mostly being played by Alton Lister, was right behind him with 10.  But with Mullin back on the floor, Golden State was able to open up the offense and go back to the drive and kick game that had not worked as well in Game 1.

Tim Hardaway got going early on with 9 points in the first 8 minutes.  Hardaway was also getting his teammates involved as Mullin had 7 points, Richmond 6, and Rod Higgins had a big three-point play on a Hardaway assist that gave Golden State a 35-32 lead entering the 2nd quarter.

For the 2nd quarter, Magic Johnson adjusted against Mullin and concentrated on beating him off the dribble from the top as opposed to posting up.  With that, Magic scored 13 of his 15 1st half points in the quarter to help L.A. gain a 67-58 halftime lead.  Worthy led the way with 20 points.  Mullin had 16 and Richmond 14 to lead Golden State.

The 3rd quarter, at least the end of it, would be the Mullin and Magic show.  Golden State started a 12-6 run through the first 3 1/2 minutes with a three from Mullin.  Hardaway, Richmond, and Higgins contributed as well to cut the lead to 73-70.

From there, the teams traded blows.  L.A. maintained a lead for a while as Magic led the way.  But Run TMC brought Golden State back and into an 83-81 lead on a wing jumper from Mullin.  Continued field goals and free throws from Hardaway and Richmond kept Golden State ahead until Richmond picked up his 4th foul.

From there, Magic hit two free throws and then a runner on the baseline to give L.A. a 93-89 lead and give the Magic man 30 points.  But then Mullin hit a pull-up jumper from the elbow while being fouled by Byron Scott.  Magic countered with a scoop shot from the post.

Mullin and Magic then traded free throws before Mullin pulled up for a deep three from the wing that tied the game at 97 and oohed and ahhed the crowd and announcers.  Mullin then finished the quarter with a breakaway layup to give Golden State a 99-97 lead heading into the 4th quarter.

Golden State had 41 3rd quarter points, Mullin had 17 of those.  The Lakers had 30 3rd quarter points and Magic had 19 of those.

For the start of the 4th quarter, Mike Dunleavy brought in rookie big man Elden Campbell for the first time.  He wanted Campbell in to take care of the boards and provide shot-blocking.  He also scored 6 points as L.A. started the quarter on an 8-2 run.

But as Golden State got back into it, they were thwarted from taking the lead after Campbell blocked a Hardaway shot.  Richmond then committed his 5th foul on the rebound.

But the duel continued as Mullin hit a pull-up jumper to tie the game at 106.  Magic then drove past Mullin and slammed one down while he was fouled.  But Mullin responded with another jumper and then ended up tying the game at 109 on a free throw after Dunleavy picked up a technical.

Mullin then followed with a steal, and Hardaway found Mario Elie for a breakaway layup.  This forced L.A. to use a timeout with 7:11 left and the Warriors up 111-109.

After the timeout, Richmond was seen guarding Perkins.  So the Lakers went down low to Sam, who drew Richmond’s 6th foul.  Perkins split the free throws but later had a three-point play to give L.A. a 113-111 advantage.  Mullin tied it with another pull-up jumper for his 40th point.  It would be his last field goal, but he finished 16-for-21 from the field and 4-for-4 on three-pointers.

Worthy hit a turnaround in the lane and Magic hit a free throw.  But after Mullin committed his 5th foul on a charge, the Lakers could not gain more than a three point lead nor could they foul Mullin out.  The Warriors eventually came back to tie it at 116 with 2:56 left.

Worthy then kicked out to Perkins for a jumper from the top to give the Lakers the lead again.  Hardaway came back with a killer crossover to get by Scott and then a double-pump reverse layup against two guys.  But Perkins got another jumper from the top, this time Magic kicked out of a double-team in the post to him, to put L.A. up 120-118.

Hardaway was then fouled but couldn’t tie the game as he split his free throws.  Magic then drew a foul on Elie and hit his two charity tosses to put the Lakers up 122-119.  Magic then picked up his 5th foul on a Hardaway drive with 51.5 seconds left.  But again, Tim split the free throws.

Magic then drove and drew a foul on Tom Tolbert (albeit, after Mullin cleanly blocked his shot).  Magic hit two more free throws to bring his total to 44 points, a career playoff high, on 20-for-22 free throws.  At this point, Golden State looked like they had let a tremendous opportunity get away.

They tried to drive and kick for a shot, but it ended with Tom Tolbert shooting a three.  He missed but Rod Higgins snuck his way to the boards, rebounded the miss, put it back in, and drew a foul from rookie Elden Campbell.  His three-point play cut the lead to 124-123 with 28.7 seconds left.

Don Nelson decided to have his team play straight up defense and hope to get one more chance at the end of the shot clock.  It worked, and then some.  Worthy missed a jumper as the shot clock ran out.  The rebound ended up going to Elie and Campbell committed another huge rookie mistake.  He grabbed Elie trying to get to the rebound and was called for the foul with 3.1 seconds left.

Elie, who was in his first full season in the NBA, had missed his first free throw of the playoffs earlier in this game.  But, with the Laker crowd hoarsely screaming at him, Elie rolled the first free throw in and then cleanly nailed the second to give the Warriors a lead.

Elie then deflected the inbounds pass by the Lakers and Hardaway stole it (his 8th steal of the game) to finish it off.  Golden State had now done what they had to the Spurs, split the first two games on the road, and were set to go back to the raucous Oakland Coliseum.

Meanwhile, L.A. had to be thinking of a recent playoff memory as they were kicking themselves for blowing this game.  Their 1990 loss to Phoenix had started with a split at the Forum before the Lakers lost twice in Phoenix and then Game 5 at home to lose the series.

Golden State starters (points scored)

Mario Elie (9) – Small Forward

Chris Mullin (41) – Power Forward

Alton Lister (4) – Center

Tim Hardaway (28) – Point Guard

Mitch Richmond (22) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (5)

Rod Higgins (11)

Tom Tolbert (0)

Tyrone Hill (3)

Vincent Askew (0)

Jim Petersen (2)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (23) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (24) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (4) – Center

Magic Johnson (44) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (5) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (7)

A.C. Green (11)

Larry Drew (0)

Elden Campbell (6)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

May 10, 1991 – East Semifinals, Game 3: Chicago Bulls 97 @Philadelphia 76ers 99

In another example of how matchups in the regular season really don’t matter, Philadelphia had beaten Chicago in 3 of 4 meetings in 1991.  It was all turned around as the Bulls won the first two games easily at Chicago Stadium.

Everybody except Charles Barkley struggled in Game 1 and Jim Lynam had a combined 6 points from two of his starters in the first two games, Rick Mahorn and Rickey Green.  Chicago’s defense was in its best stretch of the season and all of the starters, minus John Paxson in Game 1, scored in double figures, leading to 105 and 112 points and double digit victories.

Game 3 seemed to follow the same script, except that the Chicago offense wasn’t quite clicking like it had in Chicago.  Rickey Green put in 5 early points to give the 76ers a 13-8 lead.  Barkley later got the crowd going with two slams, including a coast-to-coast forray after a steal.

But the biggest contribution to the 76ers’ early lead was Armen Gilliam.  Gilliam had 8 1st quarter points as he was able to hit open shots off feeds from Barkley.  A baseline jumper from Gilliam gave Philly their biggest lead at 23-16 with 3:22 left in the quarter.

But Michael Jordan and his 10 1st quarter points led Chicago back to a 26-all tie by quarter’s end.

The game stayed close through most of the 2nd quarter.  However, Philly seemed to be leaving points at the door with 12 1st half turnovers leading to 14 fast break points for Chicago.  The 76ers were also bickering with the refs.  Most notably, Rick Mahorn picked up a technical after getting called for throwing an elbow at Grant upon getting a rebound.  Later, Barkley made a shot but was looking at the official with the, “I was fouled!!!” look and his man, Pippen, quickly scored at the other end.

Jordan hit 5 shots in a row and scored 12 points in the quarter to give the Bulls as big as a 51-45 lead but two free throws from Barkley cut it to 51-47 at the half.

For as bad as the arguing looked in the 2nd quarter, something must have worked as Philly got 28 free throw attempts in the 2nd half, Chicago got 19 for the game.

The Bulls did stretch their lead to as much as 10 points early in the 3rd quarter before Hersey Hawkins, who had been quiet with 5 1st half points, got going by getting to the line.  Then Gilliam drew Pippen’s 4th foul and forced him to the bench.

Jordan kept hitting as he scored 12 more points in the 3rd quarter, but nobody else was scoring for Chicago.  Meanwhile, Philly stayed right with them as Hawkins scored 6 points toward the end of the quarter.  Andre Turner also made a big contribution off the Philly bench and stayed in for the rest of the game.

Two free throws from Turner and then a drive down the lane cut the Bulls lead to 76-75 heading into the 4th quarter.  Hawkins then scored the first 11 points for Philly in the 4th quarter, culminating with a three to give the 76ers their first lead since the 2nd quarter, at 86-85 with 5:23 left.

Pippen then picked up his 5th foul after giving the Bulls the lead again.  The teams then went back and forth.  Jordan was ready to give Chicago the advantage when he drove the lane and finished against 7’7″ Manute Bol and drew a foul.  But MJ missed the free throw and the Bulls had to settle for a 93-all tie with 2 minutes left.

But Jordan did the same thing on the next possession to give the Bulls the lead again.  He drove past Hawkins, challenged Bol, scored, and drew a foul.  Then Bol would draw a technical and get thrown out of the game.  MJ hit the technical free throw but then missed the subsequent shot to give Chicago a four-point lead.

Barkley would then kick out to Turner for a jumper from the top to cut the lead to 96-95 with 43.2 seconds left.  Chicago ran down the shot clock and Pippen missed.  But the rebound went out of bounds off of Philadelphia with 15.7 seconds to go.

So the Bulls got it in to Jordan, who was fouled by Hawkins.  Jordan was short on the first free throw, his 3rd miss in the last two minutes, but hit the second for his 46th point.

Then after a Philly timeout with 14.9 seconds left, they got it in to Barkley.  Charles penetrated against Pippen and forced Jordan to slump off of Hawkins in the corner.  That would be a mistake as Barkley kicked out to Hersey for a corner three to give the 76ers the lead with 10.3 seconds to go.

After their timeout, the ball ended up in the hands of Pippen as Jordan couldn’t get free.  Scottie hit nothing but backboard on a shot from the top against two people.  Gilliam rebounded and was fouled by Bill Cartwright with 1.8 seconds left.  He split the free throws and Chicago got another chance with 1.5 to go.

The inbounds pass intended for Jordan would be deflected by Barkley to run out the clock.  The 76ers had gotten back into the series, but it would be their final playoff win until 1999.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (22) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (10) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (9) – Center

John Paxson (2) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (46) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Craig Hodges (5)

Will Perdue (3)

B.J. Armstrong (0)

Stacey King (0)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Armen Gilliam (25) – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (19) – Power Forward

Rick Mahorn (2) – Center

Rickey Green (9) – Point Guard

Hersey Hawkins (29) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Andre Turner (8)

Ron Anderson (5)

Manute Bol (2)

Philadelphia Coach: Jim Lynam

PHILADELPHIA, PA - CIRCA 1990: Hersey Hawkins #33 of the Philadelphia 76ers lays the ball up over Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls during an NBA basketball game circa 1990 at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hawkins played for the 76ers from 1988-93. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA, PA – CIRCA 1990: Hersey Hawkins #33 of the Philadelphia 76ers lays the ball up over Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls during an NBA basketball game circa 1990 at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hawkins played for the 76ers from 1988-93. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

May 10, 1991 – West Semifinals, Game 3: Los Angeles Lakers 115 @Golden State Warriors 112

The wild, wild west had another one going for them on this night.  Although the shooting wasn’t as good as it was in Game 2, the Warriors/Lakers game was just as exciting.

The Lakers were kicking themselves after giving up Game 2, and it looked like it spurred the Warriors confidence sky high early in Game 3.  Tim Hardaway scored 6 quick points and Chris Mullin got another transition three.

But L.A. got going as well by getting the ball to two veteran playoff performers not named Magic Johnson.  James Worthy and Byron Scott hit some early shots, culminating with Worthy throwing in a desperation banker from the wing at the end of the shot clock to give L.A. a 16-10 lead.

The Lakers took a 22-12 advantage when Sam Perkins hit after an up-and-under move in the post.  The Lakers had made some defensive adjustments, most notably they were crowding Mullin all over the floor when he got the ball.  Worthy was the primary defender against Mullin who stayed with him, but the other four Lakers seemed to know where Chris was as well.  They were also backing off of Tim Hardaway and trying not to allow him to penetrate and dish.  After their initial good start, Golden State went cold from the field for a good stretch of the 1st quarter.

Mitch Richmond provided a spark as he fed Jim Petersen twice for slams and then hit a fall-away in the lane to cut the lead to 24-18 with 3 minutes left in the quarter.  But Sam Perkins dominated the last 3 minutes as he drew fouls and scored 8 points to give the Lakers as much as a 13-point lead.  A scoop shot by Tom Tolbert with 0.4 seconds left cut the lead to 35-24 going into the 2nd quarter.

But neither Tolbert or Petersen was in the game for Don Nelson to start the 2nd quarter.  Nellie went to an ultra small lineup of Hardaway, Richmond, Mario Elie, Sarunas Marciulionis and Mullin (the only non-guard).  It worked for the first 2 minutes of the 2nd quarter.  Hardaway got three assists as he found Marciulionis, Richmond, and Mullin for buckets.  This forced Mike Dunleavy to use a timeout with 10:08 left.

The Lakers did counter with 6 consecutive points, but Golden State’s slightly bigger lineup (with Rod Higgins in) then ran off a 10-0 spurt.  Marciulionis was the key man as he drove for another score and then found Richmond for a three.  But the Warriors could never take the lead or even tie the game in the 2nd quarter.

Magic Johnson came back in after the 10-0 run and stabilized the Lakers by getting the ball to Worthy.  Worthy led the way with 16 1st half points, including 10 in the 2nd quarter.  Byron Scott and Sam Perkins were right behind him with 12 points.

The Lakers grabbed a 57-50 lead at the half with Magic Johnson only attempting two shots.  But the Lakers historically were much more effective when Magic was spreading the ball around, as opposed to scoring like he did in Game 2.

Nellie had another wrinkle to start the 3rd quarter as Jim Petersen and Rod Higgins started along with Run TMC.  It worked out as Petersen hit a running hook and then a baseline jumper.  Higgins followed with a three and Dunleavy had to use another timeout with less than 2 minutes gone in a quarter.

But then Petersen picked up his 4th and 5th fouls and L.A. continued to hold off the Warriors as Magic found Worthy and Scott for jumpers and hit his own three-pointer, along with two free throws, over the next 3 minutes.  Golden State tied it though when Hardaway found Alton Lister on a pick-and-roll for a three-point play.

Hardaway later got his 11th assist when he found Higgins for a three to give Golden State a 67-66 lead.  The teams then traded hoops as L.A. was determined to do something that they didn’t do in the 2nd half of Game 2, continue to get Worthy the ball.  Big Game James added 10 more points in the 3rd quarter.

The Lakers used a 7-0 run late in the 3rd quarter to take an 81-78 lead into the 4th.

The final quarter didn’t start off well for L.A. though as Perkins picked up his 5th foul.  But the Lakers bench of Terry Teagle and A.C. Green, along with Worthy, made some big buckets to keep L.A. ahead.

Mitch Richmond kept the Warriors alive during this stretch with 9 points.  But neither he, Hardaway, or especially Mullin shot well in this game.  Mullin was particularly ineffective as he finished 4-for-14 from the field and forced a few shots.

The Lakers went on an 8-0 run to take a 101-89 lead with about 5 minutes to go in the game.  Nellie then tried to junk up the game again by going with 4 guards and Mullin (the same lineup that started the 2nd quarter) and by pressing and trapping all over the floor.

It got them going offensively as Hardaway scored 5 quick points.  But the Lakers also beat the trap and got two buckets by Worthy and Green to keep their lead at 107-98 with 3:24 left.

But then on a particular play, the Lakers had trouble getting the ball inbounds and had to use a key timeout, which left them with 1 timeout left.  This would be key as the trap started to force some L.A. turnovers.

Elie got the first steal and Marciulionis went coast-to-coast for a three-point play.  The Warriors, even with their small lineup, also proved effective of getting on the boards.  Elie put back a miss by Richmond to cut the lead to 108-103.  Then Richmond got a steal and Mullin a breakaway to cut it to three with 2 1/2 minutes left.

The Lakers could not use a timeout to silence the crowd, but their veteran experience came through on the next possession.  Perkins was double teamed down low (as he was initially guarded by Richmond).  He kicked out to Scott, who swung the ball to Worthy.  Worthy nailed a wing jumper as the Warriors rotation was late.

But Hardaway came right back with a pull-up three to cut it to 110-108 with 1:52 left.  The Lakers again ran down the shot clock.  While this offensive attack wasn’t as fluid, it proved to be more effective.

Magic had to try and penetrate down low but wasn’t getting anywhere.  So he kicked out to Scott behind the three-point line as the clock was about to run out.  With Hardaway right in his face, Byron rose up and nailed the three to silence the crowd and throw a little dagger at the Warriors.

But Golden State didn’t go quietly.  Richmond hit a tough baseline jumper and then the Warriors scrambled the Lakers and were effective, this time, in forcing a 24-second shot clock violation with 54.6 seconds left.

The Warriors went for the quick two-pointer but were denied twice by Perkins.  However, after an inbounds pass, Marciulionis was able to score on a stop-and-go dribble to cut the lead to 113-112 with 37.1 seconds on the clock.

This time, the Lakers didn’t focus on running down the shot clock.  They just took and hit the first good shot.  Green got the ball out of a trap to Worthy, who found Scott for a 6-foot baseline jumper to put the Lakers up by three with 20.5 seconds left.

But Golden State still had a chance to tie.  They brought in Higgins and Paul Mokeski to go with Run TMC as the all three-point shooting lineup.  They initially couldn’t get a good shot and Hardaway had to pull up with Magic Johnson in his face.

He bricked badly but Mokeski tipped it out to Mullin.  Mullin was double teamed by Worthy and Magic but managed to get it back to Hardaway.  Tim had a cleaner look as Magic lunged back towards him.  But Hardaway’s customary knuckle-ball went in and out.  There was an ensuing scramble on the rebound but nothing came of it other than the buzzer sounding.

L.A. had escaped this time with Worthy leading the way, and not disappearing as he did in the 2nd half of Game 2 and in the Phoenix series of 1990.  It became a bigger win when L.A. won Game 4 going away 123-107.  Worthy held Mullin to 9 points this time on 4-for-13 shooting and three Lakers had over 20 points, Perkins leading the way with 27.

But, like the Bulls against Philly, the Lakers would trouble putting their opponent away at home.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (36) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (15) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (7) – Center

Magic Johnson (15) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (23) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (12)

A.C. Green (6)

Larry Drew (0)

Elden Campbell (1)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

Golden State starters (points scored)

Mario Elie (8) – Small Forward

Chris Mullin (13) – Power Forward

Alton Lister (3) – Center

Tim Hardaway (24) – Point Guard

Mitch Richmond (24) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (13)

Rod Higgins (12)

Tom Tolbert (5)

Tyrone Hill (2)

Jim Petersen (8)

Paul Mokeski (0)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

hardaway

Despite 24 points and 12 assists from Hardaway, the Lakers won Game 3 (and eventually Game 4) at the raucous Oakland Coliseum *photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated tumblr

May 14, 1991 – East Semifinals, Game 5: Philadelphia 76ers 95 @Chicago Bulls 100

After their Game 3 win, Philly laid an egg in Game 4.  Everybody except Charles Barkley was out of it and the Bulls pounced.  Chicago won 101-85 and was never really challenged.  Everybody expected that that would be the last playoff game of the season (and, as it turned out, all time) at the Spectrum.

The 76ers would put up a fight in Game 5 though.  In the 1st quarter, 90% of the fight was from Barkley.  The 76ers had been known as a physical team, led by Rick Mahorn, that didn’t give up layups.

But, for the 1st half of Game 5, Mahorn and others were letting Scottie Pippen go to the basket unmolested.  This was a far, far cry from the Rick Mahorn that was on the Bad Boy Pistons in 1989.  He had had some back troubles but he sure didn’t look the same, as if he had checked out (Mahorn put up a grand total of 13 points in this 5-game series).  Mahorn would be released by Philly over the summer and played in Italy in 1992.

Pippen and Barkley and a mano y mano offensive duel in the 1st quarter.  Pippen was 7-for-7 from the field for 14 points.  Most of them came on straight drives down the lane (including a two-handed reverse slam).  Barkley kept Philly in it with 16 points, as he drove right back at the Chicago defense.  The Bulls led 30-29 after one quarter.

Pippen’s great 1st quarter earned him extended time in the 2nd, and earned Michael Jordan (who was battling knee tendinitis) an extended rest.  Scottie would hit two more field goals (including a lefty slam over 7’7″ Manute Bol) before missing his first shot.  But he followed up that miss for a score and was 10-for-11 from the field.

The Bulls extended out their advantage as Pippen finished the 1st half at 11-for-12 from the field, including a three-pointer that gave Chicago their biggest lead at 52-41.  Jordan came back and scored 7 of his 13 1st half points in the latter half of the 2nd quarter.

But the 76ers stayed within striking distance.  Rickey Green hit a three-pointer and Armen Gilliam hit two free throws to cut the Bulls lead to 58-51 at the half.

But Chicago kept flying in the 3rd quarter and looked to put the game away.  Pippen hit a pull-up from the wing for his 26th point and Jordan hit three field goals, including an alley-oop dunk from John Paxson on the break.

Pippen hit another jumper for 28 points while Jordan hit two free throws for 21 points and Chicago took a 74-61 lead halfway through the 3rd quarter.

But then Pippen picked up his 4th foul and went to the bench.  The Bulls then got a little lackadaisical and surrendered an 8-0 run to Philly, culminating with a coast-to-coast slam from Barkley in which he managed to dribble the ball past Jordan.

MJ’s coast-to-coast three-point play put Chicago back ahead 81-71 at the end of the 3rd quarter.

The 76ers then went on another 6-0 run to start the 4th quarter.  Hersey Hawkins, who was playing through a thigh injury, got a layup after Andre Turner came up with a steal.  Later, Turner got a breakaway after Philly controlled a jump ball and it was 81-77.

Paxson nailed a three at the end of the shot clock to stem the tide but then Philadelphia responded with an 8-2 run.  Gilliam had gotten a lot more aggressive in the 2nd half and was scoring and drawing fouls down low.  Gilliam and the 76ers were also closing down the lane and taking away layups again (Mahorn was not in the game).

It was down to 86-85 before Paxson hit another big shot, a pull-up jumper in the lane.  Jordan then connected on a pull-up banker with 5:15 left and Jim Lynam was forced to use a 76ers timeout.

Rickey Green hit a wing jumper.  Jordan drove baseline for a reverse layup.  Green connected on a three after Barkley kicked the ball out to him.  Then, with 3:09 left, Gilliam tied the game at 92 with two free throws.

The 76ers had reached the summit but would not make it over.

Jordan drove the lane, was fouled, and hit two free throws.  MJ then got a piece of a turnaround jumper from Gilliam in the post as he came over to help out and forced Armen to put a higher arc on it.  Michael then followed that act by driving down the lane for a layup after recovering a loose ball and forcing Philly to use another timeout with 2:15 left.

The score remained the same as the game went under a minute.  Barkley and Ron Anderson had missed jumpers on previous possessions but Hawkins connected on a corner three to cut the lead to 96-95.

But momma, there goes that man again!  MJ came right back with a baseline drive and score with 42.7 seconds left.  Jordan then rebounded a missed two-point jumper from Rickey Green for his 19th board of the game.  He then clinched the game and the series with two free throws.

Jordan had scored Chicago’s last 12 points of the game to move them on to the Eastern Conference Finals for the 3rd straight year.  But what was different this time around was that Chicago wouldn’t be 100% sure that they’d play Detroit.  The Pistons were locked in a 2-2 series with Boston and Game 5 was the following day at the Garden.

As for the 76ers, it was even clear during this season that they were going downhill.  Charles Barkley had “quietly” demanded being traded to a championship contender.  Those demands became louder in 1992 as Philly suffered a 7-game losing streak in late November and never really recovered.  They finished at 35-47 and 3 games out of the playoffs.

Barkley then got his wish as he was traded to Phoenix in June, 1992 for Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang, and Tim Perry.  Jim Lynam was also let go as coach after the season.  Hawkins, Gilliam, and Ron Anderson would be gone after the 1993 season.  Gilliam and Anderson were released and Hawkins was traded to Charlotte for Dana Barros, Greg Graham, and Sidney Green.

The 76ers record declined and their low point was an 18-64 season in 1996.  But then the franchise would be revitalized for a time by The Answer.

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Armen Gilliam (21) – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (30) – Power Forward

Rick Mahorn (2) – Center

Rickey Green (16) – Point Guard

Hersey Hawkins (15) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Ron Anderson (4)

Andre Turner (2)

Manute Bol (1)

Robert Reid (4)

Philadelphia Coach: Jim Lynam

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (28) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (9) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (8) – Center

John Paxson (5) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (38) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (2)

Will Perdue (8)

Cliff Levingston (2)

Stacey King (0)

Craig Hodges (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

May 14, 1991 – West Semifinals, Game 5: Golden State Warriors 119 @Los Angeles Lakers 124 (OT)

After winning back-to-back games in Oakland, it looked for a while as if the Lakers were going to give up their second game of the series in Los Angeles.  That would’ve spelled doom in the eyes of Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn, who was characteristically criticizing the Lakers play all night, because he didn’t think they could win a third game at Golden State.

While this game was going on, Portland had eliminated Utah and was set to take on the winner.  This gave the Lakers, if they were scoreboard watching, extra motivation to finish off this series now.

But they didn’t have that motivation early on and Golden State came out playing like their backs were against the wall.  Rod Higgins got the starting call in place of Mario Elie and became a bigger defender against James Worthy, especially down low.

Worthy had also gotten credit for holding down Chris Mullin in the two games at Oakland, the knee injury that kept Mullin out of Game 1 probably didn’t help either.  But Mullin hit his first three shots to help Golden State grab a lead.

Tim Hardaway was dropping dimes like a meter maid in the first few minutes as he found Higgins, Mullin, and Mitch Richmond for several baskets.  Hardaway finished the 1st quarter with 9 assists.  Vlade Divac kept the Lakers in it early on with 6 points, but he was battling the flu and had to sit down (he didn’t average many minutes in the series anyway).

A 10-3 Warriors run, with the last 6 points coming from Higgins, put them up 22-11 with 2:14 left in the 1st quarter.  At that point, the Lakers were 4-for-21 from the field and the boobirds were making an appearance at the Great Western Forum.  L.A. did manage to weasel it back to 27-19 by quarter’s end.

The Lakers showed more life early in the 2nd quarter as reserves Terry Teagle and Elden Campbell came into the game to spark them.  They each hit a field goal.  Then Magic Johnson hit a three-pointer for his first field goal of the game, in 10 attempts, and followed it up with two free throws.

What followed was a sequence in which both Teagle and Campbell blocked a shot, a sequence that got the crowd going.  Teagle subsequently hit a turnaround jumper from the post to cut the lead to 32-30.  The former Warrior then connected on another turnaround jumper to tie the game and force Don Nelson to use a timeout with about 5 minutes gone by.

Teagle and Campbell continued to help L.A. battle Golden State to a 42-all tie.  But as the Lakers starters trickled back in, they didn’t help the L.A. cause.

Hardaway nailed a step-back three from the top and then got a breakaway layup after a steal by Sarunas Marciulionis.  Marciulionis later hit two free throws and Tyrone Hill put back a miss.  The only thing that prevented Golden State from grabbing a bigger lead was Teagle, who hit a baseline jumper and then two free throws.

But the Warriors did get a 53-46 halftime lead when Mullin got his 17th point on a running jumper from the top at the buzzer.  Whether or not Mullin was feeling better, the Lakers defense was definitely not as concentrated on him as it had been in Golden State.  This was evidenced by the fact that he basically ran free for this last shot and was not challenged.

James Worthy came out strong to start the 2nd half after only 4 points in the 1st.  He scored 6 early on but Run TMC got the Warriors off to a better start.  Hardaway found Richmond for a jumper from the foul line and then Tim hit a pull-up from the wing.  Later, Richmond hit a runner over Divac and Mullin hit a pull-up jumper over Sam Perkins.

Hardaway then went coast-to-coast on a stutter step drive to put the Warriors ahead 63-52 and force Mike Dunleavy to use a timeout with 3 minutes gone by in the 3rd quarter.  The Warriors would grab as big as a 13-point lead in the quarter but Magic got going after only one 1st half field goal.

Magic hit two shots from the post and got credit for another field goal on a goaltending.  Magic then culminated a 15-8 run by nailing a three after a kickout from Taegle to cut the lead to 71-67.  But Hardaway drove right back and kicked out to Higgins for an answering three.  Hardaway then found Richmond for a jumper from the top on the next possession to put the Warriors up nine with 3:19 to go.

The Warriors held that nine-point lead at 84-75 as the 3rd quarter reached an end.  Richmond led the way with 12 of his 20 points in that 3rd quarter.

A three-point play by Perkins started L.A. off on the right foot in the 4th.  But then Golden State took the momentum right back away and built a 90-78 lead at about the 10 minute mark.  Elden Campbell had just picked up his 5th foul but he started a run by putting back a miss by Byron Scott.  Magic then hit a banker from the post after an up-and-under move to force Nellie to use a timeout at the 8:59 mark.

Campbell later rebound-slammed a miss but the Warriors maintained a 94-86 lead when Richmond hit on a scoop with about 6:49 left in the game.

But then, finally, the Lakers consistently came alive at both ends of the court (I suppose it was at about this time that they saw the Blazers wrapping up their series.. if they were scoreboard watching).  The jump shooting Warriors went cold and then were called for an illegal defense.  The Lakers run started with a technical free throw from Magic.

Campbell then rebounded a wild miss from Magic, after a good defensive possession from Golden State, and hit a hook shot in the lane.  Magic then found Byron Scott for a corner three in transition (his 3rd field goal of the game, all since late in the 3rd quarter) to cut the lead to 94-92.

The Warriors used a timeout with 5:06 left but it didn’t help their scoring drought over the next minute and a half.  Worthy hit two free throws and then Perkins and Worthy hit from the post to put L.A. up 98-94 with 3:21 to go.  Nellie had to use his 3rd timeout of the quarter.  Golden State had surrendered a 12-0 run over the last 3 1/2 minutes.

But they managed to stay in it as Mullin hit two free throws.  The Warriors then went to their press and forced two turnovers and two Laker fouls.  One was the 6th on Campbell and the other was the 5th on Perkins.  Hardaway hit three of four free throws to give Golden State a 99-98 lead.

Magic then drove by Richmond in the post for a score.  But Hardaway pushed it right back and found Mullin, who’s three-pointer from the top rolled around the rim before rolling in.  Hardaway then got a steal and fed Richmond for a seemingly easy breakaway, at least Richmond took it easy.

But Worthy hustled back and blocked Richmond’s shot.  Unfortunately for L.A., Worthy was the only one who hustled back.  Mullin followed it up and scored while drawing a foul with 1:44 left.  Mullin could’ve put the Warriors up by five but missed the free throw.  Still, it was 104-100 with under 2 minutes left.  But the game was far from over.

Magic was fouled and hit two free throws.  The Lakers defense then forced a 24-second violation.  Perkins then tipped in his own miss to tie the game.  But the blows over the last minute had just started.

Hardaway hit a pull-up from the top against Magic with 35.5 seconds left to give the Warriors a 106-104 lead.  But Magic did what he did best and found Worthy for a hook that crawled into the basket with 21.1 seconds to go.  Nellie used a timeout.

Hardaway had it again at the top of the floor against Magic.  Sensing the mismatch, Scott ran off of Richmond to double team.  Hardaway dribbled away from the double team before finding Richmond at the top of the key for an easy 17-footer.  Richmond connected with 6.3 left and Dunleavy used a timeout.

Golden State may be criticized for shooting too soon and giving the Lakers time on the clock to respond.  My counter is that Richmond had a good shot.  Probably a better shot than he was going to get at 2 seconds left, and if you have a good shot, you take it no matter the time.

L.A. had to use another timeout as they couldn’t get the ball in-bounds on their initial play.  They almost couldn’t on their next play but Teagle got it in to Perkins at the top of the key.

Perkins turned toward the basket and the lane opened up.  So Sam drove in and got the roll on a finger roll with 2.4 seconds left (leaving the Warriors some time but, by the same logic as two paragraphs ago, Perkins had an open drive and a good shot).  Nelson used a timeout but the Warriors didn’t seem to execute his play as Richmond was forced to throw up a prayer against a double team that hit nothing but backboard.

The Lakers were now playing in their first overtime playoff game in 7 years, hard to believe.

The teams traded baskets and free throws some more for the first 4 minutes of overtime.  Rod Higgins split a pair of charity tosses at the 1:08 mark to tie the game at 117.

On the Lakers’ subsequent possession, Magic rebounded a miss by Scott and later, penetrated and kicked out to Worthy for a wing jumper with 38.7 seconds left.  Hardaway tried to respond, but missed a steap-back fall-away from the baseline.  Worthy eventually came up with the loose ball on the rebound and was fouled by Marciulionis.

After hitting the first free throw, James missed the second.  Mullin rebounded and Golden State used a timeout with 25.8 seconds left, only down 120-117.  The Warriors initially went for and got the quick two as Hardaway drove down the lane.  But it took them 10 seconds to foul before Hardaway got Scott at the 11.7 second mark.  Byron hit two free throws and Golden State used a timeout.

Mullin inbounded to Richmond in the corner.  But Mitch didn’t draw iron on a tough three-point attempt over Teagle.  Scott rebounded and was fouled by Marciulionis.  With 5.4 seconds left, Scott put the finishing touches on the Warriors and this entertaining Semifinal series.

The Lakers would now move on to Portland, as they had to travel on the road for Game 1 of a Western Conference Final for the first time since 1971.

For Golden State, this would be about as good as it got for a number of years.  The decline started with a trade early in training camp for the next season that broke up Run TMC and set them back.

Golden State starters (points scored)

Chris Mullin (26) – Small Forward

Rod Higgins (17) – Power Forward

Alton Lister (4) – Center

Tim Hardaway (27) – Point Guard

Mitch Richmond (26) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (4)

Jim Petersen (9)

Tom Tolbert (2)

Tyrone Hill (4)

Mario Elie (0)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (25) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (19) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (6) – Center

Magic Johnson (28) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (13) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (17)

Elden Campbell (11)

A.C. Green (4)

Larry Drew (1)

Tony Smith (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

magic

Magic Johnson eventually led the Lakers to a series win against a tough Warriors team *photo courtesy of nba.com

May 17, 1991 – East Semifinals, Game 6: Boston Celtics 113 @Detroit Pistons 117 (OT)

In this series between late-80’s rivals, it almost came down to who was healthier.  Larry Bird was out for Game 1 at the Boston Garden while resting his ailing back and Detroit shut down the Celtics to win 86-75.

But Isiah Thomas sprained his foot late in the game and missed Game 2.  Bird returned and responded to lead the Celtics to a late victory 109-103.  Thomas returned for Game 3 but Detroit couldn’t do anything right and were blown out 115-83.

Isiah sat out again in Game 4.  But Joe Dumars and Mark Aguirre responded to lead the Pistons to a 104-97 win.  For Game 5, Isiah was back but came off the bench and didn’t score.  Dumars had 32 while Vinnie Johnson and Bill Laimbeer contributed 24.  Detroit ran to a big lead and had an 88-75 advantage heading into the 4th.  During the game, the Celtics lost Robert Parish to a sprained ankle.

But Boston made a run led by Dee Brown and Larry Bird and tied the game late.  But a big jumper by Laimbeer put the game away and brought Detroit to the brink of eliminating Boston 116-111.

The Celtics most consistent performer was Reggie Lewis, who had broken 20 points in every game so far.  But Bird had mostly struggled and Boston had trouble scoring at times.

Parish would be out for Game 6 while Isiah would continue to come off the bench.  Detroit grabbed a quick 7-0 lead while Boston missed their first 7 shots.  Three Boston starters (Kevin Gamble, Brian Shaw, and Joe Kleine, who was in for Parish) would combine for 10 points in this game.

Meanwhile, Joe Dumars would become scalding hot.  He made his first 4 shots, including two threes and would finish the 1st quarter at 7-for-9 with 16 points.  Dumars’ assault gave Detroit as much as an 11-point lead in the 1st quarter.

But Boston cut into it as they started filtering in their bench.  Kevin McHale and Dee Brown hit some big shots, while Reggie Lewis hit two pull-ups from the elbow.  Boston cut the lead to 29-23 at the end of the quarter.

But Lewis would go scoreless until the 4th quarter.  Isiah saw his first action of the game at the start of the 2nd quarter and his contribution would be a few assists to Dumars, as he continued to shoot lights out.  Thomas would also make a few jumpers.

Detroit continued to lead but Boston stayed in it as McHale scored 15 of his 18 1st half points in the 2nd quarter.  McHale continually scored and drew fouls on, mainly, John Salley.  Salley had 4 fouls by halftime and almost got into a fracas with McHale.  Dee Brown also contributed 10 points, 8 in the 2nd quarter.

Detroit out-rebounded Boston 25-15 in the 1st half, highlighting the loss of Parish, with Dennis Rodman grabbing 11.  Dumars had 25 points by halftime.  But even with all of that, Boston still trailed only 56-50 at the break.

But Detroit ran it up in the 3rd as the Pistons got James Edwards involved in the offense down low.  Edwards, Dumars and Laimbeer helped increase the lead to as much as 80-63 with under 4 minutes to go in the 3rd.

But then Detroit went cold.  Boston brought in Ed Pinckney, who helped stabilize their rebounding.  For most of the rest of the game, Chris Ford had a lineup of Pinckney, McHale, Brown, Lewis and Bird.  While this lineup brought Boston back, it also contributed to fatigue (especially for McHale) in the late going.

The Celtics closed the quarter on a 12-2 run as McHale was now up to 27 points.

Dee Brown got the Celtics going in the 4th as he scored 5 quick points.  A turnaround banker by Lewis cut the lead to 84-82.  But then Mark Aguirre drove down the lane for a scoop shot and Isiah found Salley for a slam in transition.

Another field goal by Aguirre and then an alley-oop dunk from Isiah to Salley forced Ford to use a timeout at the 8:11 mark with the Pistons back ahead 92-84.

Boston got back into it as McHale scored 5 more points, including a corner three.  Bird then went to the post for the first time all game and hit a turnaround jumper to cut the lead to 97-94.

Then with the lead still at three a minute later, Boston got their defensive play of the game that sparked them.  Isiah cut to the hoop past Dee Brown for a seemingly wide open layup.  But Brown showed off his athleticism that won the dunk contest and blocked the shot.  At the other end, Bird hit a fall-away in the lane over Rodman to cut the lead to 99-98.

The Celtics then took their first lead of the game when Bird made two free throws.  Edwards came back with two from the line but then McHale fed Lewis for a turnaround banker from the post while he was fouled.  The three-point play gave Boston a 103-101 lead with 1:39 left.  Dumars tied it with a double-pump banker in the lane.

Then, with under a minute to go, Lewis drove and missed.  McHale tipped it in but was called for offensive goaltending.  This was an egregiously bad call as the replay clearly showed the ball out of the cylinder.  But the Celtics’ protests went for naught.

Brown was then called for a foul on Edwards with 43.4 seconds to go and James made two more free throws.  The Celtics went to Bird as they did many times before.  But he missed a fall-away from the post and Dumars rebounded.  Joe D was fouled by Lewis with 21.4 seconds left.

But for once, Joe D was not Joe Cool and he missed both free throws.  The Celtics called a timeout and went to Reggie Lewis this time.  He missed a pull-up but got the ball back on a back-tap and connected on a hook shot to tie the game with 7.8 seconds left.

The Pistons went to Isiah after a timeout.  But he lost the ball when he ran into Bird on a drive and the game was headed into overtime.  Isiah would redeem himself in the extra session.

But first, Boston took control when Brown found Lewis for an elbow jumper.  Then Pinckney rebounded a miss by Lewis and reverse slammed it to give Boston a 109-105 lead with 3:21 left and force Chuck Daly to use a timeout.

The Pistons came back with a baseline jumper from Edwards.  Then on their next possession, Isiah ended up with the ball as the shot clock was running out.  He pulled up and banked in a three to give Detroit a 110-109 lead with 2:25 left.

Thomas then responded to a jumper from Brown by nailing another pull-up jumper from the top.  Detroit would then grab a 114-111 lead with under a minute to go.

The Celtics, who had gone with the same lineup forever, were tired and Brown was called for traveling with 43 seconds left.  With a chance to go for the kill, Isiah went 1-on-1 against Brown.  He dribbled between his legs a few times while Dee was on his heels.  Then Thomas stepped back and nailed it from the deep wing to make it 116-111 with 25 seconds left.

With that, Boston’s season was effectively over.  They squandered their last chance to get back into the game when Lewis barely missed a three.

The talk as the game ended was if this would be Larry Bird’s last appearance.  It sure looked like it as he was going to have back surgery over the summer.  Although he had a few fleeting moments of greatness (like Game 5 versus Indiana), Bird had looked injured and ineffective while Magic Johnson was on the top of his game in some respects.  Guess which one wouldn’t be back next season except for an All-Star game.

Detroit was battered but was moving on to their 5th consecutive Eastern Conference Final.  This would, in essence, be the last great moment of the Pistons led by Isiah Thomas and Chuck Daly.  Their leaving of the stage would be unceremonious 10 days later.

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (0) – Small Forward

Larry Bird (12) – Power Forward

Joe Kleine (2) – Center

Brian Shaw (8) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (23) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (34)

Dee Brown (21)

Ed Pinckney (13)

Michael Smith (0)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (4) – Small Forward

James Edwards (17) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (15) – Center

Joe Dumars (32) – Point Guard

Vinnie Johnson (10) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Isiah Thomas (17)

Mark Aguirre (10)

John Salley (12)

Scott Hastings (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

AUBURN HILLS, MI - 1987: Kevin McHale #32 of the Boston Celtics dribbles against The Detroit Pistons circa 1987 at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Kevin McHale

AUBURN HILLS, MI – 1987: Kevin McHale #32 of the Boston Celtics dribbles against The Detroit Pistons circa 1987 at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Kevin McHale

May 18, 1991 – Western Finals, Game 1: Los Angeles Lakers 111 @Portland Blazers 106

For the Lakers, this would be the first time since 1971 that they didn’t host a Western Conference Final (this was their 13th appearance since 1971).

But even with the Lakers being the “underdog,” one still had to get through them in the West to earn their turf.  That would definitely be the case for Portland, even though they had the best record in the league and had made it to the Finals the previous season.  But in 1990, they didn’t beat the Lakers on their playoff run.

The Lakers were the team that wanted to set it up in their halfcourt offense (a bit of a far cry from Showtime) while Portland wanted to run it up and down.

But the Lakers got off to a good start by taking some fast break chances.  James Worthy would be the key with 9 points in the first 5 minutes.  7 of them came in transition with Magic Johnson leading the break.

Magic also got Byron Scott involved as he scored 8 points in the 1st quarter, 6 of them in transition.  A steal and slam by Worthy, for his 11th point, gave the Lakers their biggest lead at 27-17 with 3:37 left in the 1st quarter.

But it was then that Portland started to get aggressive.  Drexler continually drove to the hole, despite battling a turf toe, and scored 11 1st quarter points.  Cliff Robinson also provided a spark off the bench with two field goals as Portland cut L.A.’s lead to 33-27 at the end of the quarter.

The Trailblazers then started the 2nd quarter with an 8-0 run as Jerome Kersey led the way.  Kersey scored 7 points early on in the quarter.  Terry Porter also scored 7 points before picking up his 3rd foul.

But Terry Teagle kept L.A. in the game during that stretch with 10 2nd quarter points.  Elden Campbell and A.C. Green also contributed.

But Portland was intent on proving that they had the bench advantage.  Robinson and Danny Ainge each led the way in the late going.  Robinson’s elbow jumper with 0.6 seconds left on the clock put the Blazers ahead 62-55 at the half.

Kersey led the way with 13 points while Robinson and Drexler each had 12.  Ainge contributed 10 points.  For the Lakers, Worthy led their attack with 17 points while Teagle and Scott contributed 10.  Magic had been held to no field goals and 5 free throws.

Portland kept their lead through the 3rd quarter as, per usual with the Blazers, everyone contributed.  An offensive rebound and slam by Clyde Drexler put Portland up 86-74.  Back-to-back field goals by Kersey and Kevin Duckworth gave the Blazers their biggest lead at 92-78.

Portland held a 92-80 lead heading into the 4th quarter.  Their starters had played most of the 3rd, which wasn’t usually a factor for Portland since they had a strong bench.

But, in this case, the bench did not help in the 4th quarter as the Blazers started out in a major drought, although L.A.’s defense also had something to do with that.

On offense, Vlade Divac led the way with 6 points early in the 4th quarter as the Lakers scored the first 10.  Then Magic kicked out to Byron Scott for a three to put L.A. ahead 93-92 and complete a 15-0 run.

Drexler briefly saved the Blazers with a big three-point play on a driving scoop shot.  Portland then re-took a 99-95 lead when Kersey nailed a baseline jumper.  But Worthy connected on a fall-away in the lane and then Magic tied it with two free throws.  Although Magic only scored two field goals, he finished with 21 assists.

Drexler and Perkins exchanged baskets.  Drexler hit three free throws for a three-point lead, but L.A. re-took it at 105-104 when Scott found Magic on a cut for a layup.

Portland had 4 chances on their next possession to gain the advantage again but couldn’t do it.  Worthy then drew a 5th foul on Drexler, on a questionable call, and made two free throws with 1:23 left.

Porter found Duckworth for a jumper in the lane.  But Magic kicked out to Scott for a wing jumper with 49.8 seconds left.  L.A. led 109-106.

Porter went for the tie but was short on a three-pointer.  But Perkins fouled Buck Williams on the rebound and sent him to the line with 33.2 seconds left.  But Buck highlighted one of Portland’s major weaknesses (especially in their losses in the playoffs) and missed both free throws.

Magic rebounded and the Lakers ran down the shot clock.  At the end, L.A.’s ball movement from Magic to Worthy produced a slam duck by Perkins with 8.6 seconds left.  This effectively finished off the ball game as L.A. stole the home-court advantage.

The home advantage would prove to be a factor as the next 4 games were blowout wins for the home team.  But Portland now needed to win in L.A. to stay alive and they would get their chance in Game 6.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (28) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (18) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (12) – Center

Magic Johnson (15) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (19) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (14)

A.C. Green (2)

Elden Campbell (3)

Mychal Thompson (0)

Larry Drew (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (21) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (6) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (14) – Center

Terry Porter (9) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (28) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (14)

Danny Ainge (12)

Walter Davis (0)

Mark Bryant (2)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

May 25, 1991 – Eastern Finals, Game 3: Chicago Bulls 113 @Detroit Pistons 107

For the first time in their 4 consecutive years of matching up with the Pistons in the playoffs, the Bulls had home court advantage.  They took care of business at the Chicago Stadium in the first two games.

In Game 1, the Bulls bench of B.J. Armstrong, Craig Hodges, Will Perdue and Cliff Levingston scored 30 points, only 7 behind Detroit’s starting five.  They led a 4th quarter run that gave Chicago a 94-83 win, despite Jordan not quite being himself as he was still recovering from knee tendinitis.  Jordan came back with 35 in Game 2 and the bench contributed some more (although not quite to the tune of 30 points).  The Bulls won 105-97 to take a 2-0 series lead.

While Detroit was battling injuries, they only got consistent play from Vinnie Johnson and Mark Aguirre off the bench in the first two games.  The biggest problem was that the starting frontcourt of Dennis Rodman, James Edwards and Bill Laimbeer had combined for 10 points in Game 2, after only 17 in Game 1.

From the scoring end, the biggest disappointment was Edwards.  James was counted on for low post scoring but had contributed 10 points in two games and was benched in the second half of Game 2.  Laimbeer was battling a knee injury while Rodman, who wasn’t a scorer, was getting torched by Scottie Pippen.  Pippen got credit for growing up in this series, but his biggest contribution thus far came in Game 3.

Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars were also battling injuries.  Isiah was 7-for-18 from the field in the first two games while Dumars did throw up 24 points in Game 2 after going 3-for-10 in Game 1.

But all of that would seem to change as the series shifted to the Palace at Auburn Hills.  Chicago was 1-6 in the playoffs there over the last two seasons and this would be the biggest test to see how far they had come.

They answered it pretty swiftly in the first 9 minutes of Game 3.  Jordan, Pippen, and Bill Cartwright nailed jumpers before Detroit got on the board.  Pippen later hit a running hook in the lane and Jordan nailed a turnaround from the elbow.  A Jordan steal and John Paxson jumper put the Bulls up 15-6 and forced Chuck Daly to use a timeout with 6:51 left.

But it only got worse from there for the Pistons.  The Bulls increased their lead to 21-8.  Edwards picked up his 2nd foul without scoring.  Aguirre came in for him and tried to get physical.  First, he bumped Jordan away from the ball on a Chicago possession.  But MJ got it and fed Pippen for a baseline jumper at the end of the shot clock.

Aguirre then got doubled in the post on Detroit’s next possession, tried to bully his way through it and forced up a bad shot, and, after a Detroit foul on the rebound, slapped the ball away from Horace Grant in frustration.  Then Aguirre pushed Grant on the following Chicago possession and was called for a technical.  Jordan hit the free throw to put the Bulls up 24-8.

But then Vinnie Johnson came in and sparked the Pistons offensively.  He hit two field goals, one following a steal by Dumars.  Dumars’ steal from Pippen helped spark the crowd and Detroit’s defense.  John Salley, who had also contributed nothing except fouls in the first two games, got another steal and Vinnie found Aguirre for a layup.

Johnson then hit a turnaround jumper from the post area with 11.4 seconds left to cut the Bulls lead to 24-16 at the end of the 1st quarter.  Detroit had gone on an 8-0 run in the final 3 minutes and 25 seconds to cut the lead in half.

Detroit’s bench continued to spark them in the 2nd quarter.  Aguirre and Johnson got field goals.  Then Dumars penetrated and found Salley for a slam and a foul.  The three-point play cut the lead to 26-23.

While Chicago’s bench wasn’t quite at the form of the first two games, they did make some key plays to keep the Bulls ahead.  Hodges hit two jumpers and Perdue had a tip-in.  But the Pistons bench would briefly bring them into a 38-36 lead when Salley faked Cartwright in the post and then drove by him for a slam.

But as both teams’ starters filtered back in, Chicago took the momentum right back.  They went on an 8-0 run to re-take a 44-38 lead.  The Bulls stretched it to 51-43 at the half when Jordan connected on a pull-up banker with 3.6 seconds left.  Jordan and Cartwright each had 11 points at the half, but Pippen led the way with 15.

Scottie continued to put pressure on Detroit’s front court as Rodman and Edwards picked up their 3rd fouls early in the 2nd half and sat on the bench.  Pippen drew it from Rodman while he put back his own miss.  He later connected on a driving scoop shot and then a driving banker while drawing another foul.  After two free throws from Jordan, the Bulls led 65-49.

The game would become a foul fest over the next few minutes with Chicago continuing to hold its double digit lead.  But late in the quarter, Isiah sparked the Pistons by winning a jump ball against Will Perdue.

He also put back two misses and drove baseline for a double-pump three-point play (while drawing a flagrant foul from rookie Scott Williams) to cut the lead to 78-73.  But then Dumars picked up his 4th foul and Williams made two free throws.  Armstrong then nailed a pull-up banker with 1.2 seconds left in the 3rd to give Chicago an 82-74 lead heading into the 4th quarter.

Jordan would thwart off Detroit in the early part of the 4th quarter with three jumpers and two feeds to Grant for layups to give the Bulls a 92-80 lead.  Detroit hustled and scrapped their way back on the boards and recovering loose balls.  They cut the advantage to 96-91 when Vinnie found Laimbeer for a baseline jumper.

But B.J. Armstrong nailed the biggest shot of his NBA career thus far when he made a three at the end of the shot clock on a kickout from Grant.  Aguirre responded with a three but two bank shots from Jordan kept the Pistons at bay.

But Detroit did have a chance to cut the lead to 103-100 with under 2 minutes left when Dumars got a steal and Johnson looked to have a breakaway.  But Jordan hustled back and forced the ball back to Dumars.  Jordan then recovered to Dumars, forced a wild shot (although Joe D looked like he could have thrown a return pass to Vinnie or hit the trailer for a layup), and then rebounded the miss.

Pippen buried a jumper following that defensive play and Chicago led 105-98.  That whole sequence would end up finishing off Detroit in Game 3.  Their frustration showed some more as Rodman picked up a technical for a hard foul on John Paxson.

The Bulls had come far in their growth as they held off Detroit in a tough environment.  It seemed unthinkable that they could sweep Detroit, but now it seemed very likely.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (26) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (17) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (13) – Center

John Paxson (6) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (33) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (7)

Craig Hodges (6)

Will Perdue (2)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Scott Williams (3)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (0) – Small Forward

James Edwards (2) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (10) – Center

Isiah Thomas (29) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (11) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (25)

Mark Aguirre (17)

John Salley (13)

Gerald Henderson (0)

Tree Rollins (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

May 27, 1991 – Eastern Finals, Game 4: Chicago Bulls 115 @Detroit Pistons 94

With the Bulls on the verge of a sweep, the talk was about how good it was that the Pistons and their cheapshot style of play was going out.  Michael Jordan in particular was critical of getting Detroit’s rough style out of basketball.

The Pistons were vehemently defending themselves while taking shots at Chicago.  They were saying that they were just hard-nosed and not playing dirty.  Most of the league defended Chicago, but Detroit’s perception of how they were being viewed when they were down and almost out may have contributed a lot to the end of this game.

Looking to get a better offensive start in Game 4, Chuck Daly put Mark Aguirre in the starting lineup in place of Dennis Rodman.  The Pistons also set to get James Edwards going.  Edwards and Aguirre did get some buckets and Bill Laimbeer was playing with the most energy that he had the entire series.  Detroit got off to its best start in the 4 games.

But now the problem with Aguirre in the lineup over Rodman was defending Scottie Pippen.  Pippen was aggressive as he scored or assisted on Chicago’s first 8 points.  The Bulls took Detroit’s best early shot and stayed with them.  This would turn out to be particularly frustrating for Detroit as their offense started to sputter against Chicago’s pressure.

On a play late in the 1st quarter, Isiah fouled Paxson on a drive to the basket.  After the foul was called, Laimbeer came over and gave Paxson a forearm to the face.  They had to be seperated and each received a technical foul.

Then with 1:50 left, James Edwards was called for an offensive foul.  Nobody on Detroit (or in the crowd) liked it.  It was almost the bitter end of a string of calls or non-calls that was perceived to go against Detroit.  But evidently, according to referee Joey Crawford, the biggest gripe came from Detroit assistant coach Brendan Suhr.  Crawford hit him with a technical.

This further angered Detroit as the bench continued to argue.  With Daly now angry, Crawford became angry and gave Daly a technical (Joey Crawford perhaps over-reacting?? NO WAY!!!).

Paxson connected on the technical free throws and hit three jumpers late in the 1st quarter to push Chicago to a 32-26 lead at quarter’s end.

Chicago pushed their lead to as much as 10 early in the 2nd quarter.  Dennis Rodman came in and he was perhaps frustrated at being benched or (as it turned out) he would be the most defensive about how Detroit was perceived in the media.  It showed as he repeatedly tried to get Scottie Pippen into an altercation.

The biggest cheapshot came after he fouled Pippen on a drive to the basket.  As Scottie was falling, Rodman pushed him into the crowd.  He was called for a flagrant foul.  Pippen hit 1-of-2 free throws and then Cliff Levingston tip-slammed a miss by Craig Hodges and Chicago led 45-34.  Rodman would later pick up a technical.  He didn’t contribute in 7 minutes of the 2nd quarter.

But perhaps the physical play did rattle the Bulls a little bit (which was most of its intent).  Detroit made a run and cut it to 49-44 on a baseline jumper from Vinnie Johnson.

But then Jordan connected on a wing jumper after Horace Grant got an offensive rebound.  Later, MJ found Pippen for a breakaway slam.  But the Pistons stayed within 57-50 at halftime after Edwards made a wing jumper with a second left.

Edwards led Detroit with 10 points (far and away his best offensive output of the series) while Pippen had 14 for Chicago.

There would be no more on-the-court incidents in this game, even as Chicago was pulling away in the 3rd quarter.  Pippen would be the catalyst again as he pushed the ball, attacked the defense, and either drew fouls, scored, or found teammates for baskets.  Pippen finished with 10 assists while Jordan had 8.

Jordan’s 11 3rd quarter points, naturally, also put Detroit down.  Two of his jump shots bounced in off the front rim and MJ also got a few breakaway slams.  The Pistons offense also didn’t seem to have an answer for the Bulls’ defense.  The champs had run out of gas.

Chicago led 87-70 at the end of the 3rd quarter and were never challenged in the 4th.  Isiah, Laimbeer, Dumars and Aguirre were taken out halfway through the 4th quarter and got a rousing ovation from the crowd.  Isiah was repeatedly seen laughing on the bench, not something you think would be typical of a competitor who’s season and who’s teams’ championship reign was about to end (but hindsight in 20-20).

Finally, garbage time played out and there was a stoppage of play with 7.9 seconds left and the Bulls up 112-94.  Even before that stoppage, the Pistons bench had started to get up.  Then they were seen walking by the Chicago bench without shaking the Bulls’ hands before going to the locker room and hugging general manager Jack McCloskey.

Now there have been several instances where a losing team has not shaken the hands of a winning team after a game or series (in a way, I can understand that because I don’t like fake sportsmanship.. either you genuinely wish the other team good luck and tell them great series or you don’t talk to them, but hey even fake sportsmanship looks good for the cameras).

The thing that probably stood out for Detroit’s walk-out was that they did it with time left on the clock and looked to be making a big deal of it.  They didn’t wait until after the game when the floor was filled and it wasn’t just the team walking across it.

Either way, it painted a picture of them and their real attitude (according to the people who hated them) as their championship era was officially closed.

But the “changing of the guard” was not totally complete.  The Bulls still had one more series to win before they could call themselves champions.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (23) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (16) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (6) – Center

John Paxson (12) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (29) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (4)

Stacey King (4)

Craig Hodges (4)

Dennis Hopson (1)

Will Perdue (1)

Cliff Levingston (10)

Scott Williams (5)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Detroit starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (9) – Small Forward

James Edwards (14) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (11) – Center

Isiah Thomas (16) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (6) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (9)

Dennis Rodman (6)

John Salley (12)

Gerald Henderson (2)

William Bedford (4)

Scott Hastings (5)

Tree Rollins (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

pistons-bulls

a glimpse of Bill Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas walking by the Bulls bench with still 7.9 seconds left *photo courtesy of Detroit Athletic Company

May 30, 1991 – Western Finals, Game 6: Portland Blazers 90 @Los Angeles Lakers 91

The Blazers had not yet been able to recover since blowing Game 1 in the 4th quarter.  They were able to win Game 2 handily with a 4th quarter surge at home.  But then at the Forum for Games 3 & 4, the Blazers were beaten soundly both times as all five Laker starters finished in double figures in both games.

But then Game 5 may have turned the series in more than a Blazers win.  Portland did hold L.A. to 34 2nd half points as Buck Williams grabbed 16 rebounds in 46 minutes.  But in the 1st quarter, James Worthy sprained his ankle and played sporadically for the rest of the game.  It was uncertain whether Worthy would play in Game 6.  He would after going through a warm-up.

Even with Portland’s win, only Williams, Jerome Kersey, and Cliff Robinson were playing well.  Terry Porter, Clyde Drexler and Danny Ainge weren’t shooting well over the past few games and Kevin Duckworth was really struggling.  Duckworth sat in the 2nd half of Game 5 as Portland made its big run.

The shooting didn’t improve early on in Game 6.  Both teams had 4 points in the first 4 minutes.  Worthy hit his first jump shot from outside but was not as big a factor as L.A. did not go to him nearly as much down low.  The Lakers used Magic and Perkins in the post as their primary offense.

Both teams picked it up a little bit as L.A. led 15-14 with 3:18 remaining.  The big thing L.A. was doing was making an effort to match Portland on the boards.  The Blazers out-rebounded the Lakers handily in their two wins.

Byron Scott got the Lakers going as he hit two jump shots, including a three, off double-teams down low.  Portland remained cold as Duckworth was 0-for-4 with good shots down low.  A tip-in by Perkins with 6.3 seconds left gave L.A. a 25-16 lead.

But veteran A.C. Green made a mistake and fouled Drexler in the back court with 4.3 seconds left.  Drexler made the first but was called for a lane violation on the second as he quickly attempted to rebound his miss.

This gave the Lakers the ball on the side and gave A.C. Green a chance to atone for his mistake.  Perkins gave him a return pass and Green pulled up and nailed a three from the top at the buzzer to give the Lakers some adrenaline and a 28-17 lead at the end of the 1st quarter.

Green continued to spark L.A. as he got two breakaway layups in the 2nd quarter on his way to 10 1st half points.  The Lakers gained a 15-point lead early on but got no offense from anyone other than Perkins and Magic, after Green’s spark early in the quarter.  Worthy was struggling through his ankle and L.A.’s offense stalled.

Portland would never get to the point of burning the net either but they got some big contributions late in the half to cut the lead to 50-43 at the break.  Drexler had 10 points while Porter and Williams had 9.  Duckworth also hit three field goals in the quarter to help.  Magic had 13 and Perkins 12 for the Lakers.

Perkins made his main contribution in the 3rd quarter as he scored twice in the post, including a three-point play which drew Duckworth’s 4th foul, to put the Lakers back up by 12.  Perkins later nailed a step-back three from the wing at the end of the shot clock to contribute to his 11 3rd quarter points.

But the Lakers got almost no offense outside of Perkins and Portland was able to stay within 70-65 at the end of the 3rd quarter despite Drexler picking up his 4th foul.

The Lakers continued to hold strenuously to the lead early in the 4th quarter but there were no surges.  Portland stayed alive despite Kersey and Duckworth picking up their 5th fouls.  Terry Porter nailed two big jump shots, including a three, to bring him out of his slump.  Meanwhile, Drexler was doing the same and his coast-to-coast drive cut the Lakers lead to 81-79 with 5:34 left.

After a Lakers timeout, Magic hit a hook shot from the post at the end of the shot clock.  But Drexler came right back as he put in a miss by Robinson and then went coast-to-coast again for a driving layup.  This would tie the game at 83 but Duckworth committed his 6th foul with 3:23 left.  However, Perkins split the free throws.

Portland had a chance to lead but Porter missed a short jumper.  Magic rebounded and was fouled by Robinson.  But he split his free throws as well.  Kersey then tipped in a Porter miss to tie it at 85.

The Lakers then ran down the shot clock and Portland seemed to double Magic at the perfect time as he was in the post with the clock running down.  But Vlade Divac cut at the perfect time and Magic found him through a double-team for a layup with 2 minutes left.

Drexler was called for traveling at the other end and then committed his 5th foul going for a steal on a pass to Magic.  Magic made two free throws for a four-point lead.  But Portland’s gambling defense would give them more chances.

Drexler split a pair of free throws as Portland was, once again, not helping themselves from the line.  But then Clyde the Glide stole a Worthy return pass to Magic and went coast-to-coast for a slam to cut the lead to 89-88.  The Blazers then deflected a pass from Magic out of the post and had a 3-on-1 break.

Porter hit Kersey in the middle, who found Robinson for a seemingly easy slam and a Portland lead.  But before you can dunk it, you have to catch it and Robinson mis-handled the ball and lost it out of bounds with 56.6 seconds left.

After a Lakers timeout, Magic penetrated and found a cutting Divac again.  Vlade was fouled by Buck Williams and made two clutch free throws with 43.3 seconds left (a bit of a far cry from his later days in Sacramento).

Portland used a timeout and Porter connected on a banker from the foul line with 35.4 seconds left to cut the lead back to 91-90.  Magic ran down the shot clock again and tried to find a cutting Divac.  But this time, Kersey blocked Vlade’s shot and the Lakers were called for a 24-second violation with 12.5 seconds left.

After another timeout, the Blazers got it to Drexler.  Clyde tried to penetrate but the lane was closed off by the L.A. defense.  But he kicked it to Porter for a pretty good shot from the corner.  Porter’s jumper came up short and Magic rebounded.

Before he could be fouled, Magic threw the ball over the shoulder to the other end of the court where nobody was.  The ball continued to roll on the court as the clock ticked off precious seconds in Portland’s season.  Finally, it rolled out of bounds with 0.1 seconds left.

It was a brilliant play by Magic and has been attempted without the same success in later years.  And, of course, when someone attempted to just get rid of the ball and take off time and it hasn’t worked to the degree of success that Magic’s fling worked, they were criticized for it.

This once again proves that we are a results based society and it isn’t the thought that counts.  If Magic’s fling had gone out of bounds with more time on the clock and Portland scored for the win, Magic probably would have been roundly criticized (although, its Magic, no who knows).  As it stood though, it was a brilliant play.

Portland had to go full-length of the court with 0.1 seconds left and, not surprisingly, couldn’t get off a shot.  The Lakers were headed to the Finals again and would get a new opponent in Chicago.

For this Portland team, this may have been their best chance at a championship with home-court advantage and their confidence riding high.  They would come back strong the next year but they would hear rumblings all season about how they couldn’t get it done in big games.

Winning this game and then Game 7, not a guarantee but perhaps likelier with Worthy hobbled and Game 7 in Portland, would have put the Blazers in a prime position with home-court advantage against Michael Jordan and the Bulls, who hadn’t tasted a championship and the confidence that comes with it yet.

As it was, Portland’s growing reputation in big games would hit its primest in their final game of the 1992 season.

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (10) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (14) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (8) – Center

Terry Porter (24) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (23) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (11)

Danny Ainge (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (8) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (26) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (8) – Center

Magic Johnson (25) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (9) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

A.C. Green (15)

Terry Teagle (0)

Mychal Thompson (0)

Larry Drew (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

magic vs portland

Magic Johnson led the Lakers to their 9th NBA Finals appearance in 12 seasons *photo courtesy of Getty Images

June 2, 1991 – NBA Finals, Game 1: Los Angeles Lakers 93 @Chicago Bulls 91

Even before the Portland/L.A. series ended, NBC let it be known how much it would love to have Magic Johnson vs. Michael Jordan in the NBA Finals.

When it finally became official (actually, even beforehand), Game 1 took up the Sunday afternoon slot in NBC’s first year of covering the NBA since the 1960’s.

There was a big contrast in experience as the Bulls were making their first ever Finals appearance (and, in fact, none of their active roster had ever played an NBA Finals game).  Meanwhile, the Lakers were making their 9th Finals appearance in the last 12 seasons.  And the fact that a lot of their key players had experience may have showed at times in Game 1.

The other factor for the Bulls was the fact that they hadn’t played in 6 days.  Nervousness combined with rust showed early on.

James Worthy also looked a bit healthier on his ankle and scored 8 points as the Lakers took a 6-point lead early on.  But Michael Jordan took on the game by himself and brought the Bulls back.

After missing two of his first three jumpers, Jordan repeatedly took the ball to the basket for slams and also got out on the break.  Jordan’s takeover allowed Chicago to exchange leads with the Lakers at the end of the 1st quarter.

It finished with Sam Perkins’ second three-pointer, on a kickout from Magic, to put L.A. up 29-28 with 6.3 seconds left.  But Jordan came right back and found Horace Grant with a bullet pass to put the Bulls up 30-29 at quarter’s end.  Jordan had 15 points and 5 assists in a typically incredible 1st quarter performance.

But three more field goals from Worthy against Chicago’s bench gave L.A. a 41-34 lead with less than 5 minutes gone by.  However, like it had for most of the playoffs, Chicago’s bench rose to the challenge.  The Bulls went on a 10-0 run with the reserves scoring 8 of those points.

It was not only scoring that was doing the job off the Bulls’ bench.  Cliff Levingston came in and was a factor without even taking a shot.  Levingston denied Worthy position down low and also blocked some of James’ shots when he did get the ball.

This bogged down L.A.’s offense as Jordan and Pippen held Magic to no field goals in the 1st half.  Chicago gained a 53-51 halftime lead when Pippen nailed two free throws with 2.7 seconds left.  Jordan had 18 and Pippen 11 for the Bulls.

But the Bulls starters, like the 1st quarter, could not get it going in the 3rd.  Chicago made 2 of their first 10 field goals in the quarter but still trailed only 61-59.  The Lakers were being forced to use the shot clock and could not get any offense going again.

But a story-line was developing.  Jordan asked for a rest for a few minutes of the 3rd quarter as he had only 8 points since the 1st quarter.  Magic was proving to be a tough matchup, even for Michael, and may have been wearing on his energy.

Magic twice went to the post late in the quarter and kicked out of double teams to Worthy for jumpers from the top.  But the hay-makers came in the last 30 seconds from Magic.  First, he pulled up for a three after Pippen backed off of him and connected to put the Lakers ahead 72-68 with 29.9 seconds left in the 3rd.

Then on the next possession, Magic pulled up and nailed a long three-pointer (while an airhorn went off from the crowd) with 0.6 seconds to go to make it 75-68 Los Angeles at the end of 3.  Chicago was 6-for-22 from the field in that 3rd quarter.

Things looked even worse for the Bulls early in the 4th when Pippen picked up his 4th and 5th fouls and had to sit.  Chicago went back to their bench to go with Jordan and Magic got a rest for L.A.

Naturally, this worked in Chicago’s favor.  Jordan hit a lefty runner in the lane and then found Levingston for a layup.  MJ then led B.J. Armstrong for a breakaway layup to force a Lakers timeout with 9:47 left.  However, Jordan completed Chicago’s second 10-0 run of the game with two pull-ups from the elbow to make it 78-75 Bulls.

Magic came back in and attacked to basket to give L.A. a lead again.  While Johnson had not scored from the field until the 3rd quarter, he would finish with a triple-double.  Magic would also eventually draw a 5th foul from Jordan and made two free throws to put the Lakers up 84-80.

But MJ wasn’t fazed (they couldn’t foul him out in his first NBA Finals game, could they?).  He penetrated and found Grant for a slam.  Then Jordan went 1-on-1 against his primary defender all game (Byron Scott), backed him into the lane, scored and drew a foul.  The three-point play put Chicago up 85-84 and gave Michael 34 points.

The Bulls defensively doubled Magic on the perimeter and forced him to give the ball up before he could go to the post against Jordan.  This stagnated the Lakers offense some more.  But L.A. did the same thing to Jordan and, for once, the Bulls supporting cast could not answer the call.

Chicago gained only a three-point lead at 89-86 when Pippen nailed a pull-up from the foul line with 2:33 to go.  Pippen had a decent game but didn’t shoot well.  Nobody else in the Bulls starting lineup showed up at all, other than Jordan (of course).

L.A. had gotten big contributions from Perkins and Vlade Divac down low as the Bulls were only doubling Magic and Worthy in the post.  Scott was pre-occupied with guarding Jordan and the Lakers bench wasn’t a factor.

Perkins hit a turnaround jumper in the lane at the end of the shot clock and then tied it at 89 with a free throw.  Pippen hit two free throws with 1:02 left to give the Bulls a 91-89 lead.

Chicago double-teamed Magic at the perimeter again and the scramble forced Divac to take a corner shot that he missed.  Grant rebounded and the Bulls had a chance to put it away.

Jordan went 1-on-1 against Scott again but, this time, missed a turnaround banker.  Perkins rebounded and L.A. called timeout with 22.9 seconds left.

Mike Dunleavy got the ball to Magic again.  This time, Jordan played him straight up and Magic backed him down to the post.  The Bulls rotated to double Magic but left Sam Perkins open for a split second at the three-point line.

Magic kicked out to him and, from the right wing, Perkins nailed the trey to give L.A. a 92-91 lead with 14.0 seconds left.  The Bulls used a timeout and then another with 9 seconds to go after L.A. deflected the ball out of bounds.

Pippen got it into Jordan at the last second.  Jordan crossed over and took his customary pull-up jumper from the wing.  It rattled in-and-out.  Byron Scott eventually got the rebound after a scramble and was fouled by Paxson with 2.7 seconds left.  Lost in the history of that rebound scramble was L.A.’s A.C. Green trying to call timeout.  The Lakers were out of timeouts.  So were the Bulls in fact.

Scott missed the first but made the second.  Without a timeout, all Pippen could do was throw up a half-court fling that went off the back of the rim.  The Lakers had stolen Game 1 from the Bulls, like they had from Portland, and Chicago looked to be in a very ominous position.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (22) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (22) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (16) – Center

Magic Johnson (19) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (9) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (2)

A.C. Green (3)

Larry Drew (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (19) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (6) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (6) – Center

John Paxson (6) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (36) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (6)

Craig Hodges (4)

Will Perdue (6)

Cliff Levingston (2)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

michael-jordan-career-photos

Magic vs Michael drew the headlines, but Magic had put 5 fouls on Jordan and had tired him out in a Game 1 victory *photo courtesy of New York Daily News

June 5, 1991 – NBA Finals, Game 2: Los Angeles Lakers 86 @Chicago Bulls 107

The Bulls had looked nervous and tentative in Game 1, and as a result of their loss were now in almost desperate straights.  Chicago could not go back to Los Angeles trailing 2-0 or else their next game in Chicago Stadium would probably be at the start of the 1992 season.

There were two big offensive adjustments to start.  First, the Bulls were going to go aggressively to the basket and, second, they were going to get their role players involved.

John Paxson got credit for the first field goal when he drove the lane and had his shot goaltended by Vlade Divac.  Bill Cartwright got four 1st quarter layups off feeds from Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan, as well as an offensive rebound.  But Horace Grant would be the main beneficiary.

Grant was back in his goggles (and would start to wear them full time) after not wearing them for a few weeks.  But, more importantly, Grant finished strong at the basket whenever Jordan or Pippen found him or whenever he grabbed an offensive rebound.  Grant had, in some ways, been the most tentative in Game 1 but his aggressiveness set a tone in Game 2.  Horace had 10 1st quarter points.

The Lakers stayed in it early on as Vlade Divac got a few layups off feeds from Magic Johnson.  James Worthy, Byron Scott, and A.C. Green also hit key three-pointers in the 1st quarter.  Magic also drew 2 early fouls on Jordan.

That was when Scottie Pippen was switched exclusively to Magic on defense.  Cliff Levingston came in to play Worthy and was a spark again for Chicago.  But Pippen bumped Magic at the perimeter, denied him from posting up, but made Magic back his way around (with his back to the action, in other words) instead of standing forward and looking ahead.

This slowed down the Lakers offense and forced Magic into some tough shots on drives.  Johnson thought he was fouled on several drives but didn’t get the calls.

But guarding Magic may have affected Pippen offensively to start as he hit 1 of his first 6 shots from the field.  But late in the 2nd quarter, Jordan started to become aggressive offensively after taking only 3 shots (and hitting one).

MJ’s driving lefty layup gave the Bulls the lead for good at 38-37, he followed with a breakaway slam after a steal by Pippen.  Jordan then hit a fall-away in the lane and a banker from the post.

Chicago grabbed a 48-43 halftime lead as Grant helped with 14 points and Paxson was 4-for-4 from the field.  Grant and Paxson kept it going early on in the 3rd and Chicago grabbed a 58-51 lead when Jordan hit a wing jumper.

Then on a breakaway, Byron Scott was called for a flagrant foul (a bad call) against Pippen.  Pippen hit the two free throws and then on the subsequent possession, Paxson found Cartwright for a slam with 7:48 left.  This sequence would end up starting the Bulls momentum that blew the game open.

Jordan hit his next three baskets and found Paxson for his 6th field goal in 6 attempts.  Then, after picking up his 4th foul, Jordan backed Scott into the lane and hit a turnaround double-pump while he was fouled.  The three-point play put the Bulls up 73-59 and Jordan had connected on 9 straight field goals.

MJ went out at the next break but the Bulls run continued.  Pippen found Paxson for a corner jumper and then found rookie Scott Williams for a jumper from the foul line.  Scottie then stole a jump ball between Divac and Paxson and got a breakaway slam.  The Bulls now led 79-61 with 2:56 left in the 3rd.

Jordan came back in and didn’t miss a beat.  He scored on another driving layup and found Paxson and Pippen for jumpers.  Chicago led 86-69 going into the 4th quarter.  Paxson finished 8-for-8 from the field.  Believe it or not, this wasn’t his biggest game of the series.

But MJ wasn’t done, to say the least.  He hit a high arcing step-back jumper from the wing and then a pull-up from the baseline.  He then found Pippen on a half-court alley-oop pass for a layup and then found Scottie for a wing jumper.

But just when you thought the show was done, MJ’s final act was perhaps better then the rest combined.  Jordan got a return pass from Cliff Levingston at the foul line.  He drove down the lane for what looked to be a thunderous slam.  But, at the last minute, Jordan brought the ball down, switched the his left hand, and hit a scoop reverse while he was completely under the backboard.

Needless to say, the crowd was in hysterics and even the faces of some of his Bulls teammates told the story.  Marv Albert called it a SPEC-TAC-U-LAR MOVE on his live broadcast on NBC.  It is still one of the most frequent highlights when one does a reel of MJ’s career.  Oh yeah, and it was the 13th consecutive field goal he had made in this game.

This “move” gave the Bulls a 97-71 lead.  Garbage time didn’t take effect until the Bulls were up 105-80 with about 4 minutes left.

The Bulls had tied the series, but the fun was just beginning.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (24) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (11) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (16) – Center

Magic Johnson (14) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (5) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (6)

A.C. Green (6)

Mychal Thompson (0)

Larry Drew (4)

Elden Campbell (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (20) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (20) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (12) – Center

John Paxson (16) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (33) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Craig Hodges (2)

Will Perdue (2)

Scott Williams (2)

B.J. Armstrong (0)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Stacey King (0)

Dennis Hopson (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

June 7, 1991 – NBA Finals, Game 3: Chicago Bulls 104 @Los Angeles Lakers 96 (OT)

As the scene shifted to Los Angeles, one wondered if the Bulls could take their poise and confidence to enemy territory who had seen many opponents come and go.  The L.A. crowd didn’t even seem to get into this game until the 3rd quarter.  It was supposed to be foregone.

The Lakers had, in their most recent example, blown out Portland in two games at the Forum after splitting the first two games on the road.  But Chicago would prove one thing clearly, they weren’t Portland.  But nobody knew that they were the 90’s Bulls yet either.

Chicago had gone into Detroit and taken care of business, but that was after two wins at home.

Both teams would not be fazed offensively early on.  The Lakers hit their first 7 shots and were 11-for-15 from the field in the 1st quarter.  But Chicago shot well enough to force a 25-all tie going into the 2nd quarter.

Michael Jordan came out with 11 points in the quarter, including a fade-away from the baseline at the end of the shot clock.  The Lakers adjusted by having Byron Scott bring the ball up and get the ball to Magic down low, as opposed to Johnson dribbling to his low post position.

It worked as Magic got going with points and feeds to Vlade Divac and James Worthy.  It didn’t quite work for Scott as he finished 0-for-8 and 0-for-2 on free throws.  But Worthy had 10 1st quarter points and Magic 8.

The same thing continued in the 2nd quarter as both teams shot well.  Magic went outside and hit two jumpers.  Jordan’s scoring pace went down but he got Horace Grant, John Paxson and Cliff Levingston involved.  Grant, in particular, had the same aggression that he had in Game 2 with 14 1st half points.

Jordan and Worthy led their teams with 15 while Magic had 13.  The Bulls led 48-47 at the half.

The Bulls got off to a good start in the 2nd half as Jordan hustled down his own breakaway miss and slammed one home to put Chicago up 52-49 with just over a minute gone by.

But then the Lakers defense stepped up and scrambled Chicago’s offense.  Three times, Magic found Divac for layups to give L.A. a lead.  The Bulls switched Pippen to Magic again, but this time it turned into a disadvantage.

With the defensive matchups now scrambled, Jordan had to guard Divac down low.  This time, the Lakers patiently got the ball inside to Vlade.  Divac would either score himself or find people for layups or fouls.

L.A. went on a 12-2 run and Phil Jackson had to use his second timeout of the quarter with his team down 61-54 with 6:54 left.

But the Lakers continued their momentum as Perkins produced down low.  They gained a 67-54 lead when Magic found Divac with a no-look pass (right by the slow hands of the now rarely used Stacey King) for a layup.  Jackson called another timeout with 4:46 left.  The Bulls had missed 9 straight from the field.

Paxson broke that drought with a driving layup and, later, hit a key jump shot to cut the lead to 10.  The Lakers momentum finally cooled when Divac picked up his 4th foul and had to sit.

Scottie Pippen ended the quarter with a driving layup after a crossover to cut the lead to 72-66 going into the 4th.

The Bulls bench then stepped up early on in the 4th.  Scott Williams hit two free throws.  Craig Hodges hit a wing jumper.  Then Levingston got a key block on Perkins, which triggered a fast break in which Jordan found Pippen with a no-look pass to tie the game at 74.

Unlike the Lakers in Game 2, the Bulls had withstood the home team’s 3rd quarter run and were back to a tie game.

But the same story-line as Game 1 was developing.  Jordan had struggled in the 2nd half to this point and had barely gotten any rest.  The Bulls bench continued to help, especially Levingston.  Cliff rebound-slammed a missed layup by Jordan to put the Bulls up 84-80.  Levingston was also controlling the defensive boards after L.A. had gotten several second chance shots in the 3rd quarter.

But two jumpers by Worthy tied the game at 84 with 4:18 left.  Phil Jackson then gambled and gave MJ a rest.  It worked, somehow, as Pippen drove down the lane for a layup and Levingston tipped in a miss by Grant to put Chicago back up 88-84.

Jordan then had to come back in a minute later when Pippen picked up his 5th foul.  The Bulls would maintain a 90-89 lead with 39.1 seconds left and they had the ball.

The similarity to Game 1 would become eerie.  Jordan missed a banker over Scott and Divac rebounded.  L.A. did not use a timeout.

Magic had the ball against Jordan and tried to get a pass to a cutting Divac.  Vlade fumbled the pass but recovered after getting by two Bulls.  He went into the lane, banged into Pippen, scored on a banker, drew Scottie’s 6th foul and had perhaps the most awkward reaction to a potential game-winning shot in NBA history (0:42).

The three-point play gave the Lakers a 92-90 lead with 10.9 seconds left.  The Bulls used their last timeout, and decided to inbound the ball at the other end of the court.

Imagine being in MJ’s shoes for a second.  This is your first Finals and you’re so close to reaching the top of the mountain.  While you know you are going to get the ball, you are 0-for-3 in potential game-winning or game-clinching shots in this series.  It probably didn’t bother Michael since he has supreme confidence.  But tell me you or me wouldn’t be thinking about that.  But that’s why I’m writing or you’re reading while MJ is the Greatest of All Time (I am NOT using the acronym G.O.A.T, I HATE it!!).

Jordan got the inbounds pass as Scott was guarding him full court.  MJ got by Scott and elevated while Divac came out to challenge.  But Jordan got it off and nailed it to tie the game with 3.4 seconds left.  Who knew it, MJ’s still clutch.

Jordan then knocked the ball away from Divac on L.A.’s final attempt to win and the game was headed to overtime.

Jordan had only hit two field goals in the 2nd half.  He, Magic, and Perkins would all go over 50 minutes in this game.  Fatigue would now become a factor for the Lakers.

They tried to stymie it a little bit by bringing Elden Campbell into the game for the first time.  Campbell won the jump ball and got a layup.  But Paxson hit a pull-up after a Jordan steal.  Then Jordan drove down the lane for a twisting reverse.

MJ would be re-energized in overtime.  He spun baseline from the post and hit on another driving reverse to put the Bulls up for good at 98-96 with under 2 minutes left.

Jordan then rebounded a miss by Perkins and found Grant for a layup.  Perkins then missed another jumper and Divac fouled out on the rebound with 1:07 to play.  Jordan later made two free throws and rebounded an airballed three from Magic.

The Lakers had run out of gas and Grant put on the finishing touch by getting the roll on a wing jumper.  The Bulls had broken through at the Forum and Magic did not look happy (although he was probably tired) as he walked off the court.

He would continue to not be happy as Chicago’s defensive pressure and offensive onslaught continued in Game 4.  The Bulls won 97-82 as all five starters finished in double figures and they held Sam Perkins to 1-for-15 from the field.  Chicago was now set to go for the kill and their first championship.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (19) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (22) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (6) – Center

John Paxson (10) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (29) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Cliff Levingston (10)

Scott Williams (4)

Craig Hodges (2)

B.J. Armstrong (0)

Stacey King (2)

Will Perdue (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (19) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (25) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (24) – Center

Magic Johnson (22) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (0) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (2)

A.C. Green (2)

Elden Campbell (2)

Larry Drew (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

June 12, 1991 – NBA Finals, Game 5: Chicago Bulls 108 @Los Angeles Lakers 101

The Bulls had exposed the Lakers so badly, almost, in the last 3 games that it seemed pretty clear to everybody that Chicago was probably taking the title on one of the next three games.

It also didn’t help that in Game 4, James Worthy re-sprained his ankle and Byron Scott sprained his shoulder.  Both would be out for Game 5, so the L.A. bench that hadn’t produced would now be seen in a leading role.

Magic Johnson, Vlade Divac, and Sam Perkins (until his 1-for-15 in Game 4) had had a good series (although Magic was clearly affected at times by being pressured by Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan).

Meanwhile, the Bulls balanced offense and suffocating defense had ruled the day, especially in Game 4 when they held the Lakers to their lowest point total in a Finals game since the advent of the shot clock.

The Lakers pride did show in Game 5.  New starters A.C. Green and Terry Teagle were effective for the first time all series.  Teagle started the game with a turnaround jumper from the baseline and L.A. took a 7-2 lead.

Vlade Divac helped maintain the Lakers’ 5-point lead midway through the quarter with 8 points.  But the Bulls got back into it when their big men crashed the offensive boards.  A steal and breakaway slam by Jordan cut the lead to 20-19.

Chicago would later use an 8-0 run to grab a 27-25 advantage at the end of the 1st quarter.

Although the Bulls maintained their lead through most of the 2nd quarter, L.A.’s rookies off the bench provided a big spark.  Elden Campbell scored 13 points by mainly being the beneficiary of teammates’ feeds.  But Campbell missed only one shot and guard Tony Smith was 3-for-3, including a pull-up from the foul line to give the Lakers a 49-48 halftime lead.

Jordan had 12 for Chicago and Pippen 11.  But Scottie would break through in the 3rd quarter as Chicago took an early 56-51 lead.  L.A. got back into the game with a 6-0 run but two breakaways from Pippen gave Chicago a 64-60 lead with 7:27 left.

But the Lakers wouldn’t go away.  The rookies continued to play well and A.C. Green seemed to be getting layup after layup on feeds from Magic Johnson.

But Pippen scored 12 points in the 3rd quarter and Jordan finished by throwing down an alley-oop pass from Pippen and then hitting a lefty finger roll.  The teams played to an 80-all tie entering the 4th quarter.

The teams continued to play even but Chicago picked up 5 team fouls before L.A. was called for one.  Even with that, the Bulls had a chance to grab the game by the throats.  Jordan tried but was not getting it done.  He missed a few tough jumpers and then had a turnover trying to force the action with 6:47 left.

The Bulls called a timeout trailing 91-90 and Phil Jackson brought John Paxson back in.  Evidently, whether it was this timeout or the next one with 5:08 left, Jackson had to tell Jordan that Paxson was open.

The Lakers went up 93-90 an a Magic alley-oop to Campbell.  But Jordan (on a possession that he looked much more patient) kicked the ball across the court out to Pippen for a tying three-pointer.

The teams went a few minutes without scoring until Paxson broke the ice with a baseline jumper.  Then Jordan penetrated and kicked out to Paxson for another jumper to put the Bulls up 97-93 with 3:24 left.  Paxson then got a breakaway layup, Jordan a driving layup, and Paxson another jumper from the top.

But, again, L.A. wouldn’t go away.  They went almost exclusively to Sam Perkins at the perimeter and he tried to make his move into the paint with Bill Cartwright guarding outside.

Perkins scored L.A.’s last 8 points, including a three-point play that cut Chicago’s lead to 103-101 with 1:13 left.  On the next possession, Jordan penetrated again and was shut off.  But Paxson was open at the wing again and knocked down another jumper for a four-point lead.

The Lakers would not challenge again as they went to the desperation three route and the Bulls finished them off.

Chicago had learned its lessons well from taking their lumps from Detroit and applied it throughout the series against a 1980’s dynasty from the West.  They had gotten contributions throughout their playoff wins from all five starters (not just Jordan and Pippen, contrary to popular belief) and had gotten big sparks from the bench.

Chicago celebrated its first title and perhaps became the feel good story of finally getting over the hurdle (especially for Jordan).  But, as they say, it was just the beginning.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (32) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (11) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (8) – Center

John Paxson (20) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (30) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (2)

Craig Hodges (5)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Will Perdue (0)

Scott Williams (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

A.C. Green (13) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (22) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (8) – Center

Magic Johnson (16) – Point Guard

Terry Teagle (9) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Elden Campbell (21)

Tony Smith (12)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

finals1991_100922 pippen_mj_1991 jordan trophy

Michael Jordan celebrating with the other four starters (picture 1: from left to right: John Paxson, Bill Cartwright, Scottie Pippen, and Horace Grant), Scottie Pippen (picture 2) and the famous photo (which has not become a meme, let’s not change that) of him crying with the trophy *photos courtesy of nba.com, Inside Hoops, and CNN

1991 College Basketball Season – Always a Bridesmaid, Finally a Bride

unlv running rebels

 

The five starters for defending champion and #1 ranked UNLV.  From front to back: Anderson Hunt, Greg Anthony, Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, George Ackles *photo courtesy of Idiots on Sports

The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels had four starters returning from their 1990 NCAA Championship team and there seemed to be no stopping them.  They topped the pre-season polls with #2 Arkansas, #3 Arizona, #4 Michigan State, #5 North Carolina, #6 Duke, #7 Alabama, #8 Indiana, #9 Georgetown, #10 Ohio State.

UNLV and Arkansas would face off in February when they were still #1 and #2 in the nation.  Arkansas lost to Arizona in the Pre-Season NIT Championship and Arizona moved up to #2 before taking on LSU in the deaf dome.  Michigan State was ranked that high with 2nd team All-American Steve Smith coming back.  But they lost to Nebraska and Bowling Green before getting it handed to them by UNLV.  The Runnin’ Rebels would not have anything near a challenge before the Arkansas matchup.

It turned out that Michigan State’s biggest accomplishment that season was giving the 17-0 Ohio State Buckeyes their first loss of the season.  But that would pretty much be it as the Spartans finished 3rd in the Big Ten at 11-7 and 19-11 overall after losing to Utah in the 2nd round of the West Regional.

As for the other Big Ten teams in the top 10, Indiana and Ohio State would face off in a classic in February.  North Carolina and Duke would, of course, be at each others throats.  Alabama, after winning two straight SEC Championships, would get off to a slow start by losing to Southern Mississippi, Wichita State and then getting drilled by UNC.  The Crimson Tide, led by Robert Horry and Latrell Sprewell, finished 4th in the conference but managed to win their 3rd consecutive tournament title after top-seeded Kentucky was made ineligible because they were still on probation from 1989 and LSU was upset by Auburn in the 1st round.  Alabama then lost to Arkansas in the Sweet 16.

Georgetown got off to a good start with a big win over Duke in the last year of the ACC-Big East challenge.  But then they lost to UTEP and Ohio State and never could seem to get it together in the Big East.  The Big East would, in fact, be full of surprises.  The biggest of which would be the top 3 seeds going out in the 1st round of the Big East tournament, which probably helped the NCAA tournament committee to invite 7 teams to the dance.

As the season got to two weeks old, Syracuse and UCLA moved into the top 10.  Syracuse’s big win was against Indiana in the Maui Classic Championship (soon to be the Maui Invitational).  UCLA was off to an 8-0 start with a win over Virginia to its credit.  Minus Michigan State and Alabama (who were moved out of the top 10 in favor of Syracuse and UCLA), all of the teams mentioned above will be covered.

December 8, 1990 – (#2)Arizona Wildcats 82 @(#18)LSU Tigers 92

As mentioned, Arizona moved up to #2 in the nation after defeating Arkansas in the Pre-Season NIT Final.  Lute Olson’s Wildcats had a load of NBA talent and had gotten a big-time newcomer in Chris Mills.  Mills had transferred from Kentucky after the NCAA barred him from playing there because of money his family had received from an assistant coach that helped lead UK to their probation.

Mills was joined in the front court by Brian Williams (the future Bison Dele) and Sean Rooks, who were a strong inside tandem.  Junior Wayne Womack and sophomore Ed Stokes were their backups but could be starting almost anywhere else.  The back court had veterans Matt Othick and Matt Muehlebach with McDonald’s All-American Khalid Reeves set to join them.

But as strong a tandem as Williams and Rooks were, they would get their test in Shaquille O’Neal.  O’Neal had lost most of his star teammates for the year as Chris Jackson went to the NBA and Stanley Roberts and Maurice Williamson were academically ineligible, Roberts went to play in Europe instead of waiting out the semester.

O’Neal would be joined by senior Wayne Sims, junior Vernel Singleton and sophomore Shawn Griggs at the forwards.  Dutch center Geert Hammink was back after a red-shirt season.  The only back court man returning of note was junior Harold Boudreaux.  Dale Brown’s starters were transfers T.J. Pugh and Mike Hansen.  Hansen had actually scored 40 against LSU a few years earlier while playing for Tennessee-Martin.

LSU had opened with a loss to Villanova but had drilled Southeastern Louisiana and Texas.  But now they would get a test in 7-0 Arizona.  The Wildcats took an early lead before O’Neal threw down a lob pass from Singleton for his first field goal 6 minutes into the game.  A periodic problem for LSU during O’Neal’s career was not getting the ball to Shaq enough, or at all.

Ed Stokes came off the bench and hit two turnaround jumpers from the post to give Arizona a 13-7 lead.  But LSU followed with a 7-0 run as O’Neal got going a little bit.  But Shaq sat out a bit in the 1st half because of what was being said as a pulled stomach muscle (I know you’re smart and know the stomach isn’t a muscle, although it sets up the “Shaq eats a lot” jokes).

Wayne Sims came off the bench and scored 7 quick points to give the Tigers a 23-17 lead.  Boudreaux followed with a three and Hansen got a breakaway as LSU took their biggest lead at 28-19.  But Womack and Stokes brought Arizona back and they cut it to 38-35 at halftime.

The second half saw both teams trading baskets for a long time.  LSU had a balanced attack, although Shaq probably still wasn’t getting the ball enough.  Meanwhile, Arizona was led by Brian Williams and their other big people.  They took it to Shaq and drew his 4th foul midway through the 2nd half.

After Shaq went to the bench, Williams and Rooks got easy layups to put Arizona ahead 59-56.  But then Geert Hammink came in and turned around the momentum.  He hit a turnaround jumper in the lane and then put back his own miss.  Singleton followed with a slam and then Hansen got a transition three to put LSU up 65-59.

But the Tigers couldn’t keep their momentum going and Shaq came back in with 6:44 left and LSU still up 65-63.  The big man started his assault by throwing down an alley-oop pass and drawing a foul.  O’Neal then hit a hook after a drop-step on the baseline.  He would later rebound-slam a miss with only his right hand as he reached back, grabbed it, and threw it down.

Even with Shaq now fully involved, Arizona cut it to 74-73 with under 3 1/2 to go.  But Hansen hit a big three after Griggs crossed the ball to him.  Griggs would later lob a pass to O’Neal for a layup and a foul.  Shaq, naturally, missed the free throw but after Hansen penetrated and found Griggs, Shawn alley-ooped it to Shaq, who dunked on Rooks’ head.  LSU now led 81-74.

Arizona made a final run as LSU took some bad shots and turned the ball over.  Two free throws from Othick cut the lead to 83-82 with 56 seconds left.  But even with still a differential of the shot clock and game clock (the NCAA had a 45-second shot clock at the time), Othick fouled Singleton.  Vernel made both free throws.

O’Neal then stole the ball from Rooks and Hansen was fouled with 32 seconds left.  Hansen made both free throws.  Shaq then got a chance to finish off the Wildcats at both ends of the floor.  He blocked Rooks’ shot and then a follow-up by Mills.  Then Pugh found him for a big slam and a foul with 7 seconds to go.  O’Neal would finish with 29 points, 16 rebounds and 6 blocks.

Arizona and LSU would get into the meat of their conference schedules with a few losses under their belt.  Arizona lost three road games at Washington, California and USC.  Following their USC loss was perhaps their toughest road game in the Pac-10, at UCLA.

LSU lost at Illinois and then at Kentucky.  They lost at Tennessee and then had back-to-back losses at home against Mississippi State and then at Vanderbilt.  They came into an early February matchup against Kentucky 5th in the SEC.

Arizona starters (points scored)

Chris Mills (17) – Small Forward

Brian Williams (14) – Power Forward

Sean Rooks (18) – Center

Matt Othick (4) – Point Guard

Matt Muehlebach (6) – Shooting Guard

Arizona bench (points scored)

Wayne Womack (12)

Ed Stokes (9)

Deron Johnson (0)

Khalid Reeves (2)

Arizona Coach: Lute Olson

LSU starters (points scored)

Vernel Singleton (16) – Small Forward

Shawn Griggs (9) – Power Forward

Shaquille O’Neal (29) – Center

T.J. Pugh (4) – Point Guard

Mike Hansen (12) – Shooting Guard

LSU bench (points scored)

Harold Boudreaux (9)

Wayne Sims (9)

Geert Hammink (4)

Danny Moscovitz (0)

Lenear Burns (0)

LSU Coach: Dale Brown

December 10, 1990 – (#18)Kentucky Wildcats 81 @(#9)North Carolina Tarheels 84

This matchup had some historical proportions as both teams came into this game with 1,438 all time wins, tops in college basketball.  So, in essence, this became a tie-breaker for the moment but both programs were in different situations at this point.

Kentucky had been rocked by its scandal in which the death penalty was discussed.  Instead, Kentucky got no post-season appearances in 1990 and 1991, no national TV appearances in 1990 and three new scholarships over those two seasons.

With all of that being said, Rick Pitino came in for the 1990 season without the stars that Kentucky usually had.  But he had good players who stayed at Kentucky despite the turmoil.  The closest thing to a star was 6’8″ (to put it nicely) Reggie Hanson.  Hanson was Kentucky’s center but was more of a swingman.  He would be a senior in 1991.  Pitino would give him his NBA opportunity with Boston in 1998.

The other good players that would stick with Kentucky would come to be known as the Unforgettables.  They were forwards John Pelphrey and Deron Feldhaus, and guards Richie Farmer and Sean Woods.  All four would be the in the senior class of 1992 that led Kentucky back to prominence.  But for 1990, they all finished at 14-14 (10-8 in the SEC).

Pitino would show that we was going to lead Kentucky back when he produced a gem in the recruiting class of 1990.  Although Jamal Mashburn, from the Bronx, wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American, he would prove to be the superstar that led Kentucky to the next level.  Mashburn would finish behind Pelphrey and Hanson in the Kentucky scoring column in 1991 but he would become a legit superstar.

The Wildcats were off to a 4-0 start, including a victory over Kansas.  The Jayhawks had defeated the Wildcats by a score of 150-95 in 1990, so it was a big game on the minds of Kentucky.  But now they were to travel to Chapel Hill, North Carolina for their biggest test so far.

While Mashburn had been a big recruit for Kentucky, despite not being on the All-American list, Dean Smith had grabbed four players off that list to come play at UNC.  They were center Eric Montross from Indianapolis, point guard Derrick Phelps and forward Brian Reese from New York, and forward Clifford Rozier from Florida.  Also picked up by Smith was center Kevin Salvadori and forward Pat Sullivan.  This class drew waves but also presented a problem.

Those 6 players joined the likes of seniors Rick Fox, Pete Chilcutt, King Rice; junior Hubert Davis, and sophomores George Lynch, Henrik Rodl, Kenny Harris and Matt Wenstrom.  All in all, there were 14 guys who felt that they deserved to see the court and part of Carolina’s “struggle” so far that season was trying to find consistent playing time for people so that they could grab a rhythm.  All 14 guys played in this game, but most of the bench didn’t get enough time to establish their flow.

At the end of the day, the younger guys got less minutes but only two players left the program and transferred after the 1991 season, Kenny Harris went to VCU and Clifford Rozier went to Louisville.

Carolina had a 4-1 record to start the season.  Their only loss came against a surprising South Carolina team that got off to a 9-1 start and were ranked as high as 12th before fizzling out and missing the NCAA tournament.  The big win so far had come against UConn.

But Carolina’s play was, more or less, sloppy as they committed 18 first half turnovers.  Kentucky hung in with the Tarheels as a result and then made a run.  Pelphrey nailed a three for his 10th point to give the Wildcats a 30-28 lead.  Then after Pelphrey hit two free throws, Richie Farmer got hot and connected on three triples to put Kentucky ahead 41-30 late in the half.  Three UNC free throws, including the only two points from Rick Fox in the 1st half, cut Kentucky’s halftime lead to 41-33.

The 2nd half was played much better as UNC got their game going when Smith didn’t play his reserves as much and stuck with the upper-classmen.  Kentucky continued their hot shooting and held the lead for awhile.

Chilcutt, Rice and Lynch got into the scoring column early and then Fox got his first field goal after 8 misses.  But threes by Jeff Brassow, Pelphrey and Mashburn kept the Wildcats lead near double digits.  Mashburn had shown off his multi-dimensional game with 9 points early in the half from both inside and outside as well as good defense and rebounding.

Kentucky took their biggest lead at 63-51 when Pelphrey nailed his 4th three-pointer for his 18th point.  But Hanson picked up his 4th foul and Kentucky suddenly went cold, which may tend to happen when you rely on the jump shot.

After the under 12 minute media timeout, Montross hit a turnaround jumper in the post to cut it to 63-54.  Fox then found Rice for a transition layup and, later, Chilcutt connected on a banker while drawing a foul.  This cut the lead to 66-59.  Brassow stemmed the tide for a moment with a three but then Fox drove baseline for a layup and Mashburn’s 4th foul.

Carolina kept inching closer as Fox outletted to Lynch for a breakaway layup and then Fox drove baseline for an easy score of his own.  This cut the lead to 74-70 and forced Pitino to use a timeout at the 4:52 mark.

It didn’t help much as Kentucky was still cold.  Woods, as the floor leader, tried to take over and get some offense going.  He did hit a running banker but took some other bad shots.  Carolina cut it to 76-75 as Chilcutt put back a miss and then Hubert Davis hit a pull-up jumper in transition.  Pitino had to use his last timeout with 2:47 left.

It did work this time as Hanson drove baseline for a layup.  Then after Lynch hit a turnaround jumper in the post, Pelphrey drove baseline for a runner and a foul.  The three-point play gave Kentucky an 81-77 lead with 1:38 left.

But then Fox, who had missed his first 8 shots, nailed a three from the top to cut it to one with 1:23 to play.  Woods missed a jumper, Pelphrey got the rebound but had the ball knocked away from him.  The ensuing scramble made it out to half-court before Rice dove on it and produced one of those UNC baskets.

Rice found Lynch at half-court, who found a streaking Chilcutt for a breakaway slam to give the Tarheels the lead with 1:01 to go.  Kentucky went to its senior Hanson, but without a timeout Pitino couldn’t set a play (or tell his team that if UNC rebounded, they needed to foul).  Hanson missed a banker and Lynch rebounded.

Carolina then ran out almost the entire clock before Rice was fouled with 1 second left.  Partial credit should be given to Carolina’s ability to spread the floor and play keep away but Kentucky not fouling showed that they were still a young team that had a ways to go.

Luckily (I guess) for the Wildcats, they would get more challenges in 1991 without having to worry about the post-season and all the expectations that come from that.  They would lose a close game to Indiana a week later but then went on a 10-game winning streak that included 4 road wins (three in the SEC and the other at rival Louisville).

Carolina would top that by winning 11 in a row, with this Kentucky game and a double overtime road win at Virginia being the only wins in that streak that were decided in single digits.

Kentucky starters (points scored)

Jamal Mashburn (15) – Small Forward

John Pelphrey (24) – Power Forward

Reggie Hanson (10) – Center

Sean Woods (6) – Point Guard

Jeff Brassow (8) – Shooting Guard

Kentucky bench (points scored)

Richie Farmer (9)

Deron Feldhaus (8)

Gimel Martinez (0)

Jody Thompson (0)

Junior Braddy (0)

Henry Thomas (0)

Johnathon Davis (1)

Kentucky Coach: Rick Pitino

North Carolina starters (points scored)

George Lynch (13) – Small Forward

Pete Chilcutt (14) – Power Forward

Eric Montross (2) – Center

King Rice (14) – Point Guard

Rick Fox (14) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Hubert Davis (13)

Henrik Rodl (5)

Derrick Phelps (4)

Clifford Rozier (1)

Brian Reese (2)

Pat Sullivan (2)

Kenny Harris (0)

Kevin Salvadori (0)

Matt Wenstrom (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

December 15, 1990 – Loyola (Marymount) Lions 112 @(#13)Oklahoma Sooners 172

There is almost nothing like a cold slap in the face to remind you that its not 1990 anymore.  Loyola Marymount was off to a 1-4 start, which included a beat-down by UCLA 149-98.  But that would be nothing compared to Oklahoma.

The Lions had lost their three leading scorers from 1990; Bo Kimble, Jeff Fryer, and Hank Gathers.  Per Stumer did not return for his senior season as he was playing for the Swedish National team.  Tony Walker would be out for the season with a broken wrist.  That covered all five starters for most of the season.  Paul Westhead was also replaced as coach by Jay Hillock, who had been Westhead’s assistant since coming over from Gonzaga in 1985.

The Lions bench from 1990 did return and were expected to step into starring roles.  Terrell Lowery led the way, averaging 28.9 points per game.  But Chris Knight was a disappointment as he averaged 8.3 points per game in his final two seasons after taking Gathers’ spot in the starting lineup in 1990.  Other returning players; Tom Peabody, John O’Connell, and Chris Scott never were or became scorers.

Marymount did have a good freshman big man in Richard Petruska.  Petruska hailed from Slovakia and averaged 17 points per game.  He had a good left-handed shooting touch and could stretch the floor.  But he had originally wanted to go to UCLA and followed through by transferring across Los Angeles after this season.

Oklahoma was off to a 7-1 start but their only quality win was at Texas (who would soon become Oklahoma’s conference rival).  The Sooners had gotten killed by Arkansas but they had no starters returning from the end of the 1990 season.

Skeeter Henry and William Davis left as seniors, along with reserve Tony Martin.  Jackie Jones was academically ineligible for the fall semester of 1990 and left for Spain instead of trying to regain eligibility.  Damon Patterson and Smokey McCovery were also ineligible.  Patterson returned for the 1992 season while McCovery transferred to Oklahoma City College.

But Oklahoma did have some returning players who stepped up, as well as newcomers who made an impact.  The biggest newcomer was guard Brent Price, brother of former Georgia Tech star Mark Price.  Price spent two seasons at South Carolina before craving an up-tempo game.  Price would take full advantage against Loyola Marymount.

The other newcomer was freshman Jeff Webster, who would lead Oklahoma in scoring in three of his four seasons in Norman (including his freshman season of ’91).  The returning players was senior (and the only player left from the ’88 Final Four team) Terrence Mullins, big man Kermit Holmes, and sophomore point guard Terry Evans.

Oklahoma was coming into this game with a 50-game winning streak at home (and 74 wins in a row against non-conference opponents).  Neither streak would be challenged on this night, but both would be put to the test a week later against Duke.

OU more than showed off its up-tempo game against a Lions team that, as mentioned above, was coming to the realization that this wasn’t 1990 anymore.  In fact, Hillock more or less slowed down the tempo as the season went on.  The Lions averaged 101.9 points per game, which was still tops in the NCAA but down from 122.4 points per game in 1990.  In 1992, Hillock’s team averaged 91.8 points per game.

After seeing this display of defense, one couldn’t blame Hillock and also had to realize how mad a scientist Paul Westhead was.  After every basket, or miss, from Loyola, Evans pushed it down the court and usually found Price for an open jumper (or driving layup), or Holmes and Webster inside.

Price had 21 1st half points, Webster had 20 and Holmes had 14.  Even reserve big man Roland Ware contributed 11 points.  This helped the Sooners to a 79-55 halftime lead as Lowery was the only Lion contributing with 22 points.  Loyola wasn’t helping themselves with 18 turnovers against OU’s press.  Loyola’s pressing defense may as well have come with white flags.

The 2nd half was more of a travesty (the announcers were even like, “this game’s over, but stick around to see how many points Oklahoma can put up.”).  Price started bombing away three-pointers and nailing them.  Mullins got into the act by nailing threes.  Holmes looked like Shaquille O’Neal playing against high-schoolers inside.

The biggest run came after the under 16 minute timeout when Oklahoma led 102-67.  Price made a three from the wing.  Evans found Price for another jumper.  Price got a steal and layup.  Webster hit a banker from inside.  Webster got a putback after Price got another steal.  Then Evans got a steal off the press and Webster found Bryan Sallier for a layup and a foul.

This forced Hillock to call a timeout with 13:46 to go, exactly two minutes after the media timeout.  From there, Oklahoma didn’t call off the dogs and beat Loyola like a bastard step-child.

Price finished with 56 points on 11 three-pointers and also contributed 9 assists.  Price’s total was 5 points short of Wayman Tisdale’s Oklahoma single-game scoring record.  Kermit Holmes finished with 34 points and 21 rebounds and added salt to the wound by hitting one of his two three-pointers on the season in the final seconds to make the margin 60.

Oklahoma would get an actual test of its home winning streak when they took on Duke a week later.

Loyola Marymount would lose two more high scoring games to LSU and Georgia Tech.  They would be 4-13 toward the end of January when they turned it around and won their final 10 games of the regular season and finished 2nd in the West Coast Conference.  But they missed any chance of an NCAA tournament appearance when they lost to San Francisco in the 1st round of their conference tournament.

Loyola Marymount has yet to make an NCAA tournament appearance since their remarkable run of 1990.

Loyola Marymount starters (points scored)

Chris Knight (8) – Small Forward

Richard Petruska (8) – Power Forward

Chris Scott (6) – Center

Terrell Lowery (41) – Point Guard

Craig Holt (15) – Shooting Guard

Loyola Marymount bench (points scored)

Tom Peabody (11)

John O’Connell (10)

Brian McClowsky (2)

Greg Evans (0)

Greg Walker (4)

Marcus Slater (4)

Ross Richardson (3)

Loyola Marymount Coach: Jay Hillock

Oklahoma starters (points scored)

Terrence Mullins (6) – Small Forward

Jeff Webster (28) – Power Forward

Kermit Holmes (34) – Center

Terry Evans (10) – Point Guard

Brent Price (56) – Shooting Guard

Oklahoma bench (points scored)

Bryan Sallier (8)

Roland Ware (17)

Martin Keane (9)

Keke Hicks (4)

Tommy French (0)

Oklahoma Coach: Billy Tubbs

brent price

Brent Price had a game for the ages against Loyola Marymount in 1990 *photo courtesy of CSTV

December 19, 1990 – Missouri Tigers 81, Illinois Fighting Illini 84

In the annual Braggin’ Rights game between Missouri and Illinois, the Illini had dominated recently.  Missouri’s last win was in 1982.

While this may have been the weakest Illini team that Missouri had played in the last few seasons, Missouri wasn’t the same team they were in the last 4 years.  Anthony Peeler was academically ineligible for the first semester.  This left Missouri without their 2nd leading scorer and the Tigers had next to no offensive help for senior big man Doug Smith.

Smith, an All-American candidate, was flanked by junior shooting guard Jamal Coleman, sophomore Jeff Warren, and talented freshmen point guards Melvin Booker and Reggie Smith and freshman big man Jevon Crudup.  Booker had to take over at point guard when Travis Ford transferred to Kentucky.

Illinois had only one starter returning from the 1990 team.  That was junior shooting forward Andy Kaufmann, who was off to a hot start with two 40-point games so far.  Redshirt freshman Deon Thomas, a subject of controversy that ended up landing Illinois in hot water, was making an impact along with senior guard Larry Smith, who had been red-shirted in 1990.

The other key players for Illinois were senior big man Andy Kpedi (the “K” in silent, so it is pronounced “peddy”) and freshmen Rennie Clemons, Tom Michael and T.J. Wheeler.

This year’s Braggin’ Rights Game had a huge storm cloud (or elephant in the room, whichever you prefer) over it.  Both teams were ineligible for the NCAA tournament.  Handed out on back-to-back days in early November, both schools were cited for lack of institutional control.

The Illinois case started when the NCAA investigated recordings from Iowa assistant Bruce Pearl that Illinois offered amenities to star recruit Deon Thomas.  There was a lack of evidence in that case, but the NCAA found minor violations at Illinois and handed out their penalty on November 8.

The Missouri case started in 1989, when a conversation between Missouri assistant coach Bob Sundvold and the mother of former Missouri player, P.J. Mays, became public.  That conversation included that Sundvold had purchased a round-trip plane ticket for Mays.  It eventually became found that Missouri had given Mays a semester’s worth of scholarship money even though he was ineligible.  The NCAA came down on Missouri on November 9 with its penalty.

With all of that being said, Illinois was off to a solid 7-3 start while Missouri was struggling at 3-3 without Peeler.  But there was still an electric atmosphere at the St. Louis Arena for this game.  It was mainly the Andy Kaufmann/Doug Smith show, with supporting roles from Deon Thomas and Jamal Coleman.

Kaufmann hit a three to put the Illini up 5-0 but a turnaround jumper by Smith and then a pull-up after a steal triggered an 8-0 Missouri run.  But after Illinois regained the lead, Kaufmann hit two more threes to put them up 15-8.  Coleman and Smith led the Tigers back to take a 19-17 lead.

It went on and on like that until the last three minutes of the 1st half with the game tied at 31.  Smith had actually been shut down over the past few minutes as Andy Kpedi had played great denial defense.  But Smith came alive for 6 points as the Tigers finished the half on a 10-3 run to take a 41-34 halftime lead.

Smith finished with 13 points while Kaufmann led the Illini with 14.  A pull-up jumper by Jevon Crudup gave Missouri a 9-point lead, but then Kaufmann hit two field goals in the lane and Deon Thomas started getting to the line.

Thomas had been held to 5 points in the first half but had had a few rejections that showed off his athleticism.  But he became more aggressive early on and got to the line 8 times in the half before the under 16 media timeout.  Thomas had hit only 5 of those shots but had managed to pull Illinois back into a tie.

Then after the media timeout, Larry Smith threw up an alley-oop for Thomas to finish.  This gave Illinois a 47-45 lead.  The teams went back and forth from there as Doug Smith and Coleman continued their effective games and Melvin Booker got involved for Missouri after a scoreless 1st half.  Illinois countered with its two-some of Kaufmann and Thomas.

Kaufmann would hit 7 three-pointers to set an Illini record.  Thomas got to the line 15 times and had 18 2nd half points.  But Doug Smith was getting to the line too as he finished the game 16-for-18 from the stripe.  Smith’s fall-away from the post gave Missouri a 67-65 lead at the 7:19 mark.

Kaufmann tied it with a runner in the lane and then the Illini took a lead when sophomore guard Tim Geers nailed a three for his only points of the game.  Illinois then took a four-point lead when Tom Michael hit a free throw with 4:21 remaining.

Smith twice cut the Illini lead to two with a pair of free throws.  But Illinois regained four-point leads first when Larry Smith drove right by Booker for a finger roll in the lane and second when Thomas put back a miss by Michael.  Kaufmann followed the Thomas basket with a steal and Deon found Larry Smith for a breakaway layup to put the Illini ahead 79-73.

After Norm Stewart used a timeout at the 2:24 mark, Coleman nailed a three to cut the lead in half.  Illinois used a timeout at the 1:28 mark, still holding a three-point lead.  After Lou Henson set strategy, Kaufmann was able to find a cutting Thomas for a slam and a foul.  Deon missed the free throw and Coleman found Doug Smith for a layup.  Illinois took a timeout at 59 seconds.  Missouri took their last timeout 4 seconds later when they deflected a ball out of bounds.

That timeout worked in Missouri’s favor as they forced freshman Tom Michael to throw the ball out of bounds.  Missouri could now tie it with a three and Coleman went for that tie but missed.  Thomas rebounded and found Kaufmann.  Coleman had to foul Andy with 32 seconds to go and Kaufmann made both free throws.

Coleman then nailed a three to cut Illinois’ lead to 83-81.  Another Missouri freshman Lamont Frazier then committed on foul on Tom Michael with 15 seconds to go.  Michael was a 40% foul shooter coming into this game but got an advantage with a new rule in college basketball for 1991.

After a team commits its 10th team foul, the other team gets an automatic two shots instead of a 1-and-1.  This helped Illinois when Michael missed the first free throw.  He made the second for a three-point lead.  Missouri was out of timeouts.

Frazier, who had seen his first action of the game in the final minute, missed an open three.  Coleman rebounded and fired a tying three at the buzzer that was no good.  Illinois had won their 8th straight game over Missouri.  The Tigers would break that string when they killed the Illini 61-44 the next season.

Both teams would end up finishing respectively in their conferences.  Illinois was 21-10 overall and 11-7 in the Big Ten, good for 3rd place.  Missouri would win 7 games in a row after this loss as Peeler came back for their next game against Grambling.  The Tigers were 17-10 to finish the regular season and 8-6 in the Big 8, good for 4th place.

But for some reason, Missouri was allowed to compete in the Big 8 conference tournament.  They took advantage by beating top-seeded Oklahoma State in the Semifinals and 3rd seeded Nebraska in the Finals to win the tournament.  In what turned out to be an embarrassment for the Big 8, Missouri won the tournament and wasn’t allowed to go to the NCAA tournament.

It was a bit of the same for Illinois (the Big Ten didn’t have a conference tournament at the time) as three teams that finished below the Illini in the standings (Michigan State, Iowa, and Purdue) were invited to the NCAA tournament while Illinois had to stay home.

A dark cloud over this game indeed.

Missouri starters (points scored)

Jeff Warren (7) – Small Forward

Jevon Crudup (8) – Power Forward

Doug Smith (30) – Center

Melvin Booker (6) – Point Guard

Jamal Coleman (20) – Shooting Guard

Missouri bench (points scored)

Reggie Smith (8)

Jim Horton (2)

Chris Heller (0)

Lamont Frazier (0)

Missouri Coach: Norm Stewart

Illinois starters (points scored)

Andy Kaufmann (33) – Small Forward

Deon Thomas (23) – Power Forward

Andy Kpedi (6) – Center

Rennie Clemons (4) – Point Guard

Larry Smith (8) – Shooting Guard

Illinois bench (points scored)

Tom Michael (7)

Tim Geers (3)

Scott Pierce (0)

Brooks Taylor (0)

T.J. Wheeler (0)

Illinois Coach: Lou Henson

December 22, 1990 – (#9)Duke Blue Devils 90 @(#11)Oklahoma Sooners 85

The Duke Blue Devils were trying to recover from being demolished in the 1990 NCAA Championship Game.  It was the conclusion of their 4th Final Four in 5 seasons, but with no championships.

Mike Krzyzewski briefly considered an offer to coach the Boston Celtics that summer but returned to Duke.  Krzyzewski had lost seniors Alaa Abdelnaby, Phil Henderson, and Robert Brickey from the previous season.  But he had a new star in McDonald’s All-American Grant Hill, son of former NFL running back Calvin Hill.  Hill came in as a freshman along with athletic big man Antonio Lang.

Hill and Lang joined a team with one senior in Greg Koubek.  But they had two improving players in junior big man Christian Laettner and point guard Bobby Hurley.  Hurley, in particular, had an awful game against UNLV in the previous year’s final and was determined to show he was a better player.  The Blue Devils also had junior Brian Davis and sophomores Thomas Hill and Billy McCaffrey returning.

The Blue Devils were off to their typical good start at 7-2, the losses being to Arkansas in the Pre-Season NIT Semis and against Georgetown.  But they had yet to go into a hostile environment and show how much they had grown, if at all.

They got their chance with the team that had not lost at home since the final game of the 1987 season.  Oklahoma had a 51-game winning streak at the Lloyd Noble Center (and 74 straight wins versus non-conference opponents) and had just beaten Loyola Marymount by 60 points there.

But Duke was not Loyola Marymount and got the first basket when Grant Hill hit a pull-up jumper after controlling the opening tip.  Duke stayed with Oklahoma initially despite the Sooners nailing 7 of their first 8 shots, including 3 three-pointers from Terry Evans.

But the big difference with Oklahoma against Duke rather than Loyola Marymount was Thomas Hill.  Hill was tasked with checking Brent Price, who had just come off a 56-point game against the Lions.  Hill stayed right on Price and didn’t allow him to get many shots off.

Price, to his credit, didn’t force shots and the Oklahoma team ball was serving them well in the first half as they maintained the lead.  The biggest lead actually came when Price hit his only three to put the Sooners up 36-26.

Evans was the hot man for the Sooners with 5 threes.  Jeff Webster and Kermit Holmes also got involved.  Billy Tubbs’ defense was also getting the job done as Bobby Hurley scored only 1 point in the first half and had several turnovers by trying to force the action.  It was a different Bobby Hurley from 1990 in the sense that Hurley was usually passive as a freshman, but in either case, he didn’t let the game come to him.

Oklahoma went to a calculated gamble late in the first half when they switched to the zone.  Grant Hill took advantage by hitting four mid-range jumpers.  Thomas Hill also got into the offensive act with a slam (that briefly pulled the rim loose from its hinges) and then a tip-in of a Grant Hill miss.  Duke was able to cut it to 50-45 at the half.

Hurley’s 2nd half didn’t start off well as he committed his 3rd foul.  But then he had almost a complete 180.  It started when he finished a transition layup while drawing a foul on Price.  Then Hurley got a breakaway after a Laettner steal to cut the Sooners lead to 54-53.  Grant Hill gave the Blue Devils the lead when Laettner got another steal and fed him on the break.

The score went back and forth for a few minutes as Jeff Webster became the scoring machine for Oklahoma on the inside.  Webster scored the Sooners’ next 8 points.  But Hurley had helped counter by finding Laettner for a slam and hitting a pull-up from the foul line.  Antonio Lang was also making a strong contribution off the bench with offensive rebounds and points.

But with under 12 minutes left, Kermit Holmes recovered a free ball and found Terry Evans for a layup.  Oklahoma took a 66-65 lead at that point going into the media timeout.  But Oklahoma went mostly cold from there.

Hurley nailed a corner three and then found Lang on a 3-on-1 break for a layup.  Later, Hurley penetrated and kicked out to Laettner for a three from the top.  Grant Hill then got a three-point play after an up-and-under from the post against the taller Webster.  Duke led 76-68 at that point.

They were able to keep that lead until about the 3-minute mark when Terrence Mullins got a slam after an Evans steal.  Evans followed with a steal and the Sooners found Webster for a turnaround jumper in the post that cut the lead to 83-79 and gave Webster 30 points.

But Brian Davis hit a pull-up from the foul line with 2 1/2 remaining to put Duke back up by 6.  The teams then exchanged a bevy of turnovers before Duke put it away when Laettner found Thomas Hill for a slam with 47 seconds to go.  Oklahoma went 0-for-9 on threes in the 2nd half.

Oklahoma’s home winning streak had come to an end.  But with the way their season went, it would have ended sooner or later.  The Sooners did follow the loss by winning 5 in a row to take their record to 14-3.  But then the injuries and subsequently the losing started.  Terrence Mullins and Kermit Holmes missed time with knee injuries.  Terry Evans missed time with a deep thigh bruise.  As a result, Oklahoma had a 3-12 finish to the season and were NIT bound, where they lost to Stanford in the Championship Game.

Duke starters (points scored)

Grant Hill (19) – Small Forward

Christian Laettner (19) – Power Forward

Crawford Palmer (1) – Center

Bobby Hurley (13) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (16) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Antonio Lang (11)

Billy McCaffrey (4)

Brian Davis (7)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Oklahoma starters (points scored)

Terrence Mullins (8) – Small Forward

Jeff Webster (32) – Power Forward

Kermit Holmes (10) – Center

Terry Evans (17) – Point Guard

Brent Price (11) – Shooting Guard

Oklahoma bench (points scored)

Bryan Sallier (2)

Roland Ware (4)

Martin Keane (1)

Oklahoma Coach: Billy Tubbs

January 14, 1991 – (#3)Indiana Hoosiers 65 @Purdue Boilermakers 62

In 1990, Gene Keady and his Purdue Boilermakers made a surprise run to a 21-7 regular season, finishing 2nd in the Big Ten at 13-5.  Keady had seniors Steve Scheffler, Tony Jones and Ryan Berning; juniors Jimmy Oliver and Chuckie White; and sophomores Woody Austin and Loren Clyburn.

But by the time the Big Ten season got very old in 1991, only Oliver and White (now seniors) were remaining.  Austin, the team’s leading scorer, and Clyburn were academically ineligible for the 2nd semester.  The Boilermakers were 10-3 and should have won the only Big Ten game that they had lost so far as they led Illinois 59-52 with 2:00 left but lost 63-61.

Oliver would become Purdue’s only future NBA player in 1991.  He and White were teamed with senior point guard Dave Barrett, junior center Craig Riley, sophomore guard (and future head coach) Matt Painter, and then freshmen Ian Stanback, Linc Darner, Cornelius McNary and Travis Trice (father of former Michigan State guard Travis Trice).

Bob Knight and Indiana had an amazingly young team in 1990 as there were key freshmen Calbert Cheaney, Matt Nover, Pat Graham, Greg Graham, Chris Reynolds and Chris Lawson.  They finished 9-9 in the Big Ten and made a surprising NCAA tournament appearance.

Now these sophomores were teamed with senior guard Lyndon Jones, juniors Eric Anderson and Jamal Meeks, and 1990 McDonald’s High School All-American Damon Bailey (said to be one of the best high schoolers of all time in Indiana, although he had some great games for the Hoosiers, including one later in this post, he turned out to be another over-rated Indiana white boy who wasn’t that quick, like Steve Alford).

Cheaney and Anderson were the big scorers (only them and Bailey averaged in double figures).  Cheaney was developing into one of the best forwards in the nation.  The Hoosiers were 14-1, with their only loss being to Syracuse in the Maui Classic.

Indiana was on a 12-game winning streak and many of those games weren’t close.  It looked to be the same early on in the rivalry game of the state of Indiana.  Knight started three guards (Meeks, Jones, and Bailey) along with Cheaney and Anderson, and their small lineup worked.

Meeks found Jones for a three.  Meeks penetrated and found Anderson for a layup and a foul.  Meeks penetrated and found Cheaney for three.  Bailey found Jones in transition for another three.  With everybody involved, Indiana was up 12-2 and Chuckie White had two fouls for the Boilermakers.

Four straight points by Anderson gave the Hoosiers a 16-4 lead at 15:22.  Then after Purdue finally put together consecutive baskets, Cheaney came back with a pull-up on the baseline after a spin move.  Then Cheaney followed with a monster slam on a baseline drive.  Reynolds fed Pat Graham for a layup and the blowout was on as Indiana led 22-8.

But then Indiana suddenly couldn’t put the ball in the ocean while riding a speedboat.  White got a three-point play just before the second media timeout.  The next few minutes were a free throw shooting contest, and the contest was who could miss the most.  There were three field goals over the next 8 minutes, all by Purdue, and both teams struggled at the line.

It didn’t help Knight when Anderson and then Cheaney committed their 3rd fouls and had to sit.  Purdue cut it to 28-24 with 3:51 to go before Greg Graham broke an 8:46 drought without a field goal.  Graham followed with a steal and layup.  Indiana was still able to hold a 37-31 halftime lead.

Jimmy Oliver, who had put up 35 points in Purdue’s previous game against Michigan, was held to 6 points in the 1st half as nobody scored in double figures.  Cheaney and Anderson led Indiana with 7 and Ian Stanback had 8 for Purdue.

Purdue got going a little bit to start the 2nd half but their momentum was stymied by a Cheaney three.  But with the Hoosiers up 41-35, Anderson committed his 4th foul and went to the bench.  Stanback continued Purdue’s troubles at the foul line by bricking two but then Oliver came back with a three to cut the lead in half.

Then on the next possession, Cheaney committed an offensive foul for his 4th.  Chuckie White then cut Indiana’s lead to one with an offensive rebound and a slam.

Chris Reynolds briefly saved the Hoosiers when he got a three-point play on a cut.  Reynolds followed with a steal and Pat Graham hit on a driving layup.  But then Indiana went on another drought without their two leading scorers (plus Bailey putting up only 1 point and not playing much in the 2nd half).

Purdue wasn’t exactly burning the nets either but they cut it to 48-47 when White hit on a reverse and drew a foul.  Stanback later hit a jumper in the lane to give Purdue the lead with over 11 minutes to go.  Now Knight had to bring Anderson and Cheaney back in.

A layup by White against Cheaney in the post put Purdue up 52-48.  But Anderson showed his value by hitting a big jumper from the foul line.  Anderson then followed a Purdue field goal with a pull-up jumper from the elbow.

Craig Riley then got involved for Keady as he hit a banker from the post against Anderson.  But this time it was Cheaney who responded with a baseline jumper.  Riley later hit a hook against Anderson in the post, but Cheaney answered with a pull-up from the baseline.

Anderson and Cheaney had kept Indiana to within two and then the Hoosiers took the lead when Jamal Meeks drove down the lane for a layup and a foul.  It was 59-58 Hoosiers with 5 1/2 minutes to play.

Both teams then traded misses and turnovers over the next two minutes before Cheaney fed Anderson on a cut for a layup and a three-point Indiana advantage.  Stanback broke a long Purdue drought by hitting a turnaround jumper in the lane.  But then Reynolds penetrated and kicked out to Anderson for a jumper from the top.

Even with that assist, Reynolds’ big contribution (and the strongest part of his game) was on defense and he shut down Oliver in the 2nd half as he didn’t score over the last 14 minutes or so.  Reynolds forced Oliver to double dribble with 1:33 to go.  But Purdue got another chance after Cheaney missed.

The Boilermakers couldn’t get the good shot for their stars though and Matt Painter had to force one up at 31 seconds, actually he had plenty of time on the shot clock but forced one up.  Pat Graham seemed to put the game away with two free throws.

But after Painter scored, Purdue called a timeout with 8.2 seconds to play.  They then fouled Meeks two seconds later.  Meeks was a 72% foul shooter in 1991 but only went to the line 51 times.  He missed the first.  Purdue iced him by calling their last timeout.  It worked, sort of, as Meeks nearly airballed the 2nd free throw.

White rebounded but it took him a few seconds to find Trice, who was in the game at point guard after Barrett (the senior) fouled out.  Trice fell down and lost the dribble off his foot as he approached the front court and time ran out.

Indiana’s biggest test would come a week later as they hosted 15-0 Ohio State.  The Buckeyes ended the Hoosiers’ 14-game winning streak as they won 93-85.  Indiana and Ohio State would lose a combined one time between that game and their next matchup on February 17.

Purdue would fall into a tailspin as they lost 5 games in a row in late January and early February (including the rematch against Indiana in Bloomington, 81-63).  But Keady would rally his troops for a 6-1 finish and a long-shot NCAA tournament berth as a #7 seed in the East.

They got demolished in the 1st round by Temple 80-63.  Purdue finished their season 17-12 (9-9 in the Big Ten) and would have to sweat out the 1992 season without their big recruit in the 1991 High School class, Glenn Robinson.

Indiana starters (points scored)

Damon Bailey (1) – Small Forward

Calbert Cheaney (14) – Power Forward

Eric Anderson (15) – Center

Jamal Meeks (4) – Point Guard

Lyndon Jones (6) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Pat Graham (10)

Chris Reynolds (9)

Matt Nover (0)

Greg Graham (4)

Chris Lawson (2)

Indiana Coach: Bob Knight

Purdue starters (points scored)

Jimmy Oliver (11) – Small Forward

Chuckie White (17) – Power Forward

Craig Riley (10) – Center

Dave Barrett (5) – Point Guard

Linc Darner (0) – Shooting Guard

Purdue bench (points scored)

Ian Stanback (12)

Travis Trice (2)

Matt Painter (5)

Cornelius McNary (0)

Purdue Coach: Gene Keady

calbert cheaney

Calbert Cheaney drives against Chuckie White in Indiana’s rematch against Purdue in Bloomington *photo courtesy of Indianapolis Star

January 16, 1991 – (#13)Connecticut Huskies 79 @(#8)Syracuse Orangemen 81 (OT)

The Connecticut Huskies were the surprise team of the Big East in 1990.  They seemed to be continuing their momentum as they got off to a 12-1 start, including victories in their first 3 Big East games.

But then the challenging part of their schedule came when they had to play St. John’s twice and Syracuse twice (plus a game at Seton Hall) in a 2 1/2 week stretch before the end of January.  It didn’t start out well as they took a home loss to St. John’s 72-59.  Now, 4 days later, they were to travel to the Carrier Dome.

The only senior that Jim Calhoun and the Huskies lost from 1990 was point guard Tate George.  But Nadav Henefeld also didn’t return after the Israeli National team wanted him to play professionally.  But UConn did get another player from Israel, Gilad Katz, who stuck around for two seasons.

Katz joined junior Chris Smith, the Huskies leading scorer, and seniors John Gwynn and Steve Pikiell in the back court.  Up front, junior Rod Sellers and sophomores Scott Burrell and Toraino Walker were starting in this game with seniors Murray Williams and Lyman DePriest and junior Dan Cyrulik coming off the bench.  The starting lineup fluctuated throughout the year as Smith, Sellers and Burrell were the only players to start in all the games.

Syracuse had lost Derrick Coleman and Stephen Thompson from 1990.  But they rebounded by landing the top high school player in guard Adrian Autry.  Autry was a good penetrating guard who led the team in assists and was their 4th leading scorer.  He was strong defensively and got his fair share of rebounds.  But Autry was a weak perimeter shooter, which was Syracuse’s problem.

Autry teamed in the back court with Michael Edwards, who was struggling after having a reasonably strong freshman season in 1990.  But Jim Boeheim’s strength was in the front court.  Billy Owens had become a bonafide superstar, averaging 23.3 points per game to lead the team.  Dave Johnson averaged 19.4 points per game after a 6.5 average as a sophomore in 1990.  Senior LeRon Ellis rounded out by averaging 11.1 and 7.7 rebounds after a slow start to the season.

Syracuse’s bench consisted of sophomores Conrad McRae and Mike Hopkins, and freshman Scott McCorkle.  McRae was the backup big man while Hopkins and McCorkle were shooters.  Boeheim’s bench might have been deeper but Rich Manning transferred to the University of Washington and Tony Scott left for Texas A&M but never got a chance to play there.

Syracuse came out of the gates strongly as they won the Maui Classic by beating Indiana.  They vaulted as high as #3 in the polls after a 13-0 start, including their Big East opener against St. John’s.  But then the Orangemen lost to a team that they had trouble with for whatever reason in Villanova.  This was the Wildcats second straight win at the Carrier Dome.  Syracuse followed by losing to Pitt on the road but rebounded with a win at Seton Hall.

It was apparent in the 1st half that both teams liked to run and struggled when having to set up in the half court.  Connecticut took advantage of Syracuse’s lack of shooting by playing a zone.

After Owens completed a Syracuse 6-0 run by throwing down an alley-oop, the Orangeman went 6 minutes without scoring.  But UConn could only grab a 16-10 lead after a 9-0 run.  Their biggest lead was at 23-15 before Scott McCorkle came in and scored 7 points to bring Syracuse back.

The teams battled to a 39-all tie at halftime as only Smith, with 11, and Owens, 10, were in double figures.

Syracuse got off strong in the 2nd half as Dave Johnson, who had come into the game having scored 20+ points in the previous 6 games but only had 4 in the 1st half, got a steal and layup.  Autry then hit a runner in the lane and Owens got a transition layup from Johnson.  The Orangemen built a 46-39 lead before Burrell hit a three and then a banker in the lane.

The teams played much better offensively in the 2nd half and the game went back and forth.  Smith, Burrell and Walker were the main scorers for UConn while Owens and Scott McCorkle kept the momentum going for Syracuse.  But it seemed that everybody was involved for both teams.

Dave Johnson connected on consecutive threes in the late going to give the Orangemen a 65-62 lead.  But then Rod Sellers scored consecutive baskets before Owens hit a baseline turnaround with 3:43 to go.  UConn then took a 68-67 lead when Sellers got his third straight layup on a Walker feed.

They had a chance to increase that lead with under 2:00 to go but the inexperienced Gilad Katz turned the ball over when he was double-teamed.  After Boeheim called a timeout, Syracuse went to Owens in the middle of the lane.  Billy found an open McCorkle for a corner three.  He missed but Ellis put it back in with 1:12 to play to give Syracuse the lead.

Katz then committed his second straight turnover as Ellis stole his pass.  Katz fouled Owens with 42.9 seconds to play.  UConn was not quite at 10 team fouls however, so Owens got a 1-and-1.  He missed the front end.  UConn rebounded and ran it down to 20.2 before Calhoun used a timeout.

UConn went to their big gun in Chris Smith.  He had the ball at the top as Walker came out to set a screen.  After coming off the pick, Smith pulled up from behind the three-point line and nailed it with 10.5 to go.  UConn led 71-69 and Syracuse had to go full court.

They got it to Johnson, who almost succeeded in taking it coast-to-coast.  However, he missed his layup.  But the ball came off right to LeRon Ellis who dunked it in at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.  With that, Syracuse seemed to have the momentum.

Owens started off the overtime by hitting four free throws.  But then John Gwynn hit a pull-up jumper from the wing to keep UConn in it.  But Syracuse was able to maintain its lead and took a 78-74 advantage with 44.7 seconds to go when Ellis hit his 2nd free throw of the game in 7 attempts.

Chris Smith then broke a 3 minute UConn field goal drought by hitting a pull-up in the lane.  Connecticut players then attempted to call a timeout after the basket but it wasn’t recognized by the officials.  Syracuse took advantage as Ellis snuck down the court and Edwards found him with a long pass for a slam.

Katz came back to nail a three to cut it to 80-79 and this time, UConn’s last timeout was recognized with 20.2 to go.  Smith then fouled Owens with 17.7 left.  Owens missed both free throws and Smith rebounded.  Smith took it up the court and gave it to Gwynn, who took an ill-advised three from the wing and missed.

The rebound was tipped out to Autry, who was fouled by Smith with 4.1 to play.  Autry missed the first free throw but with UConn being in the penalty, he got a second shot and hit it.

Without a timeout, Smith just had to take it the length of the court.  He didn’t end up getting a shot off in time and Syracuse survived.

The Orangemen would beat the Huskies by two points again 12 days later.  The loss would give UConn 6 straight losses that brought them out of the top 25.  They were 0-4 against the two teams that would finish above them in the Big East (St. John’s and Syracuse), and would need to have some big wins in February to stay near the top in the race.

Connecticut starters (points scored)

Scott Burrell (17) – Small Forward

Toraino Walker (10) – Power Forward

Rod Sellers (11) – Center

Gilad Katz (8) – Point Guard

Chris Smith (20) – Shooting Guard

Connecticut bench (points scored)

Steve Pikiell (0)

Dan Cyrulik (2)

John Gwynn (7)

Murray Williams (4)

Lyman DePriest (0)

Connecticut Coach: Jim Calhoun

Syracuse starters (points scored)

Dave Johnson (14) – Small Forward

Billy Owens (19) – Power Forward

LeRon Ellis (16) – Center

Michael Edwards (8) – Point Guard

Adrian Autry (11) – Shooting Guard

Syracuse bench (points scored)

Scott McCorkle (12)

Conrad McRae (2)

Mike Hopkins (0)

Syracuse Coach: Jim Boeheim

billy-owens

All-American Billy Owens was the leader for Syracuse in 1991 *photo courtesy of Autographs for Sale

January 23, 1991 – (#9)Duke Blue Devils 89 @N.C. State Wolfpack 95

Duke seemed to have turned a corner when they broke Oklahoma’s long winning streak at home.  But then in their ACC opener in Virginia, they were demolished 81-64.

Mike Krzyzewski wasn’t happy and held a late practice after they returned to Durham.  It was intense to the point that freshman Antonio Lang accidentally broke fellow freshman Grant Hill’s nose in a collision.

But the after midnight practice did serve as a wake up call.  Duke beat Georgia Tech 98-57, Maryland 94-78, Wake Forest 89-67, The Citadel 83-50 and, most importantly, North Carolina 74-60 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Riding high off of that momentum, Duke prepared for three straight ACC road games starting at N.C. State.

The Wolfpack had a new coach in Les Robinson, who had come back to his alma mater from East Tennessee State.  The Buccaneers had a 28-5 season in 1991 after consecutive NCAA tournament appearances under Robinson.  They had an All-American in point guard Keith Jennings.  One of their wins had come against N.C. State.  But East Tennessee State would miss out on their chance to upset Duke when they lost to Iowa 76-73 in the 1st round of the NCAA tournament.

The Wolfpack were no longer on probation and had senior guards Chris Corchiani and Rodney Monroe coming back.  They had an improving junior in Tom Gugliotta, who was becoming a star.  They also had some talented sophomore big guys in Bryant Feggins and Kevin Thompson.

Robinson had no bench however and barely used it.  This may have been a factor in some close losses at East Tennessee State, Syracuse and Kansas.  The 4th N.C. State loss was a blowout at Wake Forest.  But the Wolfpack were 8-0 at home and with the way the crowd was in it against Duke, that home crowd could carry you when you’re tired (although I’m sure the crowd wasn’t always that lively, Duke just brings out the liveliness in opposing crowds).

The crowd did usher a good start for the Wolfpack as Thompson and Feggins each hit two free throws.  Then Thompson put back a Gugliotta miss and Corchiani found Monroe for a three from the top.  Gugliotta then put back a miss before Corchiani found Monroe with a touch pass for a breakaway layup.  Corchiani then found Feggins with a long pass, who immediately hit Thompson for a layup.

But Duke was still within 15-10 as Christian Laettner and Billy McCaffrey were off to good starts offensively.  But Krzyzewski did put four starters on the bench for their defensive effort early on.

NC State increased its lead as Monroe, who had scored 48 points against Georgia Tech a week earlier, was scoring in his typical fashion and Feggins was playing out of his mind.  Feggins’ baseline drive put the Wolfpack up 25-13.

Duke responded with 7 straight points before Monroe hit a double-pump banker on the drive and Gugliotta nailed two three-pointers.  The lead was now 33-20.

Bobby Hurley started a Duke run with two three-pointers as they steadily pulled back to within 40-36.  But they could get no closer in the 1st half and the Wolfpack increased their halftime lead to 47-41 when Monroe found Thompson for a layup with 3 seconds to go.

Both Hurley and Corchiani had 7 assists in the 1st half of a very fast paced game, which is how Les Robinson and Mike Krzyzewski liked it.  And unlike most Big East games, it was a fun game to watch as a fan.

Duke started off the 2nd half well after Monroe hit a pull-up from the baseline for his 19th point.  Antonio Lang hit two free throws and then Hurley found him for a slam.  Laettner then hit a jumper from the wing to cut it to 49-47.  Corchiani broke the mini-run with a double-pump lefty banker on the drive.  But Duke then tied it when Thomas Hill hit a runner in the lane and then McCaffrey went coast-to-coast for a layup.

Bryant Feggins broke the tie with a wing jumper and then a transition layup on a Corchiani assist.  Corchiani later found Kevin Thompson for a layup and then Gugliotta for a three.  After Corchiani hit another running banker and Gugliotta nailed another three, N.C. State’s lead was back to 67-57.

It would keep going from there as Corchiani kept finding people and the other four starters kept scoring, led by Monroe (even the one reserve who played for the Wolfpack on this night, freshman Migjen Bakalli, got a breakaway layup on a Corchiani assist).

Even Gugliotta committing his 4th foul and repeated threes from Hurley and field goals from Laettner and McCaffrey couldn’t get Duke back into the game.  Corchiani and Monroe just kept controlling the game.  Monroe even unleashed his Jordan impersonation when he hung in the air while going for a jumper in the lane and managed to just guide it in around the defender with his right hand.

Duke cut it to 84-77 with 3:50 to go but managed to get one possession over the next two minutes as N.C. State forced Duke to commit 5 fouls to get into the penalty.  Feggins then made both ends of the 1-and-1.

Duke would scramble to cut it down to as low as four but were never really a threat as N.C. State held them off to tie North Carolina for the lead in the ACC with a 3-1 record.  Corchiani finished with 14 assists.

Duke would continue its road trip while NC State was about set to start a 3-game ACC road trip.  It didn’t start off well as they lost to Maryland 104-100 and then got blown out by Virginia 104-72.  They couldn’t wait to return home and take on their other in-state rival at the top of the league, North Carolina.

Duke starters (points scored)

Thomas Hill (6) – Small Forward

Antonio Lang (6) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (23) – Center

Bobby Hurley (18) – Point Guard

Billy McCaffrey (17) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Brian Davis (4)

Greg Koubek (4)

Grant Hill (9)

Crawford Palmer (2)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

N.C. State starters (points scored)

Bryant Feggins (17) – Small Forward

Tom Gugliotta (14) – Power Forward

Kevin Thompson (16) – Center

Chris Corchiani (11) – Point Guard

Rodney Monroe (35) – Shooting Guard

NC State bench (points scored)

Migjen Bakalli (2)

NC State Coach: Les Robinson

January 30, 1991 – (#7)Duke Blue Devils 77 @(#23)Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 75

For years, North Carolina had been the team in the ACC that was (for a lack of a better phrase) pulling wins out of their ass.  But it was around this time that Duke was starting to pull off that phenomenon and became a power (and more disliked).  This win was an example.

Although Duke’s execution in the last 40 seconds was great, the fact that they were put in position for a final shot was a break that gave them a chance (and that had nothing to do with the refs or even Georgia Tech failing).

Duke had rebounded from its loss at N.C. State with a resounding 99-70 win over a struggling Clemson team at Clemson.  Now they would head as south as you could go for an ACC game (which was about to change when Florida State was admitted for 1992) and take on a superstar.

Kenny Anderson was the only member of lethal weapon 3 that was back for the 1991 season at Georgia Tech.  Bobby Cremins had to re-tool with a couple of transfers.  Shooter Jon Barry (son of Rick Barry) came from Pacific and center Matt Geiger from Auburn.  Along with them, sophomore big man Malcolm Mackey stepped up and averaged a double-double.

Those four guys were teamed with freshmen Bryan Hill and Ivano Newbill.  But, as per usual with Cremins, he didn’t go very deep into the bench.  Georgia Tech got off to a so-so 3-3 start (the three losses by a combined 5 points) as Kenny Anderson was taking matters into his own hands because he had yet to trust his new teammates.

But then Tech won 6 in a row before traveling to Duke.  They got a wakeup call at Cameron Indoor as they lost 98-57.  They lost at N.C. State 4 days later.  But Tech pulled its biggest surprise after two home wins.  They traveled to Chapel Hill, North Carolina and beat the Tarheels 88-86.  Mackey had the big three-point play to decide that game.  Tech was now a 1/2 game behind Duke at the top of the ACC.

Duke got off to a better start than they had against NC State.  Grant Hill, who was not wearing his nose protector for the first time since breaking it, had a slam on a Bobby Hurley feed and then tipped in a Christian Laettner miss.  Hill then found Billy McCaffrey for a three.  But three-point plays by Mackey and Anderson kept Tech in it through the first media timeout.

Mackey personally kept Georgia Tech even with 7 early points.  The Jackets actually took a 17-15 lead when Anderson found Barry for a breakaway slam.

But then Thomas Hill, who was coming off the bench for this game, got going and scored 10 consecutive points as Duke took a 25-17 lead.  Things got worse for Georgia Tech when Geiger committed his 3rd foul on a charge and Tech was called for a technical when a fan threw something onto the court (the referee had apparently already warned Cremins after debris was thrown previously, but no announcement was made).  The Devils took a 10-point lead when McCaffrey made both technical free throws.

But over the last 8 minutes of the half, Kenny Anderson steadily led the Jackets back.  He scored 10 points during that time to help cut Duke’s halftime lead to 39-35.

Christian Laettner, who was held to 2 points in the 1st half, got going with two quick buckets.  But he also got two quick fouls to bring his total to 4 and had to go to the bench.  Krzyzewski’s only backup big man, Crawford Palmer, picked up his 4th foul not too far after that.

With Duke’s big guys off the court, Geiger and Mackey started to dominate inside on both ends.  Mackey blocked several Duke shots inside and Geiger had consecutive putbacks to give Georgia Tech a 51-50 lead.

Anderson then took over with 6 straight Tech points that concluded on a highlight break.  Anderson got a steal and was 1-on-1 against Hurley in transition.  Anderson went either behind his back or through his legs on a dribble three times while standing right in front of Hurley.  Then Anderson broke to the lane and hit a little floater.  The whole sequence had Dick Vitale going crazy.

It gave Georgia Tech a 58-54 lead but Thomas Hill came right back with a spin and a running banker from the wing.  Duke would then switch to a zone and tie the game at 60 with 8:31 left.

Barry then got the bounce on a corner three and Laettner came back in.  Christian hit a turnaround jumper from the baseline and then Brian Davis tipped in a Grant Hill miss to give Duke the lead.

The game went back and forth before Barry hit another three to give Tech a 70-68 lead.  Billy McCaffrey tied it with a wing jumper.  Mackey put back a Geiger miss and then Geiger fouled out as Laettner drew a foul on him.  Laettner tied it at 72 with two free throws.

Hurley gave Duke a lead with a free throw but Kenny Anderson hit a jumper from the elbow after Mackey gave him a return pass with 1:02 to go.  Anderson then deflected the ball away from Grant Hill and forced a jump ball.  The possession arrow pointed toward Georgia Tech.

After a timeout, Hurley fouled Anderson on the inbounds pass.  Kenny made the front end of the 1-and-1 but missed the second shot.  Tech only led 75-73.

Hurley then found Thomas Hill inside.  Hill’s first shot was blocked by Ivano Newbill but Thomas recovered and threw in a banker while drawing a foul with 31 seconds left.  Hill missed the free throw but here’s where Duke’s “break” came.

Laettner got a piece of the rebound and back-tapped it.  Senior Greg Koubek then dove on the floor and recovered the ball and voila, Duke could set up for a last shot.

Hurley dribbled up top and then penetrated with 4 seconds left.  As he penetrated, Thomas Hill broke free in the post and Hurley gave him a bounce pass.  The ball left Hill’s hands at 1 second and banked into the basket at the buzzer.  Duke had pulled a victory out of their ass and were 2-1 on the 3-game road trip.

Duke would continue its momentum as they went 6-1 over the next 3 weeks and were in their usual position at the top of the ACC and in the top 10 of the polls.

Georgia Tech would briefly rebound with a home win over Maryland before losing to NC State at home, and then at Wake Forest and Maryland.  Despite a victory over Arizona to end that streak, Tech could not fully recover and finished 5th in the ACC with a 6-8 mark.  They lost to NC State for the third time that season in the ACC quarterfinals.  But the NCAA tournament gives one a chance at a revival and Tech would get its chance against a top seed before Kenny Anderson left for the NBA.

Duke starters (points scored)

Grant Hill (14) – Small Forward

Antonio Lang (0) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (12) – Center

Bobby Hurley (5) – Point Guard

Billy McCaffrey (15) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Thomas Hill (20)

Crawford Palmer (4)

Brian Davis (4)

Greg Koubek (3)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Georgia Tech starters (points scored)

Jon Barry (15) – Small Forward

Malcolm Mackey (13) – Power Forward

Matt Geiger (10) – Center

Kenny Anderson (32) – Point Guard

Bryan Hill (5) – Shooting Guard

Georgia Tech bench (points scored)

Ivano Newbill (0)

Brian Domalik (0)

Georgia Tech Coach: Bobby Cremins

kenny anderson

Kenny Anderson would become a 1st-team All-American in 1991 *photo courtesy of Got ‘Em Coach

February 5, 1991 – (#10)Kentucky Wildcats 88 @(#19)LSU Tigers 107

The Kentucky Wildcats had won 10 in a row, including a victory at Rupp Arena over LSU, before losing on the road to Alabama.  They rebounded with wins at Auburn and then against Georgia.  All was for the experience as Kentucky’s season would end once the regular season ended.

LSU was at least playing for something more, but they had fallen on hard times.  The Tigers had lost 3 of their last 4 and had fallen to 6-4 in the SEC, good for 5th place (although technically they were 4th since Kentucky couldn’t win the regular season championship).  Shaquille O’Neal, mainly his father, was starting to make noise about the fouls that were being committed against him and was threatening to go to the NBA.

But LSU and Kentucky had been rivals for the last decade in basketball and at times, they nearly came to blows.  But the Wildcats had nobody that could even think of checking Shaq.  Early on, Jamal Mashburn, the tallest Wildcat player, was put on Shaq.  Mashburn started 1-for-7 from the field as a result.  O’Neal started a little better.

Shaq got three slams to start his night while drawing two fouls.  He later threw down an alley-oop, got a layup after a drop-step, got another layup on an inbounds lob and then rebound-slammed two misses.  O’Neal’s first field goal that wasn’t a layup or a dunk came when he hit a turnaround banker from the post over Mashburn and drew a foul.  By that point, O’Neal had 20 points and was 9-for-9 from the field.

But LSU’s 15 first half turnovers kept Kentucky within striking distance.  Kentucky was also able to nail some threes, but their leading scorer, John Pelphrey, was being shut down by LSU’s defensive ace Shawn Griggs, who transferred to Louisiana-Lafayette after the season.

But Deron Feldhaus made a contribution off the bench to pick up the slack.  Feldhaus scored 5 quick points and Jeff Brassow nailed his third three-pointer of the half to give Kentucky a 35-34 lead.

LSU would run off 8 straight points but still had to hold off the Wildcats in the 1st half when Richie Farmer scored 5 quick points off the bench.  Wayne Sims, a senior who was returning from a month’s suspension for a DUI, hit a jumper from the top with 1 second left to give LSU a 50-46 halftime lead.

Mashburn and Reggie Hanson had committed only 2 fouls while playing Shaq in the 1st half.  Shaq had sat down periodically and had only scored 3 points since his 20 point explosion in the first 12 minutes.

LSU ran out to a 61-53 lead at the first media timeout of the 2nd half, but Shaq had picked up his 3rd foul and sat down again.  But then Mashburn and Hanson picked up their 4th fouls within a minute.  That took out two of Kentucky’s three top scorers and the third, Pelphrey, never really got going.

But LSU was missing free throws and couldn’t put Kentucky away until Harold Boudreaux came off the bench and scored his career-high 19 points.  Boudreaux’s three-point play put LSU up 65-55.  Then after Mike Hansen hit a three, Boudreaux stole a pass at half court and slammed one down to put the Tigers up 70-55.

Boudreaux would make two more dagger jumpers over the next few minutes.  Shaq came back in and had some baskets that put Kentucky away as well.  Hansen and T.J. Pugh had good 2nd halves as well from the back court.  LSU was out of the doldrums, it seemed, as they handled Kentucky easily.

That win started a 7-1 streak heading into the final regular season game at Mississippi State.  Although Kentucky finished at the top of the standings, they couldn’t win the regular season title.  So the winner of the LSU/Mississippi State game would take a top seed into the SEC tournament.

The Bulldogs won 76-73 but, even as the top seed, they lost in the SEC quarterfinals to Tennessee.  But LSU couldn’t take advantage as they lost to Auburn 92-77 in the quarterfinals.

Alabama would win their 3rd straight SEC championship and would be the only team in the conference to advance beyond the 1st round of the NCAA tournament.  LSU was a#6 seed in the Midwest Regional but lost to UConn 79-62 in the 1st round.  Shaq had 27 points and 16 rebounds against the Huskies.  Nobody else was near double figures in either category.

Kentucky starters (points scored)

Jamal Mashburn (19) – Small Forward

John Pelphrey (13) – Power Forward

Reggie Hanson (6) – Center

Sean Woods (8) – Point Guard

Jeff Brassow (13) – Shooting Guard

Kentucky bench (points scored)

Deron Feldhaus (18)

Junior Braddy (3)

Richie Farmer (5)

Gimel Martinez (3)

Johnathon Davis (0)

Kentucky Coach: Rick Pitino

LSU starters (points scored)

Vernel Singleton (7) – Small Forward

Shawn Griggs (5) – Power Forward

Shaquille O’Neal (33) – Center

T.J. Pugh (10) – Point Guard

Mike Hansen (17) – Shooting Guard

LSU bench (points scored)

Harold Boudreaux (19)

Wayne Sims (10)

Geert Hammink (4)

John Picou (0)

Lenear Burns (0)

Danny Moscovitz (0)

Richard Krajewski (2)

LSU Coach: Dale Brown

shaquille-oneal-lsu

Shaquille O’Neal was a one-man gang at LSU, but he dominated Kentucky with 20 points in the first 12 minutes *photo courtesy of Sports List of the Day

February 6, 1991 – (#9)North Carolina Tarheels 91 @N.C. State Wolfpack 97

North Carolina had a 13-1 record and an 11-game winning streak when they traveled to Durham, North Carolina to take on rival Duke.  Their streak came to an end as Duke pulled away in the 2nd half to win 74-60.

North Carolina then suffered a home loss to Georgia Tech a week later and now were down to 3rd in the ACC behind Duke and Virginia.  The North Carolina State Wolfpack had fallen on some hard times (mainly because they played three games away from home) as well.

They had lost at Maryland and gotten killed at Virginia before rebounding to win at Georgia Tech 79-73.  But now they were returning home, where they were undefeated.  They stood a half-game behind the Tarheels for 3rd place.

This was also the start of a first for the ACC as UNC and N.C. State were getting set to play a home-and-home series in back-to-back days for the first (and probably last) time in ACC history.

For the first matchup, UNC got off to a 6-0 start after a three-pointer from Rick Fox and a three-point play from George Lynch.  But the Wolfpack scored the next 7 points as Bryant Feggins hit a banker on a baseline drive, Rodney Monroe nailed a three and Tom Gugliotta got a fast-break slam.

The teams battled back-and-forth and were tied at 22 at the 2nd media timeout (with 11:20 to go).  But then N.C. State took advantage of their inspired home crowd and went on a spurt.  Monroe hit a pull-up from the baseline.  Chris Corchiani got a steal and fed Kevin Thompson for a layup.  Monroe hit a three and Corchiani followed with a steal and layup.

The run would continue despite Lynch scoring to cut the lead to 31-24.  Monroe hit an up-and-under scoop after Corchiani got another steal and then Rodney connected from downtown again.  Migjen Bakalli (N.C. State’s only sub) hit two free throws and then Feggins followed up a miss on the break.  The Wolfpack suddenly led 40-24.

North Carolina scored 5 straight points to respond but Corchiani found Feggins for a layup for his 6th assist so far.  Then Gugliotta nailed a three to put the lead back at 16.  But the three-point shot quickly went in favor of North Carolina as Rick Fox nailed three of them over the next few minutes to cut the lead to 46-40.

Then Carolina appeared to have cut their halftime deficit to five when King Rice penetrated and kicked out to Lynch for a three with less than 5 seconds to go.  But N.C. State got it ahead to Bakalli, who found Gugliotta for a three from the deep wing at the buzzer.  This concluded a half where N.C. State shot 61.7% from the field and connected on 8-of-11 threes.  With that being said, UNC was pretty fortunate to be down only 53-45 at the half.

The 2nd half for N.C. State saw a little less balance as it more-or-less became the Rodney Monroe/Tom Gugliotta show.  North Carolina was able to cut it to 64-61 with 7 minutes gone by as Hubert Davis scored 11 points after a scoreless 1st half.

But then Monroe went 1-on-1 against Davis and hit a pull-up on the baseline after stopping on a dime.  Corchiani then drove past Carolina freshman Derrick Phelps for a runner in the lane.

Carolina missed a golden opportunity when Pete Chilcutt missed an alley-oop slam.  Corchiani then pushed the ball and found Gugliotta for a corner three and a 72-64 State lead.  Gugliotta then followed up a Monroe miss for his 25th point and a 10-point lead.

A three from Monroe later increased it to 13 but then UNC started bombing away and hitting with under 4 minutes to go.  Fox hit the first three and then Carolina got a rare five-point play after Chilcutt nailed a three and Eric Montross was fouled underneath.  Montross was given a 1-and-1 (as per rules at the time, the officials ruled that the foul was after the shot so it was as if the shot didn’t go in).  He made both free throws to cut it to 84-79.

Corchiani then drove and kicked out to Monroe for a three from the wing to briefly stem the tide.  But Chilcutt came back with another three and then, after two Corchiani free throws, Davis hit a trey and it was 89-85 with 1:40 left.  Dean Smith used his last timeout at that point.

UNC pressed and N.C. State got the ball to Monroe.  Rodney went coast-to-coast on a drive and managed to get the roll on a little scoop while drawing a foul.  The three-point play would be countered by a three from King Rice though.

After Kevin Thompson missed two free throws for State, Davis cut it to 92-91 with UNC’s 6th trey in the last 3 minutes.  But then, for some reason, Davis fouled Monroe (with 54 seconds left, there was still more time on the game clock than the shot clock, you would think UNC would just try to get a stop).

Monroe made both free throws.  Then Corchiani reached in on Fox and knocked the ball away from him.  The ensuing loose ball resulted in a jump ball and the possession arrow was pointing towards N.C. State.  Phelps fouled Corchiani with 27.1 remaining and Corchiani split the free throws.

But N.C. State put it away after Davis and Fox couldn’t keep the three-point magic going and missed three combined attempts.

North Carolina would destroy State the next night, 92-70 and had a 7-game winning streak going into the final regular season game against Duke.  Naturally, first place was on the line in that matchup.

N.C. State would be battling for third the rest of the season.  Their only losses over the next few weeks would be at Carolina and then at Duke.  Their undefeated home record stayed alive and they had an impressive road win at Connecticut.  But they would be in for a big game against Virginia as the season wound down.

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Rick Fox (22) – Small Forward

George Lynch (13) – Power Forward

Pete Chilcutt (19) – Center

King Rice (8) – Point Guard

Hubert Davis (17) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Henrik Rodl (4)

Eric Montross (4)

Clifford Rozier (0)

Derrick Phelps (2)

Kenny Harris (0)

Brian Reese (2)

Kevin Salvadori (0)

Matt Wenstrom (0)

Pat Sullivan (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

N.C. State starters (points scored)

Bryant Feggins (9) – Small Forward

Tom Gugliotta (28) – Power Forward

Kevin Thompson (9) – Center

Chris Corchiani (10) – Point Guard

Rodney Monroe (37) – Shooting Guard

N.C. State bench (points scored)

Migjen Bakalli (4)

N.C. State Coach: Les Robinson

February 10, 1991 – (#1)UNLV Runnin’ Rebels 112 @(#2)Arkansas Razorbacks 105

‘Twas the matchup that everyone had been looking forward to since the college basketball season became a few weeks old.  UNLV was the pre-season #1 and Arkansas #2, and neither team had disappointed so far with just one combined loss.

UNLV almost didn’t get a chance to defend its national championship when the NCAA infractions committee ruled them to be ineligible for post-season play in 1991 during the summer because of recruiting violations that stemmed back to 1977.  UNLV appealed the ruling and eventually got a compromise just before the season opened.  UNLV would be allowed to participate in the 1991 NCAA tournament, but would be banned from post-season in 1992 and barred from any television appearances.  The compromise also stated that UNLV would no longer fight the NCAA in court.  With all of that, the UNLV players took out their frustrations on their opponents in record-setting style.

UNLV was 19-0 and had now won 30 games in a row.  They were not only beating teams, but demolishing, bulldozing, ram-rodding (and all the synonyms you could think of, combined) the competition.  Their average margin of victory was around 30 points per game.  The closest margin they had so far was a 12-point win at Louisville.  In fact, the last time they had a single-digit margin of victory (the 1990 National Semifinal against Georgia Tech) was the last time that they trailed at the half.  The Runnin’ Rebels biggest deficit in any game all season was 5 points.

But if anybody could put a dent in all of that, it was Arkansas in their own pit.  Barnhill Arena was to the point of delirium for this game, even though it was on a Sunday morning.  Yes, to accommodate television, this game started at noon eastern time, which meant 11 AM in Fayatteville, Arkansas and 9 AM to the body and mind of the UNLV players.

UNLV only lost David Butler from the starting lineup, which meant arguably their best 4 players returned from their National Championship team.  Forwards Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon were 1st- and 2nd-team All-Americans (respectively).  And guards Greg Anthony and Anderson Hunt were among the best in the nation.  Red-shirt senior George Ackles manned the middle after missing the 1990 season with a broken wrist.  Off the bench were talented but inexperienced, compared to the starters, junior Elmore Spencer and sophomore Evric Gray.

Jerry Tarkanian’s team was almost put on probation for the 1991 season.  But it held off for another year, giving Tarkanian a chance to coach what was being billed as perhaps the best college basketball team of all time.

Arkansas, too, was coming off a Final Four appearance.  They were 23-1 (their only loss being to Arizona in the Pre-Season NIT championship) and had talent too.  Junior center Oliver Miller led the nation in field goal percentage.  Fellow juniors Todd Day and Lee Mayberry also averaged double figures.  Day led the way with 21.2 points per game and Mayberry was at 13 along with 5.6 assists per game.

Arkansas also had seniors Arlyn Bowers, Ron Huery and walk-on Ernie Murry who contributed.  Isaiah Morris and Roosevelt Wallace, both JC transfer juniors, helped Miller contribute some beef down low.  But Nolan Richardson’s Razorbacks were a weak rebounding team that was mostly perimeter oriented.  That would cost them against big teams, like UNLV.

After about a two-minute period, the scoring got going between the 3rd and 4th highest scoring teams in the nation.  Johnson fed Augmon for a slam.  Day and Hunt matched three-pointers.  Mayberry pushed the ball to Morris for a jumper and then Miller outletted to Bowers for a breakaway three-point play on a bad goaltending call on Hunt.

UNLV seemed to get a number of breakaways after breaking Arkansas’ press or after steals.  This gave Augmon, among others, numerous chances to show off his athleticism.

The Rebels held a steady lead through the first 12 minutes before Arkansas grabbed a 36-30 advantage with an 11-0 run.  Day, Miller, and Huery were the key contributors in that spurt.  But Augmon and Hunt quickly led UNLV back and into the lead.  Augmon finished the 1st half with 19 points.

Tarkanian had made the rare decision in the last 8 minutes of the half to go to the zone.  This turned out to be a calculated mistake as Arkansas’ perimeter game kept them in it.  And over the last few minutes of the half, three-pointers from Day, Bowers, and Mayberry (who threw in a prayer at the end of the shot clock) gave Arkansas a 50-46 halftime lead.

So for the first time all season, UNLV trailed by more than 5 points in a game and trailed at the half.

But what UNLV had become known for over the last year (and especially in the 1990 National Championship Game) was their spurts.  Spurts that broke the game wide open and usually decided the outcome.

Over the first two minutes of the 2nd half, UNLV went back to man-to-man.  Ackles hit a jumper and Anthony fed Johnson for a layup.  Augmon hit two free throws.  Anthony blocked a Mayberry jumper and then scored at the other end.  Then Greg Anthony penetrated and found Ackles for a slam.  Arkansas had to use a timeout at the 18:02 mark after a 10-0 Rebels run.

The timeout allowed Miller a chance to put the Razorbacks on the board in the 2nd half, but didn’t really halt the momentum.  Johnson tipped in his own miss and then got a layup after penetration from Augmon.  Augmon then followed up a miss on the break and, later, banked one in while facing sideways to the basket.

Six points in a row from Augmon kept UNLV ahead 68-61, then came another spurt.  Anthony found Johnson on a 3-on-1 break for a big slam and a foul.  Then Anderson Hunt got two breakaway layups after two steals from Elmore Spencer.  Nolan Richardson had to use another timeout at the 12:52 mark with his team trailing 75-61.

A minute later, Arkansas had to use another timeout when they couldn’t get the ball inbounds.  They were now out of timeouts, trailing by a wide margin, and tired.  Oliver Miller hit his first 7 shots from the field but was clearly getting more and more gassed as the 2nd half wore on.

Arkansas made some small spurts but they were thwarted by a big shot from UNLV.  The Rebels kept their double digit lead and increased it to as much as 98-75 when Larry Johnson scored on a 4-on-2 break.

As UNLV was building their lead, they were woofing about it to Arkansas as well.  This helped build up frustrations as the game nearly reached its conclusion, especially from Todd Day.

Day drew a technical from Augmon when Stacey gave him a double forearm shiver.  Then with 2 1/2 left and Arkansas making its last desperate attempt having cut the lead to 104-91, Day missed a three and went after the rebound that was grabbed by Johnson.

They ended up getting tangled and swinging at each other (Day’s push connected with a referee trying to separate them).  Both would be ejected but not suspended (per rules at the time: if a player was ejected for fighting, they were automatically suspended for a game – the officials leniently ruled that Day and Johnson were ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct).

Arkansas made the final margin closer when Murry hit two threes in the last 12 seconds.  This allowed Arkansas the distinction of being the first team all season that UNLV defeated by single digits, but they were hardly celebratory about it.

UNLV would end up being a #1 seed in the West and went on to the Final Four at 34-0.  Only one more of their victories would be by single digits (it happened in the tournament and will be featured later in the blog).

Arkansas would suffer a loss at Texas to conclude the regular season.  But they entered the NCAA tournament as a #1 seed in the Southeast Regional and were 30-3 after getting their revenge on Texas 120-89 in the Southwest Conference Tournament Championship Game.

They would be one game away from their 2nd straight Final Four appearance as well but would have some trouble with Kansas.

UNLV starters (points scored)

Stacey Augmon (31) – Small Forward

Larry Johnson (25) – Power Forward

George Ackles (17) – Center

Greg Anthony (8) – Point Guard

Anderson Hunt (26) – Shooting Guard

UNLV bench (points scored)

Emore Spencer (2)

Travis Bice (2)

Evric Gray (1)

UNLV Coach: Jerry Tarkanian

Arkansas starters (points scored)

Todd Day (26) – Small Forward

Isaiah Morris (6) – Power Forward

Oliver Miller (22) – Center

Lee Mayberry (11) – Point Guard

Arlyn Bowers (8) – Shooting Guard

Arkansas bench (points scored)

Ernie Murry (16)

Ron Huery (12)

Roosevelt Wallace (4)

Clyde Fletcher (0)

Arkansas Coach: Nolan Richardson

augmon

Stacey Augmon out-jumps Todd Day, as Greg Anthony (#50), Oliver Miller (#25), Larry Johnson (#4) and Roosevelt Wallace look on *photo courtesy of Getty Images

February 10, 1991 – (#5)Arizona Wildcats 105 @(#14)UCLA Bruins 94 (OT)

For most of the Pac-10’s basketball existence, UCLA had dominated the conference.  They had 13 conference championships in the 22 year history of the Pac-10.

But over the last few seasons since Lute Olson got going at Arizona, the Wildcats were starting to take over.  Arizona had won the last three Pac-10 titles and 4 of the previous 5.

The Wildcats were off and running again in 1991, leading the conference with a 7-3 record heading into the UCLA game.  Their losses had been on the road at Washington, Cal, and Southern Cal.  The USC loss happened three days before the UCLA game.  Olson’s team stayed in Los Angeles, where Brian Williams and Chris Mills were from and prepped for another tough road game.

UCLA had had down periods through the 80’s but seemed to be on their way back under Jim Harrick.  They had gone to the Sweet 16 in 1990 and had some talent in junior Don MacLean and sophomore Tracy Murray.  They were the big guys for UCLA who were better on the perimeter (and couldn’t match the bulk of Williams, Ed Stokes, Sean Rooks, and Wayne Womack for Arizona).

UCLA was arguably stronger on the perimeter with junior guards Darrick Martin and Gerald Madkins.  Martin had embraced his role as point guard and was shooting less (he would get even less shots as a senior when Tyus Edney came in as point guard).  Madkins was two years removed from multiple fractures in the pelvis, an injury that took him out for the 1989 season and one in which he was fortunate to walk again.

Harrick also had sophomore Mitchell Butler, senior and former walk-on Keith Owens and sophomore Zan Mason.  But the big prize was to be freshman Ed O’Bannon.  O’Bannon and Shon Tarver had verbally committed to UNLV, but were de-committed when the program was originally placed on probation.  Both then went to UCLA.

But before official fall practice could get underway, O’Bannon tore his ACL and meniscus in a scrimmage and was obviously out for the season.  He would return and have 3 great seasons at UCLA, after struggling as a red-shirt freshman in 1992.  But he would never fully recover and would not make an impact in the NBA.

Even without O’Bannon, UCLA still did very well at 17-5 going into their matchup with Arizona.  The Wildcats had beaten UCLA in a close game a month earlier in Tucson.  The Bruins were tied for 3rd at this moment with a 5-4 conference record.

Two three-pointers from Arizona guards Matt Muehlebach and Matt Othick helped give the Wildcats an early 10-4 lead.  But just over 3 minutes into the half, Chris Mills picked up his 2nd foul and sat for the rest of the 1st half.  He would make his impact later though.

UCLA got back into it but were mainly held off by Brian Williams, who was feasting on MacLean down low with a bunch of turnaround jumpers.  Williams had 12 points in the first 10 minutes as Arizona took their biggest lead at 31-23.

But MacLean and Murray led UCLA back and the Bruins took a 37-35 lead when Darrick Martin got a breakaway layup.  MacLean finished the 1st half with 15 points, including 10-for-10 on free throws, and Murray had 12.

But even without Williams contributing, Arizona was able to whittle their halftime deficit to 47-46 when Sean Rooks, who was getting less playing time because of a lack of effort on defense and on the boards, put back his own miss at the buzzer.

Williams got going again to start the 2nd half as he scored Arizona’s first 8 points to give them a 54-49 lead.  The Wildcats eventually increased their lead to 63-55 when Mills hit a three for his first points of the game.  Williams then scored his 22nd point on a drive to give Arizona a 10-point lead.  Not only had Williams scored 22 points but he was 9-for-9 from the field (albeit all shots were from 5 feet and in, but still dominating down low) and had 11 rebounds.

But Williams picked up his 4th foul when he fouled Madkins while Gerald nailed a runner.  The three-point play cut the Arizona lead to 67-61.  Murray hit a double-pump banker from the baseline to cut the lead to 69-65.  Then Madkins found Butler on a perfect bounce pass for a breakaway slam to cut the lead to two and get the crowd going.

After Mills threw down an alley-oop slam to make it 73-69 Arizona, Murray nailed a three and MacLean hit two free throws to give his team the lead.  The sometimes temperamental MacLean had been having a helluva game so far.  But almost all of it would be wasted by a bush-league move.

With the game tied at 75, Mitchell Butler drove baseline and slammed on top of Brian Williams’ head, knocking him down.  MacLean, perhaps adding insult to injury, threw the ball back at Williams while he was on the ground and it ended up hitting Brian in the nuts.

MacLean was called for a technical and although Muehlebach split the free throws (it was a two-shot technical for all technicals at the time in college basketball), the point may have been the difference between overtime and a UCLA win and Arizona seemed a bit more riled up over the next few minutes.

Rooks hit a turnaround jumper, Williams and Wayne Womack followed with slams (Williams trashed talked back to UCLA after his stuff), and then Williams hit a turnaround jumper with 2:00 to go for his 11th field goal in 11 attempts.  Arizona now led 84-81 and had a chance to increase that lead when Rooks rebounded a missed three from Murray.

But then Williams took a jumper from farther out in the lane and had his first miss.  Madkins then found MacLean for a wing jumper to cut the lead to 84-83 with 35 seconds left.  UCLA committed a foul that it had to give but then, with the Bruins now in the penalty, Williams had the ball stolen from him by Gerald Madkins, who slammed it down to give UCLA the lead with 18 seconds left.

After an Arizona timeout, Olson went to Rooks in the post.  He missed a turnaround and Butler rebounded.  He was fouled by Muehlebach with 6 seconds left.  Butler missed the first but made the second.  UCLA led 86-84.  Arizona had to go full court.

Freshman Khalid Reeves got the ball and pushed it.  He tried to find Rooks inside but Sean fumbled away the pass.  Fortunately for Arizona, the loose ball went right to Chris Mills, who nailed a baseline jumper at the buzzer to send the game into overtime and send the crowd into a shock.

It might have killed UCLA emotionally but they stayed with it, trailing 96-94 with 1:33 to go after Martin hit a driving banker.  But Arizona ran down the shot clock and the ball went to Mills again, this time deliberately.

Mills drove baseline and hit a banker while drawing a foul.  The three-point play gave Arizona a 99-94 lead with 45 seconds left and, this time, UCLA didn’t recover.  Othick and Muehlebach finished the game with free throws.

Arizona would lose only one more Pac-10 game, at Oregon, and won their 4th straight title with a 14-4 conference record (the Pac-10 had a tournament from 1987-1990 but didn’t have one from 1991-2001).  But the Wildcats had some tough non-conference games to finish out the season.  They lost to Georgia Tech in a neutral setting and then got set to host Duke two weeks after this game.  The Wildcats had a home court winning streak to keep alive.

UCLA lost at USC four days later and their conference record went to 5-6.  But they won 6 of their last 7 games to finish 2nd in the Pac-10.  They were named a #4 seed in the East Regional but couldn’t duplicate their 1990 success as they were upset by 13th seeded Penn State 74-69 in the 1st round.  But they would be back and strong in 1992.

Arizona starters (points scored)

Chris Mills (12) – Small Forward

Brian Williams (32) – Power Forward

Ed Stokes (8) – Center

Matt Othick (11) – Point Guard

Matt Muehlebach (12) – Shooting Guard

Arizona bench (points scored)

Wayne Womack (8)

Sean Rooks (11)

Khalid Reeves (6)

Deron Johnson (2)

Case Schmidt (3)

Arizona Coach: Lute Olson

UCLA starters (points scored)

Mitchell Butler (11) – Small Forward

Tracy Murray (23) – Power Forward

Don MacLean (28) – Center

Darrick Martin (4) – Point Guard

Gerald Madkins (18) – Shooting Guard

UCLA bench (points scored)

Keith Owens (6)

Shon Tarver (2)

Zan Mason (2)

Rodney Zimmerman (0)

UCLA Coach: Jim Harrick

brian williams

Brian Williams, certainly the emotional leader of the Arizona Wildcats, had his best game against UCLA with 32 points (on 14-for-15 shooting) and 14 rebounds *photo courtesy of Tucson.com

February 11, 1991 – (#18)Georgetown Hoyas 55 @Connecticut Huskies 61

The Georgetown Hoyas had started the season ranked #9.  It was perhaps a bit too high, despite a victory over Duke.  Georgetown did have its twin towers in Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo.  But all the talent around them in 1990 was pretty much gone.

Mark Tillmon, Dwayne Bryant, Sam Jefferson, and Anthony Allen had finished out their careers as seniors.  But the players that were supposed to step in for them were gone too.  David Edwards transferred to Texas A&M, Michael Tate (or Michael Venson) went to James Madison University, and Milton Bell left for Richmond.  This left John Thompson starting three freshmen with Mourning and Mutombo.

Forward Robert Churchwell and guards Charles Harrison and Lamont Morgan came locally from D.C.  Point guard Joey Brown was from Louisiana.  Forward Brian Kelly was a JC transfer from Cincinnati.  Only Ronnie Thompson, the coaches son, got consistent playing time from the team that was there in 1990, other than Mourning and Mutombo.

Georgetown’s young guys had been impressive in grabbing a 16-point lead over Duke, but they also showed their inexperience as the Blue Devils cut it to 75-74 with 30 seconds left.  The Hoyas did hold them off but Mourning injured the arch of his foot late in the game.  He missed the next 9 games.  Georgetown lost 4 of those games, and then lost a two-point game versus Syracuse after Alonzo returned.  But then the Hoyas won 4 of their next 5 games and were suddenly tied with the Orangemen at the top of the Big East as they prepared to travel to Hartford, Connecticut.

UConn had either been scalding hot or freezing cold in their Big East play.  They won their first three conference games and then lost their next 6 (including two losses to Syracuse by a combined 4 points).  But they rebounded to beat Villanova and Boston College at home.  They were now tied with three other teams for 5th place in the Big East.  But they were only 1-5 against ranked teams and needed to prove that they could beat the best.

If it is possible for a Big East game to be uglier than normal, the 1st half of this game fit the bill.  There were a total of 33 free throws shot in the 1st half, and the team with the lead at halftime didn’t even reach 33 points.

A tone was set when Jim Calhoun and John Thompson were hit with technical fouls in the first 4 minutes.  Calhoun’s came after he thought a foul should have been called on Mutombo.  Thompson’s came after Mourning was called for a cheap 3rd foul.  Mourning, who was still rounding into form after his foot injury, sat for the rest of the 1st half and was scoreless.

Chris Smith seemed to be the only player on the floor who could score as he had 9 of UConn’s first 10 points, including a three, to give the Huskies a 10-5 lead.  But Georgetown went back into the lead as Mutombo controlled the defensive boards and the Hoyas hit enough free throws to take a 16-13 advantage.

Scott Burrell then tied it with a three and Smith followed with a steal and feed to John Gwynn for a layup.  UConn held the lead for the rest of the half (and the rest of the game, actually) and surged in the final 3 1/2 minutes.

Smith went coast-to-coast for a layup after a Burrell steal to give UConn a 26-20 lead.  Rod Sellers threw in a shot over his head.  Smith ended the half with a step-back jumper that was called a three-pointer, but replays showed his foot on the line.  Luckily for UConn, this was in the days before replay could be reviewed so it counted as a three.  Smith had 17 points and UConn had a 32-22 halftime lead.

Smith hit a leaner to give UConn a 12-point lead early in the 2nd half.  But then Georgetown went on an 8-0 brisk jog (one could hardly call it a run if it happened in a span of about 6 minutes).  UConn pulled back ahead 38-30 when Gwynn hit a banker and then went coast-to-coast after a steal.

A three-pointer from Gwynn and then another breakaway layup gave UConn a 47-36 lead with under 8 minutes to go.  Georgetown then made its run (or brisk jog) of the day.  Mourning hit 3 of 4 free throws (he did not have a field goal in this game).  Ronnie Thompson hit a jumper.  Robert Churchwell then concluded the run by following up a miss by Joey Brown to cut the lead to 47-43.

Mourning then committed his 4th foul and Burrell hit two free throws.  Thompson then finally released his only shooter and Charles Harrison made a three-pointer to cut the lead to 49-46.  Harrison had a chance to tie it with another three but missed from the corner.  Burrell rebounded and outletted to senior Lyman DePriest for a breakaway slam and a foul.

Although DePriest missed the free throw, that play put Georgetown away as Smith and Gwynn each hit a pair of free throws to make it 55-46 with 1:17 left.  Georgetown made it closer as Harrison hit two threes and then three free throws after being fouled on an attempt from behind the line.

But for the Hoyas, this loss started a bad streak that lasted until the Big East tournament.  They lost 4 of their final 5 games (their only win was against UConn) and fell to 6th place in the Big East at 8-8.

UConn would climb the 3rd place at 9-7 despite the loss to Georgetown.  But the Hoyas woke up in their 3rd meeting with the Huskies in the Big East Quarterfinals.  Georgetown destroyed them 68-49 and then beat Villanova 71-55 in the Semis.  Their run was cut short by Seton Hall in the Finals but may have saved them an NCAA tournament berth.

Unfortunately, as the 8th seed in the West Regional, a juggernaut was in their path.

Georgetown starters (points scored)

Robert Churchwell (4) – Small Forward

Alonzo Mourning (5) – Power Forward

Dikembe Mutombo (11) – Center

Joey Brown (7) – Point Guard

Charles Harrison (20) – Shooting Guard

Georgetown bench (points scored)

Brian Kelly (4)

Ronnie Thompson (2)

Lamont Morgan (2)

Georgetown Coach: John Thompson

Connecticut starters (points scored)

Scott Burrell (9) – Small Forward

Toraino Walker (1) – Power Forward

Rod Sellers (5) – Center

Steve Pikiell (2) – Point Guard

Chris Smith (27) – Shooting Guard

Connecticut bench (points scored)

John Gwynn (15)

Dan Cyrulik (0)

Lyman DePriest (2)

Connecticut Coach: Jim Calhoun

February 17, 1991 – (#4)Indiana Hoosiers 95 @(#2)Ohio State Buckeyes 97 (2OT)

For 1991, there was no question whatsoever about who the best teams in the Big Ten were.  Ohio State won their first 17 games before losing at Michigan State.  This included a win against Indiana in Bloomington.  Ohio State led by 19 at halftime, and by as much as 22 before holding off a Hoosier comeback 93-85.

The loss to Michigan State remained Ohio State’s only loss and they became #2 in the polls after Arkansas’ loss to UNLV.  The Buckeyes and coach Randy Ayers had a superstar in sophomore Jim Jackson.  Jackson became a 1st team All-American and Big Ten player of the year in 1991 after averaging 18.9 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game, 4.3 assists per game and 1.8 steals per game.

The Buckeyes also had some senior big men in Perry Carter and Treg Lee and junior guards in Mark Baker and Jamaal Brown.  All five starters averaged double figures.  The bench consisted of junior big men Bill Robinson and Chris Jent, sophomore guard Alex Davis, and freshman swingman Jamie Skelton.

Indiana’s loss to Ohio State in the first game was still their only defeat during the Big Ten season.  Indiana had been pretty consistently blowing out teams while Ohio State had a few scares here and there (like winning 73-71 at Wisconsin three days before this Indiana game when Mark Baker penetrated and made a turnaround jumper in the lane).

Both teams got off to a slow start and seemed pretty jittery in the first 2 minutes.  But then Jackson found Treg Lee for a slam in transition, the crowd got going, and so did the teams.  Calbert Cheaney, Indiana’s sophomore star, scored 7 points over the next few minutes and Jackson nearly matched him with 5.

Indiana would hold a slight lead over the next several minutes as Damon Bailey (the freshman sensation who was starting to come into his own a little bit) helped Cheaney with the offense.  But Ohio State stayed with them but had a critical play halfway through the 1st half that would end up impacting their season.

Mark Baker penetrated to the lane and kicked out to Jamaal Brown, who nailed a long two-pointer.  But Baker was on the ground writing in pain after coming down on somebody’s foot.  Baker’s sprained ankle kept him out for most of the rest of the game (he tried to play on it early in the 2nd half).  Baker’s role as the point guard on both ends of the court could not be undermined.  He set up the offense, pushed the ball in transition, and was perhaps their best perimeter defender.  Ayers also didn’t have a backup point man, so Jim Jackson filled in.  Baker never really recovered for the rest of the ’91 season and it may have cost the Buckeyes.

Indiana would hold a 42-40 halftime lead and were playing with much more confidence, obviously, than they had in the first half of the first matchup.

The teams would continue to battle evenly throughout the 2nd half.  Jackson and Perry Carter were the catalysts for Ohio State, with contributions from Brown and Lee.  Cheaney, Eric Anderson and Bailey were the big guns for Bob Knight as they led the way offensively.

The main men though were Jackson and Cheaney and they traded baskets to create a 64-all tie with 8 minutes to go.  Then Brown nailed a three to give Ohio State the lead.  But Anderson came right back with three straight Hoosier field goals while the Buckeyes went into a drought and Carter picked up his 4th foul.

Cheaney, despite committing his 4th foul with 4:31 to go, gave Indiana a 76-71 lead with a leaning banker from the baseline.  The Hoosiers had several chances to increase that lead but couldn’t do it.  They had to settle for a 77-72 lead with a minute to go.

This was still good position to be in but Bailey committed a foul on Brown and Jamaal hit two free throws.  Then with Indiana trying to kill the clock, Lee stole the ball from Cheaney and Calbert fouled him on the ensuing breakaway situation with 20 seconds left.  This was Cheaney’s 5th foul and Lee made both free throws to cut the lead to one.

Jackson then fouled Bailey with 12 seconds left and the freshman made the first but missed the second, leaving Indiana with only a 78-76 lead.  Ayers used a timeout with 7 seconds left.

He then got the ball in the hands of Jimmy Jackson up on top.  Jackson went 1-on-1 against Indiana’s best defender, Jamal Meeks, who was giving up some height and weight to Jackson (Jackson and the entire Ohio State front line could have passed for the football team, they were chiseled, especially for college kids).

Jackson got past Meeks with a cross-over and got into the lane for a little runner that went down at the buzzer and sent the game into overtime.  Jackson had already become known for his clutch play at Ohio State, winning some games as a freshman the previous season.  But this would take the cake as it was being billed as Ohio State’s biggest game in about 30 years, since they had made three straight National Championship games from 1960-62.

Both teams lost some big men in overtime as Matt Nover fouled out for the Hoosiers and the Buckeyes lost Chris Jent.  The biggest loss still was Cheaney but Damon Bailey tried to make up for it.  He found Anderson for a jumper in the post and then nailed a three for his 25th point and an 85-81 Indiana lead.

But Lee and Carter led Ohio State back to an 87-all tie.  Lee’s turnaround jumper from the baseline squared the game with 45 seconds to go.  Indiana then went for the last shot but showed that they did miss Cheaney.  Bailey couldn’t get anything off and finally found Chris Reynolds, who airballed a prayer at the buzzer.  2nd overtime.

Ohio State found an unlikely hero in the 2nd overtime as Skelton nailed two three-pointers.  The freshman was now in the game as Baker’s replacement and had shown he wasn’t shy as he had taken (and missed) some jumpers in the tail end of regulation and the first overtime.  But now he made two big ones.

It wouldn’t put Indiana away though as Bailey and Anderson made key field goals.  The Hoosiers had the ball again with under a minute to go and the game tied at 95.  But this time they couldn’t run out the game clock and Anderson missed a turnaround jumper from the post with 6 seconds remaining on the shot clock.

Lee rebounded with 24 seconds to go and Ohio State didn’t use a timeout.  They knew where they were going with the ball, and so did Indiana.  Jackson isolated up top and then penetrated to the lane again.  This time Indiana collapsed but Treg Lee snuck behind Greg Graham to the open spot on the baseline.  Jackson found him and Lee nailed a runner with 2 seconds left to give Ohio State the lead.

Indiana used two timeouts to set up strategy but could not get a good shot as Bailey hit nothing but backboard on a long turnaround three at the buzzer.  Ohio State had kept their streak going in front of a rowdy packed house in Columbus.

The Buckeyes would end up winning the Big Ten as both them and Indiana finished at 15-3.  Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Baker’s injury would be a big key in their late season slump when Ohio State lost at Purdue and Iowa to finish the Big Ten season.  Indiana lost their next game by one point to Iowa at home but won their final 5 games.

Indiana was named a #2 seed in the Southeast Regional.  They won easily over Coastal Carolina and Florida State but were demolished by 3rd seeded Kansas 83-65 in the Sweet 16.  Ohio State was named a #1 seed in the Midwest Regional but had a struggle with 16th seeded Towson before putting them away 97-86.  They would have another tough game with Georgia Tech in the 2nd round.

Indiana starters (points scored)

Calbert Cheaney (26) – Small Forward

Eric Anderson (20) – Power Forward

Matt Nover (10) – Center

Jamal Meeks (2) – Point Guard

Damon Bailey (32) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Chris Reynolds (1)

Greg Graham (4)

Pat Graham (0)

Chris Lawson (0)

Indiana Coach: Bob Knight

Ohio State starters (points scored)

Jim Jackson (30) – Small Forward

Treg Lee (14) – Power Forward

Perry Carter (22) – Center

Mark Baker (0) – Point Guard

Jamaal Brown (17) – Shooting Guard

Ohio State bench (points scored)

Bill Robinson (2)

Chris Jent (4)

Jamie Skelton (8)

Alex Davis (0)

Tom Brandewie (0)

Ohio State Coach: Randy Ayers

jim jackson osu

Jim Jackson was Ohio State’s All-American and made two clutch plays to help defeat Indiana on February 17, 1991 *photo courtesy of Eleven Warriors

February 20, 1991 – (#5)Syracuse Orangemen 72 @(#18)St. John’s Red Men 77

Lou Carnesecca’s last good team had been building for two years.  The starting lineup were all upper-classmen, but only one senior.  And they had risen to as high as 5th in the polls in 1991, it seemed like perhaps their chance.

The Red Men were led by junior forward Malik Sealy, who averaged 22.6 points per game, along with 7.7 rebounds.  Sealy was the clear star and the future NBA standout.  Senior Billy Singleton manned the forward spot along with Sealy.  Junior Robert Werdann was in the middle, and fellow juniors Jason Buchanan and Chucky Sproling in the back court.

St. John’s had freshman big man Shawnelle Scott and sophomore point guard David Cain coming off the bench to get most of the reserves’ playing time.  This team started off the season at 9-0 and then were 15-2 at the end of January and ranked #5.

The Red Men then went into a slump and lost 4 of their next 6 games (1-3 on the road) and fell back into the middle of the pack, and were three games behind Syracuse, who was at the top of the standings.  The Orangemen had given St. John’s their first loss of the season in overtime at the Carrier Dome.

Syracuse had won 10 of their last 11 games, but not all was totally well.  Syracuse was being investigated after some testimonials for the book, “Raw Recruits.”  The investigation made the program a little bit uptight, and ended up costing them an NCAA tournament appearance in 1993, as well as lost scholarships and the like.

For whatever reason, in this game, Syracuse started out lackadaisical.  St. John’s wasn’t burning the nets either but at least they were putting the ball in the basket.  Werdann tipped in a miss, Singleton got two layups, and Sproling got two layups after turnovers.  St. John’s had a 10-0 lead 5 minutes into the game.

It got worse.  A free throw from Sinlgeton, a banker by Sealy and then a steal and layup by Sproling made it 15-0.  Finally, a three by Dave Johnson put the Orangemen on the board.  But they would still trail 22-5 with 9:12 to go and had given up 18 points in the paint to the Red Men.

But then the game did a complete 180.  Johnson hit two more threes and Billy Owens, who had missed his first 8 shot attempts, hit two jumpers and then a lefty banker on the drive.  Johnson’s fourth three-pointer cut the lead to 24-20.

Two free throws by Buchanan put St. John’s up by 6 with 3:49 left.  But Johnson and Owens then scored the next 8 points to give Syracuse the lead.  St. John’s had gone completely cold and was giving up turnovers against the Syracuse pressure.

Carnesecca’s Red Men did manage to re-grab the lead with three free throws.  Then Malik Sealy raced down a long inbounds pass and nailed a corner three at the halftime buzzer to give St. John’s a 32-28 advantage at the break.

Owens had hit 6 of his last 7 field goals and had 12 points while Johnson had 14.  St. John’s had a more balanced attack as Sproling and Singleton each had 7, Buchanan 6, and Sealy 5.

It would be more of the same in the 2nd half.  Jim Boeheim could not get anybody going outside of Johnson and Owens.  LeRon Ellis was saddled by foul trouble.  Adrian Autry struggled upon his return to his home area.  He eventually fouled out without scoring a point.

St. John’s kept the lead as Sealy scored 6 points early in the 2nd half by getting on the offensive boards.  Sealy was also in double figures rebounding.  His three-point play gave the Red Men a 53-45 lead with under 8:00 to go.

St. John’s got their lead to as much as 13 before Syracuse started bombing away threes to finally get some offensive momentum going.  A three-point play by Owens followed by triples from Michael Edwards, Owens, and Johnson (twice) eventually cut the lead to 73-70 with under a minute to go.

St. John’s had made a habit out of splitting their pairs of free throws most of the time.  But Syracuse had lost three players to fouls and were out of timeouts.

Buchanan was fouled with 27 seconds to go.  He made two free throws to put the Red Men ahead 75-70.  Buchanan then stole the inbounds pass and laid it in to finish off the ball game.

Both teams finished the regular season by winning their final three games.  Syracuse won the Big East regular season title with a 12-4 record and St. John’s finished 2nd at 10-6.  So it seemed like they were on a collision course for a third matchup in the Big East title game.

It didn’t happen.  Both were upset in the Big East Quarterfinals.  Syracuse lost to 8th seeded Villanova 70-68 while St. John’s fell to 7th seeded Providence 72-64.

St. John’s rebounded after being named a #4 seed in the Midwest Regional.  They beat Northern Illinois and Texas in the first two rounds before upsetting top-seeded Ohio State in a big way, 91-74, in the Sweet 16.  But they lost to Duke 78-61 in the Regional Final.  Carnesecca retired following the 1992 season in which St. John’s underachieved by going 19-11 and losing to Tulane in the 1st round of the NCAA tournament.

Syracuse would not recover from its Big East tournament loss despite being named a #2 seed in the East Regional.  They would end up on the wrong side of history.

Syracuse starters (points scored)

Dave Johnson (25) – Small Forward

Billy Owens (28) – Power Forward

LeRon Ellis (4) – Center

Michael Edwards (13) – Point Guard

Adrian Autry (0) – Shooting Guard

Syracuse bench (points scored)

Conrad McRae (2)

Mike Hopkins (0)

Scott McCorkle (0)

Syracuse Coach: Jim Boeheim

St. John’s starters (points scored)

Malik Sealy (23) – Small Forward

Billy Singleton (12) – Power Forward

Robert Werdann (11) – Center

Jason Buchanan (12) – Point Guard

Chucky Sproling (14) – Shooting Guard

St. John’s bench (points scored)

Shawnelle Scott (5)

David Cain (0)

Sean Muto (0)

St. John’s Coach: Lou Carnesecca

malik sealy

Malik Sealy led Lou Carnesecca’s last good team past Syracuse and eventually to the Elite Eight in 1991 *photo courtesy of New York Daily News

February 23, 1991 – (#20)Virginia Cavaliers 76 @N.C. State Wolfpack 83

The Wolfpack still had not lost at home.  But then again they hadn’t played an ACC home game since beating North Carolina.  They did have an impressive 60-59 win over UConn.  In that game, Rodney Monroe became the all-time leading scorer at N.C. State.

But the Wolfpack fell back to 6-5 in the ACC after losing at Duke.  This tied them with Wake Forest for 3rd place.  Virginia was a half-game behind.

The Cavaliers, at one point, were 17-4 and as low as #11 in the polls.  But they got into the tougher part of their schedule with road games at Duke, North Carolina, and Wake Forest.  They went 0-3 in that stretch and then lost at home to Georgia Tech a week later.  Now they were 19-8, and looking to right the ship.

Virginia’s biggest change from 1990 was at coach.  Terry Holland retired and became the Athletic Director at Davidson.  Assistant and former player Jeff Jones took over.  The stars were junior forward Bryant Stith and senior point guard John Crotty.  Senior forward Kenny Turner also averaged double figures.  The other starters were sophomore center Ted Jeffries and junior guard Anthony Oliver, who did not start in this game because he was recovering from a broken hand.  Freshman Cornel Parker started in his place.  Other reserves included the football quarterback Matt Blundin, sophomore point guard Doug Smith and senior Dirk Katstra.

For the Wolfpack, Chris Corchiani came into the game 10 assists away from becoming the all-time leader in NCAA history.  But early on, Virginia’s defense forced him to score.  He had 9 points early on and N.C. State had a lead.  But Rodney Monroe could not get off, he didn’t even get many shot attempts.  Tom Gugliotta wasn’t scoring either.  This was a pending disaster waiting to happen.

Kenny Turner got open to score 13 points in the first 12 minutes.  Bryant Stith contributed 9 points, including 5 in a row that put Virginia up 30-23.  Their lead was about at that margin until the final 2 1/2 minutes, when they increased it.

Crotty hit a driving layup and then a three that put the Cavaliers ahead 43-32 and forced Les Robinson to use a timeout.  It didn’t help as N.C. State couldn’t score for the rest of the half.  Meanwhile, Blundin hit a baseline jumper and then Turner hit a banker from the post with 5.3 seconds left to make the halftime margin 47-32.

It got worse for the Wolfpack to start the 2nd half.  Corchiani picked up his 3rd foul.  Stith and Crotty hit field goals and it was now 52-32 Cavaliers.  But then it all changed.

Rodney Monroe connected on a three for his 5th point of the game.  Corchiani hit a pull-up jumper in transition.  Gugliotta tipped in a Monroe miss.  Corchiani drove for a layup and then found Monroe for a jumper from the top.  Suddenly, in four minutes, the lead was down to nine.

Then in three subsequent minutes, the lead was down to four.  Gugliotta hit a three from the top and Monroe got a three-point play.  Jeff Jones had to call a timeout with 13:13 to go and the lead down to 55-51.  It was estimated as the one of the fastest comebacks of all time, by amazed broadcasters.

But Virginia kept their lead for awhile despite Monroe continuing to score.  His three cut it to 67-65 with 6 minutes to go.  Crotty responded with a three but Monroe hit four consecutive free throws.  Then the Wolfpack finally took the lead when Rodney hit a jumper from the top.

Monroe then hit a banker from the wing after a spin move to give N.C. State a 75-72 lead.  Stith missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Turner missed two shots in the lane.  Turner then fouled Kevin Thompson on the rebound and Thompson, a 53% foul shooter in 1991, made both free throws.

It was pretty much over from there as Corchiani and Monroe finished out the game with free throws.  Monroe had 30 points in the 2nd half while Corchiani only got 8 assists.  But he did eventually set the all-time assist record, which would be broken two years later by Bobby Hurley.

N.C. State, after its win and a subsequent win over Maryland, was all set up to be the 3rd seed going into the ACC tournament.  They took their undefeated home record against rival Wake Forest.  However, the Demon Deacons pulled out an 89-84 win and would get the #3 seed and host Virginia in the quarterfinals.

Virginia tied with Georgia Tech for 5th place by finishing at 6-8.  But Tech had swept them during the regular season and earned the higher seed.  This meant that they played the Wolfpack, who had tied with Wake for 3rd but had been swept in the season series.  N.C. State won that matchup 82-68 but got killed by Duke in the next round.

N.C. State earned a #6 seed in the East Regional and lost to 3rd seeded Oklahoma State 73-64 in the 2nd round.  It would be the Wolfpack’s last tournament appearance until 2000.

Virginia starters (points scored)

Bryant Stith (18) – Small Forward

Kenny Turner (25) – Power Forward

Ted Jeffries (2) – Center

John Crotty (19) – Point Guard

Cornel Parker (2) – Shooting Guard

Virginia bench (points scored)

Anthony Oliver (6)

Matt Blundin (2)

Doug Smith (2)

Dirk Katstra (0)

Virginia Coach: Jeff Jones

N.C. State starters (points scored)

Bryant Feggins (12) – Small Forward

Tom Gugliotta (9) – Power Forward

Kevin Thompson (10) – Center

Chris Corchiani (18) – Point Guard

Rodney Monroe (32) – Shooting Guard

N.C. State bench (points scored)

Migjen Bakalli (2)

N.C. State Coach: Les Robinson

corchiani and monroe

Rodney Monroe (left) and Chris Corchiani made up one of the all-time greatest backcourts in NCAA history. *photo courtesy of Rush the Court

February 24, 1991 – (#7)Duke Blue Devils 96 @(#9)Arizona Wildcats 103 (2OT)

The Duke Blue Devils had a 7-game winning streak going before dropping a game at Wake Forest.  They rebounded by beating N.C. State and holding Rodney Monroe to 4 second half points.  But there were still some chinks in the Blue Devil armor, mainly the free throw line and a lack of a big man behind Christian Laettner.

The latter would especially be a problem against the likes of Brian Williams, Ed Stokes, and Sean Rooks.  Duke was also battling the aura of the McKale Center in Tucson, Arizona.  The Wildcats had won 60 games in a row there coming into this game.  It was a streak that went back to the 1987 NCAA tournament.

Duke was 23-5 and Arizona was 21-5.  It was a big matchup for seeding and for confidence.  Despite Chris Mills scoring 6 early points, Duke stayed with Arizona and didn’t let their big men get off early on.  The Blue Devils trailed 14-13 eight minutes into the game.

But Duke was also missing some quality chances on seemingly easy field goal attempts.  They were also 10-for-17 from the foul line in the 1st half and couldn’t take advantage of 16 Arizona turnovers.

The Blue Devils had as much as a 28-21 lead after Williams committed his 3rd foul.  But Arizona came back to tie it at 31 at the half.  Laettner and Mills led their respective teams with 10 points.

The 2nd half was played much better.  Both teams took and delivered punches.  Brian Williams was much more effective inside after only 4 1st half points.

The biggest thing he did was that he kept drawing fouls on Duke.  Thomas Hill, who had 9 1st half points, and Grant Hill each picked up their 4th fouls.  But Arizona was now missing their free throw attempts and Duke hung around helped by their bench.

Billy McCaffrey and senior Greg Koubek hit three-pointers.  McCaffrey then hit another jumper to give Duke a 52-50 lead with 11:38 to go.  Laettner followed with a three-point play but Arizona crawled back in the next minute to tie the game at 55.

Koubek then got credit for a driving basket when goaltending was called on Wayne Womack.  Koubek hit a subsequent free throw to complete the three-point play and then Laettner hit a hook shot in the lane.  Brian Williams brought Arizona back into a 60-all tie with two field goals.

Matt Othick then committed his 4th foul for Arizona and Laettner hit two free throws for his 20th point.  Bobby Hurley followed with a three and Duke had its third five-point lead in the last 4 minutes.

But for the third straight time, Arizona tied it with a 5-0 run after Thomas Hill fouled out.  Freshman Khalid Reeves capped it with a driving layup against Hurley and Mike Krzyzewski called a timeout with 6:52 to go.

Laettner picked up his 4th foul 27 seconds later but Duke was able to maintain a 70-68 lead when Koubek hit his second three.  Sean Rooks then tied it with a layup after recovering a loose ball.

While Arizona had dominated inside, there was a mis-match that Duke could go to and they did in the late going.  Grant Hill, as the power forward, took Brian Williams outside and went 1-on-1 against him.  This produced two baskets and a 74-70 Duke lead.

Lute Olson used a timeout with 2:27 to go but Hurley got a steal and Mills committed his 4th foul.  But the Blue Devils missed their chance to take a 6-point lead in the late going when Brian Davis missed two free throws.

Mills hit a pull-up in the lane with 1:09 to go.  The teams exchanged turnovers before Wayne Womack fouled Grant Hill with 47.1 seconds to go.  Hill was a 64% foul shooter as a freshman but made these two for a 76-72 Duke lead.

Matt Muehlebach fed Brian Williams for a layup and Arizona used their last timeout with 33.1 seconds to go.  They put on their press and Muehlebach stole a Laettner feed to Hill.  Muehlebach then found Womack for a layup to tie the game at 76.  Duke called a timeout with 18.8 to go.

They went to Laettner, who drove and drew Williams’ 4th foul with 12.2 left.  Laettner, who had missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 1 second to go in a 77-75 loss to Arizona in 1989, calmly made both shots.

Arizona was without a timeout but Othick found Rooks inside for a spinning hook in the lane to tie it again.  Duke used a timeout with 1.6 to go but couldn’t get a shot off.

The first overtime would be more of the same.  Williams scored two baskets while Rooks got another layup.  Duke almost matched them as Koubek and Laettner hit field goals, but they still trailed 86-83 with under 1 1/2 to go.  But McCaffrey penetrated and found Hurley for an open three in the corner to tie the game.

Williams then missed two free throws and committed his 5th foul when Grant Hill went 1-on-1 against him again.  Williams had had another strong game but watched Hill hit two more free throws with 29.7 seconds to go.

Arizona could not get into a crisp offensive set and were lucky to have Duke deflect it out of bounds with 14 seconds remaining.  Muehlebach was then able to find a cutting Mills for a baseline runner on the inbounds to tie the game again.  Muehlebach then stole the ball from Hurley but his prayer shot wasn’t answered.

However, it was Muehlebach that got Arizona off to a strong start in the second overtime.  He hit a three and then two free throws with 3:42 to go to give Arizona a 95-88 lead.  Muehlebach then put in the dagger by penetrating and finding Sean Rooks for a slam that gave the Wildcats a 99-91 lead with 1:22 to go.

Arizona’s streak lived on and would for the rest of the season.  They won the Pac-10 and were a #2 seed in the West Regional.  They wouldn’t get a chance to play UNLV though as Seton Hall upset them 81-77 in the Sweet 16.  The Pirates, who are featured in the next game, made a late run in the Big East.

This loss didn’t cost Duke anything in the ACC, they went into the final game of the season against North Carolina tied for the top spot with the Tarheels at 10-3.  It would be another big game in this rivalry.

Duke starters (points scored)

Brian Davis (8) – Small Forward

Grant Hill (19) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (26) – Center

Bobby Hurley (14) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (11) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Billy McCaffrey (5)

Greg Koubek (11)

Crawford Palmer (2)

Clay Buckley (0)

Antonio Lang (0)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Arizona starters (points scored)

Chris Mills (19) – Small Forward

Brian Williams (26) – Power Forward

Ed Stokes (11) – Center

Matt Othick (7) – Point Guard

Matt Muehlebach (14) – Shooting Guard

Arizona bench (points scored)

Sean Rooks (16)

Khalid Reeves (7)

Wayne Womack (3)

Case Schmidt (0)

Deron Johnson (0)

Arizona Coach: Lute Olson

chris mills

After transferring from Kentucky, Chris Mills had some clutch heroics in his first season at Arizona *photo courtesy of ebay

February 27, 1991 – (#20)Seton Hall Pirates 60 @Connecticut Huskies 62 (OT)

On the same night that president George H.W. Bush announced that the Gulf War had ended, the two surprise teams from the Big East over the last two seasons competed in a huge late-season matchup (I know the events pale in comparison, but this is a basketball blog and this game just happened to fall on an important date in U.S. history.  So, yes, I will be talking about the least important event of the two because I’m more of an expert, nerd alert, in that).

The Connecticut Huskies had won 4 Big East games in a row following their 6 straight losses, but a defeat at Georgetown set them back to 7-7 and needing a win to secure an NCAA tournament bid (although the Big East ended up sending 7 teams, Villanova’s upset of Syracuse in the Big East tournament secured their bid as it was their second defeat of Syracuse that season).

Seton Hall at one point was 5-6 in the Big East and 13-7 overall.  But then they went on a 5-game winning streak (three against Big East teams) and were now tied for 4th place in the conference.

The Pirates only had one player remaining from their 1989 team that was seconds away from winning a national championship.  It happened to be their star in 1991.  Senior big man Anthony Avent averaged over 18 points per game and 10 rebounds in Big East competition.  Their leading scorer was sophomore guard Terry Dehere, who averaged over 20 points in Big East competition.  Avent and Dehere, along with coach P.J. Carlesimo, would be the only ones from Seton Hall who eventually saw an NBA game.

Senior point guard Oliver Taylor was the third and last Pirate who averaged in double figures.  The rest of the lineup included junior forward Gordon Winchester, sophomore forward Jerry Walker and freshmen Bryan Caver and Lithuanian Arturas Karnishovas.

As typical for a Big East game in this era, there wasn’t much scoring.  For UConn, Scott Burrell got an early steal and slam.  He then found Toraino Walker with a long pass for a slam and a quick 4-0 UConn lead.  But then the Huskies went scoreless for the next 9 minutes and 50 seconds.

Seton Hall responded as Avent put back a miss and then got a three-point play on an up-and-under move in the post.  But then Seton Hall scored 1 point over the next 8 minutes.

Senior John Gwynn (who, along with Lyman DePriest and Murray Williams, were celebrating senior night) hit a jumper from the elbow to break UConn’s drought.  Bryan Caver then hit a runner to break Seton Hall’s drought.  Chris Smith connected on a three (his first field goal in 9 attempts) to tie the game at 9 at the 7:54 mark.

But the scoring, kind of, opened up from there.  A slam from Burrell and a pull-up jumper from Gwynn put UConn up 15-11.  But Terry Dehere answered with a three and Avent hit a banker from the post to give Seton Hall the lead.

Avent and Dehere took care of the Pirate scoring for the rest of the half while Rod Sellers got going for UConn with 5 points.  Seton Hall led 27-24 at the break.

Sellers kept his momentum going with 9 points early in the 2nd half as UConn took the lead.  They stretched it to 41-34 when Burrell hit a running banker in the lane.  Then Smith, UConn’s leading scorer, connected on only his second field goal on a baseline jumper to stretch the lead to nine.

But the Huskies then went into another drought thanks to Seton Hall’s defense, which had been their biggest key in their 5-game winning streak.  Caver drove down the lane for a layup and then Dehere and Taylor connected on threes to cut the lead to 43-42 with 6:19 remaining.

UConn was able to keep the lead, despite missing several free throws, thanks to Sellers.  Rod had been out-played badly by Avent in the first matchup between these two teams (a 76-62 Seton Hall victory in January), but he out-scored Avent and nearly matched him on the boards as both players got double-doubles.

The Huskies took a 51-48 lead with a minute and a half to go and seemed poised to increase it when Smith got a steal and had Burrell on a breakaway.  But Dehere and Karnishovas got back.  Dehere cut off Burrell’s angle and Karnishovas flew in for the blocked shot that saved Seton Hall in regulation.

Dehere then tied it with a step-back three from the top at the 1:13 mark.  UConn called a timeout and ran down the clock.  Smith penetrated and found Sellers, who was fouled by Avent with 28.3 seconds remaining.  Sellers, a 56% foul shooter, managed to split a pair.

Seton Hall called a timeout but couldn’t find an open man.  So finally, Taylor drove against Gwynn and drew a foul from DePriest on a reach-in with 1.4 seconds left.  Taylor was an 86% foul shooter in Big East competition, but his first free throw went in-and-out, much to the delight of the UConn crowd at Gampel Pavilion.

Taylor made the second free throw to tie the game at 52.  DePriest airballed a prayer from half-court and the game was headed into overtime.

UConn struck first from the field as Burrell found DePriest inside.  Lyman laid a quick pass to Sellers for a layup and a foul.  The three-point play gave Sellers 21 points and gave UConn a 55-53 lead.  But Dehere answered with a three and Caver hit two free throws.  Seton Hall led 58-55 with over 3 minutes remaining.

Gwynn hit a jumper from the top.  Avent rebounded a miss and hit a hook shot for only his 6th point of the 2nd half.  Then Gwynn backed into the lane and hit a reverse flip shot while drawing a foul.  The three-point play tied the game at 60 with 2:27 to go.

The teams then went back to their scoreless ways.  Gwynn got a steal but Smith missed a breakaway layup.  Seton Hall missed a jumper but got the ball back after UConn deflected it out of bounds.  But then Burrell stole an entry pass to the post and UConn would hold for the last shot.  They called a timeout with 13.2 seconds remaining.

Despite the Huskies star, Chris Smith, going 3-for-17 from the field so far, Jim Calhoun went to him.  Smith penetrated into the lane but was short on a pull-up jumper.  Two Seton Hall players went after the rebound, and it looked like Avent had it.  But they lost the ball and Smith got it back.

Smith then put up a fall-away jumper from the wing in the last second and made it as the buzzer sounded.  UConn had a big win that had sealed an NCAA tournament bid, according to the “experts” at ESPN.

It did end up pushing UConn past Seton Hall in the standings as both teams finished at 9-7 in the Big East, tied for 3rd place with Pitt.  But UConn got the #3 seed in the tournament while Seton Hall was 4th.  The Huskies were drilled by Georgetown 68-49 in the quarterfinals and settled for a #11 seed in the Midwest Regional.

The Huskies beat Shaquille O’Neal and LSU 79-62 in the 1st round and then beat Xavier 66-50 in the 2nd round.  But they ran into a familiar opponent in the Sweet 16.

Despite the loss, Seton Hall kept their late-season momentum going as this would be their only defeat from February 5 until March 23.  The Pirates beat Pitt and Villanova in close games in the Big East tournament before downing Georgetown 74-62 in the championship.

They were then named a #3 seed in the West Regional.  The Pirates beat back Pepperdine and Creighton in the first two rounds before upsetting 2nd seeded Arizona 81-77 in the Sweet 16.  Their run ended in the Regional Finals when they lost to UNLV 77-65.

Seton Hall starters (points scored)

Gordon Winchester (0) – Small Forward

Arturas Karnishovas (3) – Power Forward

Anthony Avent (16) – Center

Oliver Taylor (15) – Point Guard

Terry Dehere (18) – Shooting Guard

Seton Hall bench (points scored)

Bryan Caver (8)

Jerry Walker (0)

Assaf Barnea (0)

Seton Hall Coach: P.J. Carlesimo

Connecticut starters (points scored)

Scott Burrell (13) – Small Forward

Toraino Walker (2) – Power Forward

Rod Sellers (21) – Center

Steve Pikiell (0) – Point Guard

Chris Smith (11) – Shooting Guard

Connecticut bench (points scored)

John Gwynn (11)

Lyman DePriest (4)

Dan Cyrulik (0)

Gilad Katz (0)

Connecticut Coach: Jim Calhoun

March 3, 1991 – (#8)Duke Blue Devils 83 @(#4)North Carolina Tarheels 77

Both rivals were 10-3 in the ACC, tied for the top going into the final game.  The last time this had happened was 1978, when Phil Ford led North Carolina to a close victory.

But for now, it was the senior day for Rick Fox, Pete Chilcutt, and King Rice.  North Carolina had won 7 in a row since their loss at N.C. State.  Duke had won 9 of 11 games since their loss at N.C. State in January.

The charged atmosphere at the Dean Dome saw King Rice get the first basket of the game with a spin and a banker in the lane.  It would be North Carolina’s last lead.

Grant Hill found Bobby Hurley for a baseline jumper and then Hill drove baseline for a slam.  A Hill feed to Brian Davis for a dunk and a foul put Duke up 8-2 early on and put 3 fouls on George Lynch.

Grant Hill got off to the quickest start for Duke with 7 points in the first 10 minutes to keep the Blue Devils ahead.  Hubert Davis came off the UNC bench and kept the Tarheels in the game during that stretch with 6 points.

But once Christian Laettner got involved, Duke ran up its lead.  Laettner scored his first basket on a baseline drive to put Duke up 23-16.  He later got two layups off feeds from Hurley and Hill.  Duke now led 29-18 with 7:45 remaining.

Rick Fox would get his first field goal to stem the tide and Chilcutt followed with his 4th point.  But this run would be thwarted by a Bobby Hurley cross-court alley-oop (from about 30 feet away) to Grant Hill.

Threes by Hurley and Greg Koubek made it a 39-26 Duke advantage with under 4 minutes to go.  Carolina was able to cut it to 46-36 at the half.

The lead was down to six early in the 2nd half but then Laettner penetrated and found Grant Hill for a slam.  Hurley then found Hill and Laettner for layups and the lead was back to 12.

Duke would steadily increase it as they beat Carolina’s trap for several three-point shots.  Hurley and Koubek each hit one.  Billy McCaffrey nailed a baseline jumper when a ball that was knocked away went right to him.  Hurley then nailed another three to put Duke up 67-48.

Hubert Davis would respond with North Carolina’s first three-pointer of the game.  Rice then got a three-point play on a runner off the glass.  Lynch then put back a miss after Carolina recovered several loose balls on that possession.  The lead was now down to 67-56 with 9:37 remaining.

A layup by Lynch after Davis saved a ball from going out of bounds cut the lead to 67-60 and the crowd was alive.  But Hurley silenced them with a pull-up from the elbow for his 18th point.  But he and Laettner committed their 4th fouls with under 7 minutes remaining.

But Duke slowed the tempo and Carolina could not make a run for a few minutes.  Finally, Davis got a three-point play after a steal and then Brian Reese got a steal and slam.  This cut the lead to 73-68.

Now back in the game, Laettner hit two free throws after being fouled in the back court.  Chilcutt answered with a three and the lead was down to 75-71 with 2:45 left.

Duke managed to hit 3-of-4 free throws over the next 25 seconds but Fox nailed a three and it was 78-74 with 2 minutes to go.  Duke ran down the shot clock and the ball ended up in the hands of Thomas Hill, who had been the clutch man for Duke so far this season.  Hill hit a pull-up from the baseline with 1:17 to go to put the Devils up six.

But then Hurley fouled Chilcutt on a three-point attempt with 1:08 remaining and Hurley fouled out.  Chilcutt made all three free throws.  It was a one possession game.  Carolina got a stop and had a chance to tie it with a three.

Chilcutt first bricked a trey from the top.  The Tarheels rebounded and had another chance.  But the open man ended up being freshman Derrick Phelps, who would never really become a strong shooter in his next three seasons at UNC.  Phelps airballed a three from the corner and Chilcutt fouled Koubek with 17 seconds left.  North Carolina ended up finishing 3-for-17 on three-pointers.

Koubek split his free throws but made it a two-possession game.  Thomas Hill then rebounded a missed three from Fox and hit his two free throws to seal the issue.

Duke would now be the #1 seed in the ACC tournament, which brought on unique circumstances in 1991 because Maryland was ineligible due to probation.  With still only 8 teams in the ACC (Florida State joined next season) and Maryland out, Duke got a 1st round bye while Carolina had to play Clemson.

The Tarheels got by the Tigers by only 8 points while Duke killed N.C. State in the Semifinals 93-72 to reach the championship game.  North Carolina would have to survive a tough semifinal to get its rematch with Duke.

Duke starters (points scored)

Brian Davis (5) – Small Forward

Grant Hill (16) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (18) – Center

Bobby Hurley (18) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (10) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Greg Koubek (10)

Billy McCaffrey (4)

Clay Buckley (2)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Rick Fox (14) – Small Forward

George Lynch (8) – Power Forward

Pete Chilcutt (18) – Center

King Rice (7) – Point Guard

Henrik Rodl (2) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Hubert Davis (16)

Clifford Rozier (2)

Eric Montross (6)

Derrick Phelps (0)

Brian Reese (4)

Pat Sullivan (0)

Matt Wenstrom (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

March 8, 1991 – ACC Quarterfinals: Virginia Cavaliers 70, Wake Forest Demon Deacons 66

On February 2, Virginia defeated Wake Forest at home 83-80.  At the time, Virginia was 5-2 in the ACC, a half a game behind Duke.  Wake Forest meanwhile was 3-4 and in 6th place.

But then things turned around for both teams.  In a stretch of 4 days, Virginia lost at Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest.  That started a 3-6 skid to finish the season in 6th place in the ACC.

Wake Forest meanwhile steadily climbed the standings and had some big wins.  They beat Duke at home 86-77 as former Georgetown Hoya Anthony Tucker had a career-high 31 points.  Then in the final game of the season, with 3rd place on the line, Wake gave N.C. State their first home loss of the season 89-84.

Along with Tucker, 2nd year head coach Dave Odom had started to recruit some talent to Winston-Salem.  There was juniors Chris King and Derrick McQueen and senior guard Robert Siler, who was coming back from two reconstructive knee surgeries (on the same knee).

But the big recruit was a freshman and a 1990 McDonald’s All-American from Duke’s own backyard in Durham, 6’7″ 235 lb Rodney Rogers.  Rogers ended up being the ACC freshman of the year as he led Wake Forest at 16 points per game and 7.9 rebounds per game.

Wake Forest also had another freshman who would make a future impact in guard Randolph Childress.  Childress came off the bench to average 14.1 points per game (3rd on the team) and got most of point guard Derrick McQueen’s playing time in this game.  There was also big man Trelonnie Owens in the freshman class of Odom.

All had a big impact as Wake finished the ACC season at 8-6 and 18-9 overall.  But they didn’t seem to being that much buzz to Charlotte for the ACC tournament.

With this game being the last of the day (last of 3 games with Duke getting the bye), the crowd that was left was very subdued, even with the Demon Deacons being a school within the state.

This may have helped contribute to the game getting off to a slow start, but the game must continue.  Bryant Stith hit two field goals to give Virginia an 8-4 lead with over 6 minutes gone by.  But Wake came back with a 7-0 run started from a three-point play by Rogers.

This would be essentially how the game went as neither team could get too far away.  A three-point play by John Crotty capped a Virginia 5-0 run to put them up 22-17 and Rogers picked up his 2nd foul with 7:45 left in the 1st half.

But Rodney stayed in and scored 5 of Wake’s 7 points on their 7-0 run.  He later tip-slammed a miss by Siler with just his left hand.  But Virginia was able to grab a 33-30 lead when Crotty nailed a three for his 11th point.  The Cavaliers held on to a 33-32 lead at the break.

Virginia held the lead through the first 6 minutes of the 2nd half and then Rogers picked up his 4th foul and sat for 6 minutes.  It seemed like it would be an advantage to the Cavaliers but Childress hit a three to put Wake up 39-38.

Then Tucker and King made field goals and before you knew it, Wake Forest was up 46-42.  But then Bryant Stith showed up again with 5 straight points and then an assist to Crotty on a pull-up jumper to force a Wake Forest timeout.

Virginia kept its run going as Kenny Turner and Crotty made threes to increase the lead to seven.  The biggest was at 62-54 with under 4 minutes to go.  But then Rogers, who had been back in the game for several minutes, re-emerged as a scorer with a three and then a driving layup to cut the lead to 62-59.

But then with 2:43 left, Stith drove, scored and was fouled.  The three-point play made it 65-59.  But Childress nailed a three from the wing to cut it back to three with 2:29 to go.

Wake Forest would cut it to 65-64 a minute later when Tucker put back a missed turnaround jumper by Rogers.  But Virginia would get two chances after Turner offensive rebounded a quick miss by Crotty.  Crotty would then drive baseline for a layup after Virginia used the shot clock.

Wake Forest’s only attempt to tie it would be unsuccessful when Rogers missed a trey from the top.  Virginia would then salt the game away from the line and had its best win since defeating Wake Forest on February 2.

They would now take on North Carolina in the semifinals.  Wake Forest, meanwhile, would earn a #5 seed in the Southeast Regional.  They beat Louisiana Tech 71-65 before losing to 4th seeded Alabama 96-88 in the 2nd round.

But this would begin a string of 7 consecutive tournament appearances for Wake Forest, as well as lots of success in the ACC and lots of incoming talent.

Virginia starters (points scored)

Bryant Stith (14) – Small Forward

Kenny Turner (15) – Power Forward

Ted Jeffries (4) – Center

John Crotty (23) – Point Guard

Anthony Oliver (12) – Shooting Guard

Virginia bench (points scored)

Matt Blundin (2)

Cornel Parker (0)

Dirk Katstra (0)

Virginia Coach: Jeff Jones

Wake Forest starters (points scored)

Anthony Tucker (10) – Small Forward

Chris King (13) – Power Forward

Rodney Rogers (23) – Center

Derrick McQueen (4) – Point Guard

Robert Siler (0) – Shooting Guard

Wake Forest bench (points scored)

Randolph Childress (12)

Trelonnie Owens (4)

Wake Forest Coach: Dave Odom

March 9, 1991 – ACC Semifinals: Virginia Cavaliers 71, (#7)North Carolina Tarheels 76

North Carolina, after losing out on the ACC regular season title and a first round bye on the final day of the season, struggled and looked lethargic in their first round matchup against Clemson.

They won 67-59 but were hardly impressive and heard about it from coach Dean Smith.  In the first half of their semifinal game against Virginia, they looked like a top team in the nation.

Virginia had salvaged a 3-6 finish to the season by winning their quarterfinal game against Wake Forest, and perhaps locked up a tournament berth.  But they had made a run to the ACC finals in 1990 and were looking to repeat that in ’91.

They stayed with Carolina through the first 10 minutes as John Crotty scored 7 points and Bryant Stith had 6.  It was tied at 19 before North Carolina ripped off an 18-4 spurt.

The big advantages for the Tarheels were their bench (who led the spurt) and their rebound advantage (30-11 in the 1st half).  Ten of the 11 Tarheels who played, scored and all of that balance was on display during this run.  The Tarheels also held Virginia to 35% shooting in the 1st half.  Kenny Turner, the Cavaliers 3rd leading scorer, was 1-for-9.

The Tarheels took their biggest lead at 43-27 when George Lynch hit a pull-up from the baseline in transition with under a minute and a half to go in the 1st half.  A Bryant Stith field goal cut the lead to 43-29 at the half, but it ended up starting a Virginia run.

Both teams came out in the 2nd half looking different.  North Carolina looked lethargic again and Virginia got going with field goals from Stith, Anthony Oliver and Ted Jeffries.  Turner later put back a missed free throw from Crotty to cut the lead to 43-38 with over 5 minutes gone by.

The Tarheels finally got on the board after the first media timeout but then Turner did it again.  He followed up a missed free throw from Crotty to cut the lead to 45-41.  Lynch and Eric Montross each picked up their 4th fouls for the Tarheels.

North Carolina was able to keep their lead until the next media timeout but it looked to be in jeopardy after two bad calls went against them.  Before the media timeout, a foul was called on Clifford Rozier against Virginia backup Matt Blundin when they were battling on the boards.

Blundin shot 59% from the line during ACC competition.  But after coming back from the timeout, it was Stith (an 80% foul shooter) who stepped to the line.  The officials let it go despite vociferous protests from the Carolina bench (who had been called for a technical a few minutes before).  Stith made both free throws to cut the Carolina lead to 51-50.

Then a minute later, freshman Brian Reese hit a pull-up jumper in the lane and drew a foul.  But the refs called no basket as the foul was called before the shot (this was in the days before continuation in college basketball) and the Tarheels got the ball out of bounds.  However, looking at the replay, the foul definitely occurred when Reese was going up for the shot.  So it wasn’t even the bad continuation that we see today, it was a definite foul while the shooter was shooting.

Either way, Virginia missed on its one chance to grab the lead during that stretch and Carolina regained a 5-point lead when Pete Chilcutt found Eric Montross for a layup.  Virginia came back and tied the game at 61 when Stith put back a miss by Turner and drew a foul.

Stith had a chance to give Virginia the lead with a free throw but missed it.  Chilcutt then kicked out to Rick Fox for a three from the top and a 64-61 Tarheel lead.  Fox then found Lynch with a bullet feed for a layup.

UNC kept that lead and seemed to put the dagger into Virginia with under a minute to go when King Rice made a pull-up three from the top at the end of the shot clock.  This put the Heels up 72-63.  Crotty drove right back for a layup and Virginia called their last timeout with 36 seconds to go.

Lynch then turned the ball over when his inbounds bounce pass hit the out of bounds line.  Crotty then nailed a step-back three after Virginia rebounded a missed three from Stith.  Crotty fouled Rice with 18 seconds to go.

Rice made both ends of the 1-and-1 to put North Carolina up 74-68.  But then Crotty found Stith for a three to cut the lead in half.  Stith fouled Rice again with 9.1 seconds to go.  This time Rice missed the front end of the 1-and-1 and Virginia rebounded and had a chance to tie, but with no timeouts.

Crotty dribbled up the sideline into a Carolina trap and had the ball stolen from him by Rice.  Rice then found Fox for a breakaway layup at the buzzer to seal Carolina’s victory.  North Carolina would now get a rematch with Duke a week after the Blue Devils took the regular season title from UNC in Chapel Hill.

Revenge was sweet for the Tarheels.  After looking terrible against Clemson, UNC played perhaps their best game of the season against Duke and won 96-74.  The game was never close and lobsided victory helped North Carolina clinch a #1 seed in the East Regional while Duke was named a #2 seed in the Midwest.

Virginia was a #7 seed in the West Regional and lost in the 1st round to Shawn Bradley and BYU 61-48.  They would remain a relevant team over the next few seasons but couldn’t make a run in the ACC or NCAA until ’94 and ’95.

Virginia starters (points scored)

Bryant Stith (21) – Small Forward

Kenny Turner (14) – Power Forward

Ted Jeffries (4) – Center

John Crotty (23) – Point Guard

Anthony Oliver (6) – Shooting Guard

Virginia bench (points scored)

Matt Blundin (1)

Cornel Parker (2)

Doug Smith (0)

Virginia Coach: Jeff Jones

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Rick Fox (13) – Small Forward

George Lynch (10) – Power Forward

Pete Chilcutt (13) – Center

King Rice (7) – Point Guard

Hubert Davis (9) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Eric Montross (7)

Clifford Rozier (8)

Brian Reese (2)

Derrick Phelps (5)

Henrik Rodl (2)

Pat Sullivan (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

acc championship

Seniors King Rice and Pete Chilcutt hoist the ACC Championship trophy after UNC defeated Duke 96-74 in the ACC Final *photo courtesy of Pinterest

March 14, 1991 – East Regional 1st round: (#15)Richmond Spiders 73, (#2)Syracuse Orangemen 69

Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, and #15 or #16 seed had never won a 1st round game.  But with Princeton almost beating Georgetown in 1989 and getting a lot of attention, one probably knew it would happen sooner or later (but you never want to be that one guy in your bracket pool that tries to predict it).

According to this 30 for 30 short, that Princeton/Georgetown game was the catalyst for CBS getting the rights to all of the NCAA tournament games.  In previous years, ESPN broadcast the 1st round games and then CBS picked up the 2nd round games on the weekend.  For 1991, that was no longer the case.

Richmond had pulled off tournament upsets before.  As a #12 seed in 1984, they defeated Charles Barkley and Auburn 72-71 in the 1st round.  As a #13 seed in 1988, they defeated defending champion Indiana 72-69 in the 1st round and Georgia Tech 59-55 in the 2nd round.

But this may have been a bit too daunting for head coach Dick Tarrant and the Spiders.  As a #14 seed in 1990, they were demolished by Duke 81-46 in the 1st round.  They still had some seniors from their 1988 team in Ken Atkinson and Scott Stapleton.

But for 1991, they were gone and nobody was left from that 1988 team.  Their only double figure scorers were junior guard Curtis Blair at 16.3 points per game and sophomore big man Kenny Wood at 14.6.

The only senior was transfer Terry Connolly, a center who had started most of the year but gave way to sophomore Tim Weathers when Tarrant needed more quickness in the starting lineup.  The two point guards were freshmen in Gerald Jarmon and Eugene Burroughs.

The 5th starter was usually Jim Springer, but after winning the MVP of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, Jim Shields earned a start against Syracuse.

The Spiders had gotten off to an unimpressive 6-7 start, including losing their first 3 CAA games.  But one of those wins was against Georgia Tech, easily their 2nd most impressive win of the season.  Richmond finished out the regular season at 12-2 and then won the CAA tournament over George Mason 81-78 with Shields leading the way with 26 points.

Syracuse perhaps had a chance to be the #1 seed in the East Regional.  But with a loss to Villanova in the Big East quarterfinals and then North Carolina dominating Duke for the ACC Championship, Syracuse had to settle for a #2 seed in North Carolina’s region.

In the pregame, Syracuse seemed perhaps a bit cocky (but how do you, as a #1 or #2 seed, guard against looking past your first opponent, who won’t look impressive on paper?).

But Richmond pulled off the first formula of an upset, they got off to a good start.  The Spiders hit 7 of their first 9 shots from the field (including 3-for-3 from Blair) and led 15-11 seven minutes into the game.

Richmond’s hot shooting would continue and they would keep the lead as a result.  Blair and Wood were leading the way as usual for Richmond, but reserves Connolly and Springer were also big factors inside.  Meanwhile, Syracuse’s lack of shooting was coming out to haunt them.

Jim Boeheim’s Orangemen did cut the lead to 31-29 when Michael Edwards hit two three-pointers.  But then Chris Fleming, Richmond’s three-point “specialist,” hit a three and, later, Connolly found Springer with a behind-the-back pass for a layup that got the crowd going.

The crowd was already in Richmond’s corner (the fact that the game was in College Park, Maryland, not too terribly far from Richmond, certainly helped too) but their play in the 1st half made it more so.  Connolly’s three-point play made it 41-32 Spiders and got the crowd going even more.

Fleming would hit his second three-pointer to make it 44-34 late in the half.  But Connolly committed his 3rd foul and Dave Johnson hit two free throws for Syracuse to cut their halftime deficit to 44-36.

Billy Owens had led the way with 9 points but the Orangemen couldn’t counter 62% 1st half shooting from Richmond.  But Syracuse picked it up to start the 2nd half as if they realized that they were in a ball game.

Adrian Autry fed LeRon Ellis for a layup that resulted in a three-point play.  Autry and Owens hit field goals to cut the lead to three.  But Richmond held them off for a few minutes and then went on another run.

Back-to-back field goals by Shields and Connolly made it 54-48 and then Dave Johnson committed his 4th foul with 11:49 left and Fleming hit two free throws.  Blair would follow with a three to make the score 59-50.

Connolly later nailed a three to put Richmond up 62-52 with under 9 minutes to go.  Richmond would then fall into a drought but Syracuse couldn’t take much of an advantage.

They only cut the lead to 64-59 when Edwards made a three with under 4 1/2 to go.  Blair then found Wood for a breakaway slam on the press break.  Owens would come back with a three but then Johnson fouled out on a reach-in with 3:51 left.

Connolly made two free throws to put the Spiders up 68-62.  At t