By Sam Draut–
Throughout history, Louisville has participated in countless NCAA tournaments, delivering memorable performances in many games. These standout games of the past deserve to be remembered as the University of Louisville men’s basketball team launches into another year of March Madness.
March 26, 1983:
Louisville 80-Kentucky 68 (OT) – Tabbed as the “Dream Game”, this was the Midwest Regional final in Knoxville, Tennessee between two instate rivals who had not played each other in more than twenty years. The final regular season poll had both teams ranked in the top 10.
Shooting 4 of 20, Louisville fell behind early 23-10, but closed the margin to 37-30 going into halftime. After Kentucky went up 43-32, U of L head coach Denny Crum turned to full court pressure, the Cardinals responded with a 14-2 run, giving them their first lead of the game with 11:40 left. The Wildcats tied the game at 62 with one second left in regulation, sending the game into overtime.
Louisville continued to apply intense pressure in overtime, scoring the first 14 points, finishing with an 80-68 victory. Guard Lancaster Gordon led the way with 24 points and fellow guard Milt Wagner finished with 18 points and four assists. Brothers Scooter and Rodney McCray combined for 22 points and 15 rebounds. The dramatic win sent Louisville to the Final Four to face Houston. Louisville and Kentucky would begin an annual regular season game the very next season.
March 26, 2005:
Louisville 93-West Virginia 85 (OT) – The 32-4 Cardinals faced the 7 seed Mountaineers in the West Regional final in Albuquerque, New Mexico. West Virginia came out hot, making 10 three pointers in the first half, extending out to a 38-18 lead. Louisville went into halftime down 40-27, but U of L head coach Rick Pitino told his players they could beat West Virginia. The Cardinals came out strong in the second half, but West Virginia continued to knock down shots. Guard Larry O’Bannon, tied the game with 38 seconds left, sending the 77-77 game into overtime. In overtime, Louisville outscored West Virginia 16-8, giving the Cardinals a 93-85 victory, sending them to their first Final Four since the 1986 National Championship.
Hitting 18 three pointers and shooting 67 percent from three, while leading by 20 at one point, West Virginia blew their first chance at a Final Four since 1959. U of L won the game despite missing Francisco Garcia for the final four minutes of regulation and overtime after fouling out; he finished with 13 points and 8 assists. O’Bannon was named the region’s Most Outstanding Player; he led the Cards with 24 points and four assists. Taquan Dean added 23 points. The dramatic win sent Louisville to the Final Four in St. Louis to face Illinois.
March 24, 1980:
Louisville 59-UCLA 54 – This was the first NCAA Tournament of the “modern era.” An unlimited amount of teams could come from any conference (previously only two per conference), regions were seeded evenly instead of being based on geography, and teams were seeded solely based on the subjective judgment of the committee.
The Bruins and Cardinals faced in the National Championship game, UCLA had previously knocked Louisville out of the NCAA tournament in 1972 and 1975. The Cardinals were led by senior Darrell Griffith; the hometown legend would win the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award and the John R. Wooden award, while leading the U of L with 23 points in the Championship game. UCLA went into halftime up 28-26, but Louisville shot 59 percent from the field in the second half to clinch a 59-54 victory, the program’s first National Championship. The “Doctors of Dunk” finished 33-3, beginning Louisville’s run in 1980s as the team of the decade.
March 31, 1986:
Louisville 72-Duke 69 – Played in Dallas, Texas, this was the first NCAA Tournament that used the shot clock, which was set at 45 seconds. Louisville was led by into the Championship game by freshman center Pervis Ellison. He continued his dominance, leading the Cardinals with 25 points and 11 rebounds, the first freshman to win the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award since 1944. Duke led at halftime 37-34, but Louisville shot 62 percent in the second half. It was the second National Championship for the program, while it would be the last time Louisville appeared in the Final Four until 2005.
March 24, 2012:
Louisville 72-Florida 68 – Louisville’s miraculous run from the Big East tournament to the West Regional final appeared to be over. The Cardinals fell behind the Gators 41-33 at halftime, spearheaded by Florida’s 8 three pointers. In the second half, U of L trailed by 11 with 8:16 left, but finished the game on an 18-3 run.
The switch from zone to man to man helped to shut down Florida’s offense, while Russ Smith led Louisville with 19 points. Chane Behanan was named the region’s Most Outstanding Player, he finished with 17 points and 7 rebounds. The improbable comeback gave Louisville its eighth straight victory and sent them to the Final Four for the first time since 2005.
Photos by Austin Lassell/The Louisville Cardinal