The ball is tipped, And there you are…
If you can hear music in your head when you read those words, this is for you. If you get chill bumps when you read those words and hear the music in your head, this is definitely for you.
The greatest playoff in American sports appropriately has the absolutely perfect song that has become associated with it for three decades now. I’m old enough to remember the first playing of One Shining Moment. That championship game is the first one I remember watching til the end. I’ve been through the David Barret version, the Teddy Pendergrass version, survived the Jennifer Hudson one year travesty and have thoroughly enjoyed the best of them all, Luther Vandross. What a song!
And so its 30th birthday has me feeling all nostalgic. Sports and highlight reel nostalgia are like peanut butter and jelly. March Madness and highlight reel nostalgia are like a Chick-fil-A sandwich and sweet tea.
With that in mind, I want to share 30 of my favorite One Shining Moments in the NCAA Tournament of the last 30 years.
The Game: 1987 Indiana v. Syracuse (Championship)
The OSM: I remember Keith Smart shooting it. I remember the body language of the Syracuse players after it was over. I remember the feels I got by seeing “One Shining Moment” make its premiere. It was like finding out about Christmas all over again: “So they can put the best highlights with this glorious music and give us three minutes of chill bump heaven!?!!?” YES, LET’S DO THIS EVERY YEAR!
The Game: 1990 Loyola Marymount v. New Mexico St. (First Round)
The OSM: Bo Kimble, in tribute to his teammate Hank Gathers who died walking off the court the previous week, shot his first free throw left handed with 14:46 left in the second half. Why does this moment make me cry 27 years later?
The Game: 1990 UConn v. Clemson (S16)
The OSM: Any game where Clemson loses is a real treat to me, but this one was special because UConn was down 1 with exactly 1 second left. They had to go the length of the court. A-75 foot pass and Dick Stockton with the call: “The shot….YES! The shot’s gonna count! The shot by Tate George…wins it!!!” Euphoria in my house ensued.
The Game: 1991 Duke v. UNLV (Final 4)
The OSM: “Can Anyone Beat UNLV?” That was the Sports Illustrated headline going into the NCAA Tournament. They were undefeated. They beat Duke by 30 in the championship the year prior. In their Final 4 rematch, Anderson Hunt hit a three on UNLV’s first possession and Christian Laettner came down and countered with a three. Laettner scored 9 points in the first three minutes as Duke opened up a 13-5 lead. That shot sent a message that Duke would not be blown out again. They went on to pull off an upset for the ages.
The Game: 1992 Ga Tech v. Southern Cal (2nd Round)
The OSM: A game that meant nothing really, it was pure exhilaration for a moment in time because James Forrest for Ga Tech caught a pass, down two, with 0.8 seconds left and pirouetted from 25 feet out and nailed it. Miracle shot.
The Game: 1992 Duke v. Kentucky (Elite 8)
I have visual images of this game seared into my brain. The hideous mustaches from Martinez and Farmer. The neck brace from Laettner’s mom. I remember Laettner not missing a shot (10-10 FGs, 10-10 FTs). I remember him stomping Timberlake. I don’t need Google to tell me that the guy for UK who hit the shot before Laettner’s was Sean Woods. This game was like something out of a fantasy novel. The Final Shot is on the short list of greatest sports moments ever. Thomas Hill’s reaction is almost as iconic as Laettner’s shot itself.
The Game: 1993 Cal v. Duke (2nd Round)
The OSM: Duke was coming off back to back championships. Cal nipped LSU in the first round and LSU coach Dale Brown said “They don’t have a prayer” of beating Duke. With just over a minute to go and Cal down by one point after leading basically the whole game and by 15 at one point, Jason Kidd (11 points, 10 rebounds, 14 assists, 4 steals) made an incredible circus shot from his knees and got fouled. He made the free throw, and Duke never led again.
The Game: 1994 Arkansas v. Duke (Championship)
The OSM: Grant Hill tied it with 90 seconds left with a three pointer. Scotty Thurmond, who used to practice by shooting threes over a broomstick, then made the tie-breaking three pointer over the outstretched arm of Antonio Lang that essentially won Arkansas the National Championship.
The Game: 1996 Purdue v Western Carolina (1st Round)
The OSM: Western Carolina Coach Phil Hopkins broke down and cried in the post game press conference, as his 16-seeded team had three shots to tie or win to try to become the first ever 16 seed to beat a 1 in NCAA Tournament history. It still hasn’t happened.
The Game: 1996 Princeton v. UCLA (1st Round)
The OSM: UCLA, coming off their first national championship since The Wizard left, was a 4-seed and heavy favorite over Ivy League Princeton. But Princeton showed UCLA the exit “through the back door”.
The Game: 1998 Kentucky vs. Duke (E8)
The OSM: A sweet, sweet revenge game. This time it was Scott Padgett with a the late game-changing shot, even if not as legendary as Laettner’s. He broke the 81-81 tie with a three. I can still see his reaction in my head.
The Game: 1999 Gonzaga v. Florida (S16)
This was Gonzaga’s coming out party, going from a 10-seed Cinderella all the way to the Elite 8 before barely falling to eventual champ UConn. But what made this special, the third straight win for Gonzaga as an underdog, was Gus Johnson’s call as it ended with Florida missing the potential game-winner: “Gonzaga!!!! The slipper…still…fits!!!!”
The Game: 1999 UConn v. Duke (Championship)
The OSM: By the Vegas gambling line, this is the biggest Championship game upset of my lifetime, even bigger than N.C. St over Houston in 83 and Villanova in 85. Duke just wasn’t going to lose. But UConn went toe-to-toe with them and up by a mere point with 40 seconds left, point guard Khalid El-Amin made an acrobatic driving layup to break Duke’s momentum. It was the difference.
The Game: 2001 Hampton v. Iowa St. (1st R)
The OSM: I was a Junior at Bible College on Spring Break and I plopped down in the guy’s dorm lobby and waited all day for a great buzzer beater or upset. It finally came late afternoon. Iowa St., the 2-seed, was in complete control and led by double digits late in the game but Hampton came back and finally took the lead on an awkward looking hook by a big man named Johnson with six seconds left. The image of Hampton’s coach being picked up from behind by a player as he kicks and fists pumps in excitement is one I’ll never forget. At the time it was only the fourth time a 2-seed lost its first game.
The Game: 2005 Illinois v. Arizona (E8)
The OSM: Chicago got a little Illini fever in 2005 during their run to the championship game. But the Elite 8 game was the one to remember, as they were down 75-60 with just over four minutes remaining and the run was surely over. But they came storming back, and Deron Williams tied it with a three with 39 seconds left before they won in OT.
The Game: 2006 George Mason v. UConn (E8)
The OSM: An 11-seed mid-major beating a 1-seed Big Conference Giant to go to the Final Four? Just doesn’t happen. My favorite part? Verne Lundquist’s call after it ended: “By George the dream is alive!”
The Game: 2006 UCLA v. Gonzaga (S16)
The OSM: This was a truly special Madness finish. Gonzaga gave up a 9-point lead in the last few minutes with the nation’s top scorer, Adam Morrison, breaking down a crying before the game was actually decided. Gus Johnson: “WHAT A GAME!! U-C-L-A!!! HEART. BREAK. CITY.” I get chills. Every time.
The Game: 2007 Georgetown v. Vanderbilt (S16)
The OSM: I was pulling for Vanderbilt but this was a fantastic finish, with Vandy leading for much of the game but Georgetown pulling it out when Jeff Green scored the game winner at the final buzzer. It looked in real time like he traveled and I imagine some Vandy fans still think he did.
The Game: 2008 Kansas v. Memphis (Championship)
The OSM: So many story lines in this one. Memphis led by 9 with less than two minutes to go. And even up by 2 with the ball in the last 20 seconds, two made FTs by Derrick Rose would all but clinch it. All year Memphis was terrible at FTs and Calipari brushed it off. But they missed several down the stretch, including one by Rose here and gave Kansas a chance to tie. And Mario Chalmers hit perhaps the biggest shot in March Madness history, maybe behind Laettner.
The Game: 2009 N. Iowa v. Kansas (2nd Round)
The OSM: Kansas was looking good to repeat, with the overall #1 seed in the tournament. But 9-seed N. Iowa fought and had the lead in the final minute. And then a guy with a last name with like 14 consonants in a row forwent milking the clock and took an insane three with 37 seconds left that went in and sealed it. “YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS WITH THAT SHOT.” (Dan Bonner)
The Game: 2011 Kentucky v. Ohio St. (S16)
The OSM: Just like the prior game, this one comes down to how the #1 team in the tournament lost well before it was supposed to. Diebler for OSU tied it at 60 with under half a minute left but Brendon Knight won it on an insane off balance jumper with a few seconds left. I jumped around my small Chicago apartment when this one went final. Not a Big 10 fan.
The Game: 2011 VCU v. Kansas (E8)
The OSM: OK, so George Mason pulled the 11 seed mid-major over College Basketball 1-seed Goliath five years prior. There’s no way it could happen again. Right? But it did. Shaka Smart, VCU’s coach, stole my heart this tournament. Against Kansas, they put on a clinic of dribble penetration and kick-out three-point shooting. Early in the first half Joey Rodriguez found Jaime Skeen on such a play to extend VCU’s lead to 20-10 and you could feel the upset was possible.
The Game: 2012 Lehigh v. Duke (1st R)
The OSM: Duke used to never lose these games. A wide open dunk by a guy named Adams to extend the lead to 61-54 Lehigh with under two minutes left is a play I could watch over and over. That was the moment you felt it was going to happen: Duke was really going to lose. “Absolute Madness!” (Jim Nance)
The Game: 2013 Wichita St. v. Ohio St. (E8)
The OSM: I was torn this game because Ohio St. winning would have nearly sealed me winning my church bracket competition. But I love the upset more. Ohio St. had cut a 20 point deficit down to 3 when Tekele Cotton for WS nailed a three as the shot clock wound down to make it 65-59. Ohio St. never got closer than four after that.
The Game(s): 2014 Kentucky v. Wichita St. (2nd R)
and also Louisville (S16)
and also Michigan (E8)
and also Wisconsin (F4)
The OSM(s): Yes, I’m grouping these games together. These were like quadruplets. It felt like the same game four times. The one Harrison twin made more clutch shots in this run than 99% of players in their careers. Every game was heart stopping. Every game was won in the final two minutes or final seconds. Nantz, after the one vs. Wisconsin to win it: “Aaron Harrison…Beyond Belief”.
The Game: 2015 Georgia St. vs. Baylor
The OSM: R.W. Hunter, Jr. (the player) hit an improbable, deep three to win the game 57-56 for 14-seeded Georgia St. R.W. Hunter Sr. (the coach), fell of out his chair when he hit it. Classic game. Classic moment.
The Game: 16 Villanova vs. UNC (Championship)
The OSM: I don’t need to say much. You saw it. Incredible back and forth game. Incredible UNC comeback from down 10 late in the second half. Incredible shot by Paige to tie it. Incredible shot to win by Jenkins. “DOUBLE ORDER! SAUTÉED!” (Bill Raftery)
So do me a favor…if you love this nostalgia, give yourself 15 minutes today and watch about five of the OSM videos. They are all on Youtube. My personal favorite? 2006, which you can watch here.
Yay March! Go Gamecocks!!