Magically Maddening: How the 1982 NCAA Basketball Tournament Created a Fan for Life, Part 2

R.J. Hunter game winning shot

R.J. Hunter hits the game-winning shot against Baylor in this year’s tournament. (Screen shot from https://youtu.be/OmcOo-bGJp0)

[Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part feature from Evan Wix in celebration of March Madness. Although we normally have a viral video of the week each Monday, we decided to run the second half of this feature instead, because the championship game of the 2015 NCAA Tournament, featuring Wisconsin and Duke, occurs tonight. To prepare yourself for that, take some time to go through this epic index of some of the tournament’s greatest moments. If you missed part 1 of this feature, you can read it here. Our regularly scheduled viral video of the week will return on Wednesday.]

There are so many moments from the tournament that are etched into my memory that it would be quite an arduous task to catalog them all, so I’ve done my best to come up with some of my most memorable (note this includes a lot of Georgia home cooking … after all this is a personal list). Generally the memories fall into four categories for me:

  • Category 1: Amazing last second finishes in a game where I have no real rooting interest
  • Category 2: Instant heartbreak after a team I despise sticks a knife in my chest or a team I love loses
  • Category 3: Teams that I love or have grown to root for winning in dramatic fashion
  • Category 4: Teams that prevail while battling adversity or moments that make for cool stories (bro)

After a long search of the memory bank, here are some I could come up with:

Category 1:

Valparaiso vs. Ole Miss, 1998 — Coached by Homer Drew and led by his son Bryce, Valpo executed the most amazing inbounds hook and ladder play to cap off a huge upset (this could also fall into Category 4).

Indiana vs. Syracuse, 1987 – I remember this game vividly as an incredible back and forth battle. The last second winner by Keith Smart was a beautiful shot that bailed out a very clumsy end of game possession.

Michigan vs. North Carolina, 1993 — The infamous time out game (apologies to my Wolverine friends).

Category 2:

Duke vs. Kentucky, 1992 — While I highly respect the Duke University program, they remind me of the private or higher-income public schools we matched up against in my playing days. My class warfare allegiances lead me to revile the Blue Devils. This category is best represented by the game in which Christian Laettner’s last second shot helped Duke defeat Kentucky. That night my high school team was having our end of year reception and the festivities ceased as we all watched the finish.

Villanova vs. Georgetown, 1985 — As has already been established, I loved the Georgetown teams of the early-to-mid 80s. Outside of Patrick Ewing, those teams featured David Wingate and Reggie Williams on the wings and a point guard named Michael Jackson. The Big East conference was an absolute gauntlet and, even though Georgetown had a dominant team, they didn’t even win the conference (that honor went to St. John’s, who were led by Chris Mullin). Villanova finished fourth in the conference and as they made their run to the final it was a foregone conclusion that Georgetown would crush the Wildcats. Villanova shot 78 percent from the field and frustrated Georgetown on defense all night pulling off a “Miracle on Ice” type upset. I believe I broke several inanimate objects that night.

Georgia vs. Syracuse, 1996 — Led by new coach Orlando “Tubby” Smith, the ‘Dawgs shocked number 1 seed Purdue to advance to the Sweet 16, where they were up with 2.4 seconds left in the game. Syracuse hit a last-second shot off a half court out of bounds play (that was almost stolen) to send it into overtime.

Syracuse eventually prevailed on another last second shot.

Category 3:

Georgia, 1983 — As previously mentioned, Georgia’s 1983 run to the final four was unfathomable. The crazy thing is that Dominique Wilkins is easily the best player in UGA history, but he never played in an NCAA tournament game. 1983 was the first tournament berth in program history. Led by Coach Hugh Durham and 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist and future pro Vern Fleming, the ‘Dawgs first won the SEC tournament in Birmingham and then ran through the East Region, defeating number 1 seed and third ranked St. John’s (led by the aforementioned Chris Mullin) in the sweet 16. Georgian then knocked out the number 2 seeded Tar Heels led by Jordan, Perkins, and Brad Doherty in the regional final.

Georgia, 2008 — The 2008 UGA run through the SEC conference tourney is one of the most extreme examples of an unheralded team getting hot at tournament time. There really aren’t enough superlatives to fully explain how insane and awesome the 2008 SEC Tournament victory was for me, as I followed it from my home at the time in Albuquerque, New Mexico (of all places). On Friday night of the tournament, a tornado touched down in downtown Atlanta and interrupted the end of the Alabama and Mississippi State game.

This caused damage to the Georgia Dome, so the remainder of the tournament was moved to Alexander Memorial Coliseum, the home of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Georgia came into the tournament with a 13-16 overall record and needed a miracle shot in the first round to knock off Ole Miss.

After the tornado hit the ‘Dawgs game against Kentucky was rescheduled for early Saturday afternoon, with the winner playing Mississippi State later that evening. Miraculously UGA beat Kentucky on a turnaround 3-point shot with 1.4 seconds left (the first and only time UGA has beaten Kentucky in the conference tournament) and then defeated Mississippi State later that evening to advance to the Sunday final. After winning two games in one day, they routed Arkansas to advance to the NCAA tournament. The fact that they went on a run after a tornado hit downtown Atlanta and won the conference tournament on the home floor of their in-state rival while winning two games in one day … I mean I’m honestly still incredulously giddy about it seven years later.

Georgia vs. Purdue, 1996 — Georgia beating number 1 seed Purdue in 1996. I followed in my dad’s footsteps and was a member of the UGA Track and Field team in college. I became friends with several of the guys on the UGA basketball squad through our shared residence in the athletic dorm. I was so incredibly proud to be a Georgia Bulldog when they upset the Boilermakers. (To confirm that even YouTube has limits, there is no video I could find for this one.)

Georgetown vs. Houston, 1985 — Georgetown beat Houston for their only championship in a giant matchup between Ewing and Olajuwon in the last games of their respective college careers (their rivalry would play out dramatically on the NBA stage over the next decade). The lasting image for me is Coach John Thompson picking up Patrick Ewing like a rag doll in a bear hug while celebrating at the end. I taped this game on our VCR and watched it multiple times.

Category 4:

Loyola Marymount vs. Michigan, 1990 — The story of the 1990 Loyola Marymount team is an incredible testament to the human spirit. Led by former Laker head coach Paul Westhead, Loyola featured an outer space style of offensive basketball that eschewed the shot clock and pushed scoreboards to their limit.

Their star player was Hank Gathers, a 6’7” forward, who led the nation in rebounds and scoring. Gathers tragically collapsed in a regular season game and later died as the result of an unknown heart defect. It was a tragedy that was amplified once the Lions were matched up against defending national champion Wolverines in the second round of the 1990 tournament. Loyola would go on to crush Michigan 149-115 and guard Bo Kimble paid tribute to his childhood friend by shooting his first free throw left handed, which is what Hank Gathers did in every game … goosebumps, spine tingles and tears (apologies again to my Wolverine friends).

Vermont vs. Syracuse, 2005 — The Catamounts upset Syracuse on a last second 3-point bomb from about 30 feet. This one holds special meaning for me as Vermont’s coach, Tom Brennan, was a college teammate of my pops in college. Coach Brennan parlayed his moment into an analyst spot on ESPN and Sirius XM and had the ultimate honor of having a flavor of Ben and Jerry’s named after him upon his retirement.

Georgia State vs. Baylor, 2015 — Georgia State took down the 3 seed Baylor on R.J. Hunter’s last second 3-point shot. His dad, Coach Run Hunter, had torn his Achilles tendon celebrating the conference championship victory the week before and was relegated to coaching in a cast, while using a rolling office chair to roam the sidelines. Coach Hunter’s excited reaction to his son’s big shot caused him to fall out of his chair. The exuberance of not only a coach but also a parent made the moment both hilarious and touching. The irony is that Baylor is coached by Scott Drew, son of Homer and brother of Bryce, who created the original father/son moment with the Valpo finish in 1998.

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EvanWixEvan Wix (@EvanWix) is a guest contributor for Little Utopia.

Previously from Evan Wix:
Magically Maddening: How the 1982 NCAA Basketball Tournament Created a Fan for Life, Part 1
Man Shocked After Discovery of Racist Bone in Body
Abbreviated Communication Breakdown
Epiphanies with a Crazy Cat Lady

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