Rivalries abound in NCAA basketball, and a game fought between rivals can have the intensity of a gladiator fight to the death.
However, big games played between rivals in which division trophies, tournament victories or national championships are at stake can become some of the most memorable games in college basketball lore. Let’s journey back through time to reminisce about some of the most nerve-wracking, spine-tingling NCAA rivalry matchups in history.
Oklahoma vs. Kansas — 1988 NCAA Final
Jayhawks coach Larry Brown led KU to the 1986 Big 8 conference title and posted a record of 135-44 during his tenure on the Kansas sidelines. Further east in Oklahoma, Billy Tubbs and the Sooners claimed three Big 8 conference championships between 1983 and 1987. Earlier in the 1988 season, Oklahoma won both of its matchups with Kansas. However, the Jayhawks were giving a magnificent tournament performance as both teams rolled into the NCAA final.
At halftime, the teams were tied 50-50. The first half was the highest-scoring first half in NCAA championship history. However, Kansas eventually pulled away and won 83-79, thanks to an outstanding 31-point contribution from Danny Manning. Manning became the Jayhawks’ all-time leading scorer and was a two-time NBA All-Star. Manning was also elected to the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and is currently head coach of the University of Tulsa men’s basketball team.
Duke vs. North Carolina — 1989 ACC Tournament Final
Duke and North Carolina have one of the fiercest rivalries in all of sports, and the 1989 ACC final pitted the two title-hungry teams against each other in one of their greatest matchups ever. During that season the teams had split their two regular season matchups, but the Tar Heels hadn’t won a national To say that the game got ugly was an understatement, with legendary Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski hurling an F-bomb at his rival, Carolina head coach Dean Smith. At the end of the game, Duke’s Danny Ferry fired a 75-foot shot that nearly went in, but rimmed out and North Carolina won the game, 77-74.
UConn vs. Tennessee — 2003 NCAA Women’s Final
There has been no greater rivalry in NCAA women’s basketball than the one between Pat Summitt’s Lady Vols and Geno Auriemma’s UConn women. In 1995, the No.2 Huskies defeated the No.1 Lady Vols on ESPN, putting Connecticut on to the women’s basketball map. After that win, the two rivals continued to play heated matchups both in Storrs and in Knoxville.
In 2003, UConn started its season without 2002 seniors Swin Cash, Tamika Williams, Ashja Jones and Sue Bird. They did, however, have one weapon left: the incomparable Diana Taurasi. Taurasi scored 28 points and hit four of nine three-point attempts to defeat Tennessee 73-68, leaving Coach Auriemma, in his words, “speechless.”
Louisville vs. Kentucky — 1983 Mideast
Louisville and Lexington are about 80 miles apart, but the two men’s basketball teams at the University of Kentucky and Louisville have been in each other’s faces for decades. When the two teams met in the 1983 Mideast regional final, they hadn’t gone head to head in the NCAA tournament since 1959.
Although Kentucky led 37-30 during the first half, however, their passing got sloppy, and a jump shot from Kentucky’s Jim Master tied the game 62-all at the buzzer. The game went into overtime, and Louisville took total control. They outscored the Wildcats 18-6 in the last five minutes to win 80-68.
Duke vs. Kentucky — 1992 NCAA Final
Malcolm Moran of the New York Times reported that when President George H.W. Bush headed out for a walk to Lafayette Park on the morning after the 1992 NCAA final, he asked, “Did you see the ending of the Duke game?” For those who watched and especially the 17,878 in attendance, the Duke-Kentucky matchup is probably the greatest game in college basketball history.
Duke’s Christian Laettner earned a technical foul earlier in the night when he purposely stepped on Wildcats freshman Aminu Timberlake. However, Laettner rocketed to mythical status in the last seconds of the game when he caught a 75-foot inbound pass from Grant Hill and fired a 17-foot basket to beat the buzzer. Duke won the game 104-103 — and the championship trophy, too.
About the Author: Tommy Lake is a basketball enthusiast and a collector of NCAA memorabilia. He frequently bets on college sports and recommends www.sportsbookbonus.com.