Top 10 College Basketball Buzzer Beaters
by Josh Nagel - 12/04/2007
There's a reason why most sports fans prefer college basketball over the NBA; it's the same reason casual sports fans suddenly become glued to their TV sets during March Madness.
It's the drama, the finality of the one-and-done format of the NCAA Tournament. Teams' fortunes often hinge on one shot, and how many times can you remember an historic college basketball buzzer-beater that sent a Cinderella team on its way or sealed the destiny of a front-runner? It happens all the time in the NCAA Tournament, thus reinforcing the widespread appeal of this sporting event.
Some shots are harder to forget than others. It seems probably every sports fan can remember where he was when Verne Lundquist uttered his now-famous call of the final seconds in Duke's 1992 win over Kentucky: "The pass to Laettner … YES!" as the Blue Devils forward swished a 17-footer at the buzzer in overtime. In honor of moments like these, here are the top 10 NCAA buzzer beaters of all time:
10. Mike Miller, Florida, 2000. The crafty Miller hit a runner in the lane as time expired and lifted the Gators over Butler, 69-68, in overtime. The first-round win sparked Florida to a Final Four appearance.
9. Drew Nicholas, Maryland, 2003. The only holdover regular from the Juan Dixon-led championship team in 2002, Nicholas kept Maryland's title-defense dreams alive when he took an inbounds pass the length of the court and weaved his way through defenders before swishing a fade-away 25-foot three-pointer at the buzzer. The shot gave the sixth-seeded Terrapins a 75-73 first-round win over No.11 UNC Wilmington.
8. Danny Ainge, BYU, 1981. Ainge went the length of the court and lofted in a finger roll at the buzzer to upset No. 2 Notre Dame. It was a nice play, but if you've ever seen it, something seemed suspicious about the Irish defense. They treated Ainge as if he had the plague or, more likely, bad body odor. Nobody bothered to even get in his way.
7. Tate George, Connecticut, 1990. George caught a full-court pass, landed, turned and drilled a fall-away jumper to send the Huskies to a 71-70 win over Clemson in the East Regional semifinals.
6. Tyus Edney, UCLA, 1995. Edney drove coast-to-coast and dribbled behind his back before tossing up a layup that went through at the buzzer to give the Bruins a 75-74 win over Missouri in a second-round classic. UCLA went on to win the title.
5. Richard Hamilton, Connecticut, 1998. Hamilton finished off a wild game against then-upstart Washington in dramatic fashion. After the Huskies missed three close shots near the rim, the ball bounced out to Hamilton, who launched a 15-footer as he tripped and fell backward. The game-winner sent the Huskies into the Elite Eight.
4. Bryce Drew, Valparaiso, 1998. Pulling off basketball's version of the hook-and-lateral, Valpo executed the last-second play to precision. Jamie Sykes threw a baseball-style pass to Bill Jenkins at the top of the key, who then flipped it over to the cutting Bryce Drew. Drew, whose father Homer was Valpo's coach, drilled a three-pointer from the wing for a 70-69 first-round win over Mississippi.
3. Lorenzo Charles, N.C. State, 1983. Who could forget Jim Valvano rushing the court in search of someone to hug after witnessing this improbable upset? Tied 52-52 against favored Houston with time running down in the NCAA title game, point guard Derek Whittenburg tried to make the most of a busted play by heaving up a 30-footer way beyond the top of the key. Charles caught the air ball and dunked it at the buzzer, It looked close to offensive goaltending, but the call was not made, and the Wolfpack contingent rushed the court in hysteria while Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwon and friends looked on in stunned disbelief.
2. Keith Smart, Indiana, 1987. Although he was only Indiana's fifth-leading scorer during the season, Smart scored 12 of his team's final 15 points and saved his final bucket to preserve a place in college basketball lore. With time winding down, he dribbled to the left baseline and calmly swished a 12-footer that gave the Hoosiers a 74-73 win over the Rony Seikaly-led Syracuse Orangemen.
1. Christian Laettner, Duke, 1992. The aforementioned Laettner's buzzer beater to defeat Kentucky 104-103 in overtime still stands as one of the all-time epic moments in sports history. The game stands for so much more than its ending. There was the double-digit comeback from a seemingly undermanned Kentucky squad, whose players followed coach Rick Pitino's lessons of hard work and perseverance. For Duke haters and underdog lovers, the Wildcats were a dream fit.
Laettner's shot came after Kentucky's Sean Woods had hit an equally improbable 19-foot bank shot over three defenders on the previously play. After Pitino chose to leave inbounds passer Grant Hill unguarded - which proved to be a crucial mistake -in order to double-team Bobby Hurley, Hill launched a perfect pass to Laettner at the top of the key. He took a dribble, turned and fired … and the rest is history. Images of him being swarmed by his Duke teammates, Thomas Hill bawling like a baby and Pitino burying his head in his hands are still replayed every time the NCAA Tournament comes around. The game and shot were so memorable that Fox Sports recently did a one-hour documentary on the game featuring interviews with all the key players. The show made viewers feel like the game was played yesterday; then again, that game always has felt that way.
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