I don’t much know how to classify these games outside of saying they’re all really good. It’s a gallimaufry of games that didn’t fit any other category but that, in their own way, stood out. They comprise nailbiting finishes, comebacks that just fell short, stunning upsets, and long replay reviews. They’re just…they’re just really good.
Florida vs. Duke, 2000 Regional Semifinal
Billy Donovan’s Gators broke Duke’s grasp on the East Regional, using their uptempo style to wear down the Blue Devils and pull away late.
Texas vs. West Virginia, 2006 Regional Semifinal
I can’t make a list of great college basketball games from the last 11 years and not include John Beilein’s West Virginia Mountaineers, could I? WVU battled back from a 12-point halftime deficit in this one despite being slaughtered by LaMarcus Aldridge inside and being outrebounded something like 45-15. Gansey and Pittsnogle tied it with threes down the stretch, but that just set the stage for an unlikely Longhorn hero.
UCLA vs. Western Kentucky, 2008 Regional Semifinal
UCLA was up 21 at halftime, 18 with 12 to go, and a dozen with eight minutes to go when Tyrone Brazelton—and not star Courtney Lee—brought the Hilltoppers back. Brazelton undressed Darren Collison to the tune of 25 second-half points (19 in the final eight minutes), but he just couldn’t get Western Kentucky, well, to the top of the hill.
Michigan State vs. Kentucky, 2005 Regional Final
The year after this game, during CBS’ introductory March Madness highlight montage, they showed multiple replays of Patrick Sparks’ game-tying shot. My brother turned to me and said, “When your shot earns replays in a highlight montage, then you know you’ve done something special.” And the Wildcats didn’t even win.
Also: Be on the lookout for Sparks high-fiving Billy Packer after hitting that shot. When you make a deal with the devil…
Georgia Tech vs. Oklahoma State, 2004 National Semifinal
Overshadowed (and deservedly so) by the game that followed it, this undercard may have been the third-best National Semi of the decade, culminating in one of the Final Four’s best finishes.
Oregon vs. Texas, 2002 Regional Semifinal
The game itself wasn’t great, but the game-winning drive by Fred Jones, who had made only one other shot all day, is about as smooth as they come.
Kansas vs. Southern Illinois, 2007 Regional Semifinal
I want to go on the record with this: I think this Southern Illinois team played defense better than any other since 2000—just ahead of ’00 Wisconsin and ’10 Butler. Here’s Raftery: “This has to be like sitting in a dentist’s chair for Kansas.”
SIU was with the Jayhawks the whole game, but just couldn’t get the baskets it needed down the stretch to pull off the upset.
North Carolina vs. Villanova, 2005 Regional Semifinal
Playing without star Curtis Sumpter, the Wildcats hung with the Tar Heels for 30 minutes, fell behind by double digits and then stormed back late after Raymond Felton fouled out, only to be undone by what may be the worst call in a Tournament game this decade.
It was not a travel.