This isn’t Houston’s first Final Four rodeo
The Final Four returns to Houston in 2023, the fourth time H-Town is playing host to college’s basketball season-concluding drama.
In the Final Four’s three previous visits to Houston, we saw the continuation of a dynasty (UCLA in 1971), the conclusion of one of the most heroic individual performances in college basketball post-season history (Kemba Walker in 2011), and a historic buzzer beater that will forever live in the minds of those who watched it live (Villanova 2016).
The Chucker, 19nine’s resident historian, revisits Houston’s Final Fours past.
The Participants: Kansas, UCLA, Villanova, Western Kentucky
The Biggest Question: Could UCLA make it five in a row? After winning four consecutive crowns, John Wooden and the Bruins were chasing another, but UCLA displayed some cracks in its once-impenetrable armour. The Bruins lost to Notre Dame while surviving one-possession games with Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington during the regular season. In the West Regional Final, the Bruins needed a furious rally to erase a late 11-point deficit against Long Beach State. UCLA arrived in Houston the title favorite, but it wasn’t a given they’d be the ones cutting down the nets.
The Semi-Finals: UCLA 68-60 over Kansas; Villanova 92-89 over Western Kentucky
The Final: UCLA 68-62 over Villanova
The Most Outstanding Player: In a rare twist, the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player came from the losing team as Villanova’s Howard Porter claimed top honors. After going for 22 points and 16 rebounds in the Wildcats’ semi-final win over Western Kentucky, Porter dropped 25 on the Bruins and nearly delivered Villanova an upset victory over UCLA. And in another interesting twist, Porter’s award was later vacated as it was found he signed with an agent prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament.
The Enduring Image: After the Bruins claimed yet another title, Sports Illustrated featured UCLA forward Steve Patterson on its April 5, 1971, cover with the title “Unexpected Hero.” Indeed, Patterson was an unexpected star in the title game. After scoring 24 points combined in the Bruins’ first three NCAA Tournament games, Patterson notched a game-high 29 points against Villanova on 13 of 18 shooting.
A Final Four Fun Fact: The 1971 Final Four brought two notable firsts. It was the first Final Four held in Texas and also the first Final Four held in a domed stadium (the Astrodome), setting the stage for what is commonplace today.
The Participants: Butler, Kentucky, UConn, VCU
The Biggest Question: Could one of the plucky mid-majors make the ultimate Cinderella run and capture the title over one of college basketball’s powerbrokers? Butler and VCU were certainly hoping so.
The Semi-Finals: UConn 56-55 over Kentucky; Butler 70-62 over VCU
The Final: UConn 53-41 over Butler
The Most Outstanding Player: Kemba Walker of UConn and there was no debate.
The Enduring Image: The Huskies team crowded around Kemba following the trophy presentation. Perhaps not since Danny Manning in 1988 had one player willed his team to a national title quite like Walker. After a 21-9 regular season and a ninth-place finish in the Big East, Walker propelled UConn to five consecutive victories to claim the Big East Tournament crown and then six consecutive wins to capture the NCAA title. Over that 11-game winning streak, Walker paced the Huskies in scoring every single time.
A Final Four Fun Fact: The 2011 NCAA Tournament saw the introduction of the “First Four” and, with that, the first “First Four” team to advance to the Final Four. VCU squeaked into the Tournament as an #11 seed following a fourth-place finish in the Colonial Athletic Association. They began their Final Four run with a play-in game victory over USC in Dayton.
The Participants: North Carolina, Oklahoma, Syracuse, Villanova
The Biggest Question: Could Villanova, a top 10 program for three consecutive seasons, finally breakthrough and capture the program’s first crown since Rollie Massimino and his boys played “the perfect game” to stun Georgetown in 1985?
The Semi-Finals: Villanova 95-51 over Oklahoma; North Carolina 83-66 over Syracuse
The Final: Villanova 77-74 over North Carolina
The Most Outstanding Player: Ryan Arcidiacono of Villanova. The Wildcats’ heady floor leader finished off his college career in style, going 11 of 15 from the floor and scoring 31 points over two games in Houston. He also had the game-winning assist on Kris Jenkins’ championship-game buzzer beater.
The Enduring Image: After Kris Jenkins’ three-pointer at the horn broke a 74-74 tie and stirred on-court chaos, Villanova head coach Jay Wright walked to shake UNC coach Roy Williams’ hand stone-faced and as if he had been called into his doctor’s office for a colonoscopy.
A Final Four Fun Fact: Villanova’s 44-point victory over Oklahoma is the largest margin of
victory in any Final Four game and the Wildcats’ 71 percent marksmanship from the field would
be a Final Four record had a different Villanova squad, the 1985 championship team, not shot 79
percent in its stunning victory over Georgetown 31 years prior.