Before Mario Chalmers, there was Emeka Okafor.
Collapse or comeback?
But what we can all agree on is that the 2004 Final Four featured one of the great finishes in recent history between two of the greatest programs of this generation. Coming in at No. 5 on the list of the "10 Best NCAA March Madness games from this past decade" is ...
Connecticut vs. Duke (2004)
UConn was down eight with less than three minutes remaining. That's the first thing you need to know -- that Duke was up 75-67 and headed toward a national title game against Georgia Tech, an ACC foe the Blue Devils had already beaten twice that season, most recently by double digits in the semifinals of the league tournament. In other words, Mike Krzyzewski was on the verge of his fourth national championship, which would tie him with Kentucky's Adolph Rupp for second all-time behind only UCLA legend John Wooden.
|Emeka Okafor (left) and Rashad Anderson celebrate the victory. (Getty Images)|
Or Duke unraveled.
(It was probably a little of both.)
Rashad Anderson hit a 3-pointer from the right corner to cut the lead to 75-70 with 2:40 remaining. Then Ben Gordon made a couple of free throws to make it 75-72 with 2:07 left. Then Emeka Okafor scored four straight points to make it 76-75 with 26.8 seconds remaining.
The go-ahead bucket was classic Okafor.
Taliek Brown drove and dumped it to the All-American, who was planted on the left block. He took one dribble and shot it over two Blue Devils, but the ball rimmed out and was tipped by Josh Boone. Somehow, Okafor gained control of the ball with his back to the basket. He quickly spun and laid it in, and the Huskies led by a point.
"I just saw this orange object floating in the air, and it said 'Grab me,'" said Okafor, who would months later become the second overall pick of the NBA Draft. "I grabbed it, spun, saw the rim, thought it would be a good idea to put it in, and that's what I did."
Makes sense, right?
Anderson later sank two free throws to push things to 78-75.
Game recap: UConn 79, Duke 78
Bleacher Report: Decade's Top 10 games
An Okafor free throw made it 79-75 with 3.2 seconds remaining.
So Chris Duhon's long 3-pointer at the buzzer was inconsequential.
By then, things were decided.
UConn had won.
Duke had lost.
Two days later, the Huskies would jump to a 15-point halftime lead and cruise to an 82-73 win over Georgia Tech that gave Jim Calhoun his second national championship. Now here we are six years later, and Duke hasn't sniffed another Final Four since. The Blue Devils have subsequently made three more Sweet 16s, but that's it, and it's unclear whether Krzyzewski will ever again be as close to a fourth national championship as he was with less than three minutes to play on April 3, 2004.
Collapse or comeback?
Either way, a classic game.
|Top 10 March Madness games of the decade|
|Wed., Jan. 6||No. 10: Ohio State vs. Xavier (2007)||Wed., Feb. 10||No. 5: Connecticut vs. Duke (2004)|
|Wed., Jan. 13||No. 9: North Carolina vs. Illinois (2005)||Wed., Feb. 17||No. 4: George Mason vs. UConn (2006)|
|Wed., Jan. 20||No. 8: Villanova vs. Pittsburgh (2009)||Wed., Feb. 24||No. 3: Illinois vs. Arizona (2005)|
|Wed., Jan. 27||No. 7: Davidson vs. Georgetown (2008)||Wed., March 3||No. 2: UCLA vs. Gonzaga (2006)|
|Wed., Feb. 3||No. 6: Syracuse vs. Kansas (2003)||Wed., March 10||No. 1: Kansas vs. Memphis (2008)|