The first thing I did was rely on my memory.
Isn't that the best gauge of what's best?
If you remember something, it was probably significant. So when I was asked to produce a list of the "10 Best NCAA March Madness games from the last decade" I grabbed a sheet of paper and jotted down, off the top of my head, the lasting scenes or moments, and one of the first things that came to mind was Gus Johnson yelling and Adam Morrison crying.
You remember that, right?
Of course you do.
But do you remember what led to that moment -- that UCLA actually trailed Gonzaga by 17 early and by nine points with a little more than three minutes remaining? It was the type of comeback/collapse that makes the NCAA tournament our nation's best postseason event. And would you believe I didn't see any of it live? I'll explain later. But for now just know that coming in at No. 2 on the list of the "10 Best NCAA March Madness games from last decade" is ...
UCLA vs. Gonzaga (2006)
|Arron Afflalo tried to console Adam Morrison. (Getty Images)|
The game was in Oakland.
I was there.
At the time, I was working for the newspaper in Memphis and covering the Tigers, who had dominated Bradley earlier on that Thursday to advance to the Elite Eight. Like any beat writer on an archaic deadline, I was down in the media room banging away on my computer, and when I realized Gonzaga took a 37-20 lead late in the first half I assumed the outcome and didn't pay it much more thought. Then I heard the Zags were up 71-62 with 3:13 remaining, and I actually filed my story with lines about the Tigers getting Gonzaga for a second time, and I started wondering if Shawne Williams and Morrison might get to nose-to-nose like they did in a December meeting at FedExForum.
And then Luc Richard Mbah a Moute hit two free throws (71-64).
Then he got a layup (71-66).
Then Jordan Farmar got a bucket (71-68), Morrison missed a jumper, and Ryan Hollins got fouled and sank two free throws (71-70). Just like that we had a one-point game with 19.7 seconds remaining. Gonzaga inbounded the ball to Morrison, who was trapped but tall enough to see over it. He threw the ball crosscourt to J.P. Batista. But Batista got trapped too, and Farmar stole the ball and found Mbah a Moute under the basket for an easy layup that gave the Bruins a 72-71 lead with 8.6 seconds left.
"And they go in front!" yelled Johnson, and that's what most people remember. But I didn't hear it. I was in the bowels of the arena in Oakland, and what I heard was a roar. Just a crowd going bananas in a way that makes everybody look at everybody else and ask, "What the hell's happening out there?" I've never experienced a serious tornado (thank God), but I imagine it's similar (minus the destruction) in that you hear or feel something that makes you realize something wild is happening on the other side of a wall.
Recap: UCLA 73, Gonzaga 71
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It was that kind of roar.
Really loud and moving.
That's what I remember.
By the time I reached the court, Derek Raivio had already turned the ball over on the subsequent possession, Arron Afflalo had already made a free throw to push the lead to 73-71, and Johnson had already yelled the following: "Oh, what a game! What! A! Game! UCLA! Unbelievable! After being down by 17! Heart! Break! City!"
Meantime, Morrison was lying on the court crying, his jersey pulled over his head, his college career over the second Batista missed a desperation jumper at the buzzer.
Final score: UCLA 73, Gonzaga 71.
What. A. Game.
What. A. Roar.
|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)|