10 SEC Final Four moments we can't forget
Sure, tonight’s Final Four action won’t include anybody from the SEC (or any teams east of Texas, for that matter). But the SEC’s history of great Final Four moments doesn’t have to include a 2021 chapter to remain relevant. From years past, here are 10 SEC Final Four moments we can’t forget.
10. Auburn reminds us what might have been
Auburn upset Virginia in 2019 when a pivotal double dribble call on UVA point guard Ty Jerome helped the Tigers hold on late. Wait, that didn’t happen. Well, the violation did.
But the call didn’t. And thus Auburn, in the school’s first Final Four, took a 63-62 loss to a UVA team that won the national title two nights later. But had Jerome’s walk been called, the Tigers, who arrived in the Final Four by beating Kansas, North Carolin, and Kentucky in succession, may well have taken home the ultimate crown.
Ah, the old iffin’ game.
9. South Carolina rallies again
South Carolina came into the 2017 NCAA Tournament stuck on the bubble, having already lost 10 games on the season. That said, after surviving Marquette in a 7 vs. 10 game to open the Dance, the Gamecocks took down the 2, 3 and 4 seeds to reach the Final Four (Duke, Baylor and Florida). But in the national semis, Carolina fell down to Gonzaga, with the Bulldogs extending their lead to 65-51 with just 10:55 to play.
Just when things looked darkest for USC, the Gamecocks rallied to claim a 67-65 lead in slightly less than 4 minutes of playing time. Yes, Gonzaga rallied back for a 77-73 win, but for four minutes of basketball, USC delivered a 16-0 run that reminded us all of what a fun team Frank Martin built in a memorable March.
8. Florida and Arkansas made up half the Final Four in ’94
The first time two SEC squads both reached the Final Four came in 1994, when No. 1 seed Arkansas and No. 3 seed Florida both reached Charlotte. While Arkansas went on to win (see below), Florida didn’t … but Lon Kruger’s Gators gave Duke a great battle before falling 70-65. Even in defeat, Florida proved it was possible for the SEC to take up half of NCAA basketball’s biggest stage — something the league has since done in 1996, 2006, and 2014.
7. The Gators run North Carolina off the floor
Florida’s appearance in the 2000 Final Four was only its second ever. Meeting North Carolina in the national semis, the Gators certainly didn’t look nervous. UF jumped to an 18-3 lead that vaulted them into the national championship game. Even that semifinal win ended up being hard-fought — UNC rallied to take a 50-46 lead midway through the second half before Florida won 71-59. The Gators didn’t have enough in the tank to hold off Michigan State two days later, as the Big Ten won its last NCAA title to date.
6. Aaron Harrison with a late dagger for Kentucky
In 2014, a freshman-led Kentucky team struggled all season — but then caught fire and made a run to the NCAA title game before losing to UConn. One of the keys to the season was the clutch shooting of guard Aaron Harrison, who contributed big shots late in close wins over Louisville and Michigan. But then Harrison bombed Wisconsin into submission with a big-time shot late in the national semis — one that will leave him in Wildcat history.
5. Tubby’s Cats use all nine lives
In 1998, Kentucky pulled off a surprising run to an NCAA title. New Wildcats coach Tubby Smith molded a group of veterans into a rough and tough squad, one that survived an epic overtime 86-85 win over Stanford, and then rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit to stun Utah 78-69 for the title. Of course, Kentucky had come from 19 down in the second half against Duke in the regional final just to reach the Final Four. Everything else seemed like a cherry on the top of the cake from that point.
4. Florida’s dual domination
The Florida Gators not only put together the nucleus of a title team for 2006– Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Al Horford, Taurean Green, etc., … but they kept them around long enough to win a second title. The 2006 win was a thumping, as the Gators blasted George Mason by 15 and UCLA by 16 in the Final Four. Not content with a single title, the Gators then nabbed the 2007 hardware, knocking off UCLA again (by 10) and then freshman-led Ohio State (by 9) to claim back-to-back national titles. The only other SEC team to do so? Kentucky — in 1948 and 1949.
3. Scotty Thurman calls game for the Hogs
In the 1994 national title game, Arkansas founds itself tied with Duke at 70 with a minute to play. With the shot clock running down, the Hogs found one of the purest perimeter jump shooters of all time, Scotty Thurman, to deliver the title dagger that eventually delivered the college basketball crown. Thurman’s trey gave the Razorbacks a lead they never relinquished in their 76-72 victory– and the school’s first NCAA title.
2. Kentucky survives in-state rival in route to 8th title
Kentucky met Louisville in the 2012 Final Four in a game that had as much back story as any in the history of March Madness. Kentucky’s two hoops havens, Calipari vs. Pitino, blue vs. red, it was all going down in New Orleans. Kentucky, led by Anthony Davis, pulled off the hard-fought 69-61 win, and then took down Kansas 67-59 to win the school’s 8th NCAA title.
1. Kentucky wins 1 vs. 2 battle (vs. future coach), then wins first title in 18 years
In 1996, Kentucky rolled through a perfect SEC regular season, and lost just a pair of games all season. But in the Final Four, Rick Pitino’s squad (ranked No. 2 in the nation) met the top-ranked UMass Minutemen, one of the two teams to defeat Kentucky (the other, Mississippi State, was also in the Final Four). UMass was, of course, coached by John Calipari, who would be Kentucky’s head coach 12 years later. Kentucky won an 81-74 heavyweight slugfest of a semifinal, and still had enough in the tank to take down Syracuse two nights later for the title, 76-67.