Monday, April 1, 2019

Chasing 58

TigerBlog was rooting hard for Purdue Saturday night in its regional final game against Virginia.

Of course he was. Purdue is the best place he's ever seen a college basketball game, and that doesn't even count the brisket nachos they sell in Mackey Arena. 

In the end, this would be a crushing loss for the Boilermakers, who were split seconds away from a win and a spot in the Final Four. And Purdue did exactly the right thing, fouling UVa while up three in the final five seconds. It actually became the first time TB can remember seeing it backfire on a team.

It took a lot to make it happen as well. It took a made foul shot, a missed foul shot, a backtap that started the clock and ultimately a pass from the backcourt to 6-9 Mamadi Diakite, who dropped in a 10-footer at the buzzer to force overtime. Virginia then won the game 80-75, despite the second 42-point game of the tournament by Purdue's Carsen Edwards.

The games this weekend were pretty good, TB will admit. What's really awful are those AT&T commercials with the really annoying guy who is parodying color commentators and failing miserable. Those commercials are just awkwardly bad.

The men's basketball Final Four is set now with Virginia-Auburn (should have been Purdue) and Texas Tech-Michigan State. TigerBlog's pre-tournament pick, as you recall, was Duke; he's happy to be wrong.

Before the four regional final games, TigerBlog was talking to a fan of college basketball and asked this question: "How many players on the eight teams can you name?" Other than the Duke freshmen, the answer was "almost none."

TB could name most of Purdue's roster, since he watched a lot of the Boilermaker games. And everyone knows the Duke freshmen. Beyond that, does anyone know anyone?

Is this a good thing? A bad thing? A telling thing in any way?

When the men's lacrosse quarterfinals roll around, by the way, TigerBlog will probably be able to name about 75 players between the eight teams. He's guessing that's a little out of the ordinary.

When the four teams arrive in Minneapolis, none of them will approach the record for most points in a Final Four game. TB would be shocked if anyone comes within 20 points of the record, and it would take a lot for someone to even get halfway to it.

The record? It's 58 points.

The record-holder? Princeton's own Bill Bradley of course, back in 1965.

Bradley made 22 of 29 shots and 14 of 15 free throws for a school-record 58 points in a 118-82 win over Wichita State that gave the Tigers a national third-place finish.

Bradley’s 177 points in five NCAA tournament games was a record that lasted for 24 seasons, and his 58 points still trails only Notre Dame’s Austin Carr for the best single-game scoring performance in tournament history. No player has ever had more than his 58 in a Final Four game.

As TB has watched this year's tournament, he's wondered what it would have been like if the tournament in 1965 was as big as it is now. Think about it. Princeton and Bradley would have been the dominant story all the way through to the last day.

If you don't know much about Princeton's Final Four run, here's some text from

First, the Tigers blitzed through their last 10 regular-season games to take the Ivy title with a 13-1 record. Then, the Ivy champs squeaked by Penn State in the NCAA first round at The Palestra, 60-58, to advance to the following weekend’s East Regional at Maryland’s Cole Field House.
From there, Bradley and Princeton put on two basketball exhibitions. The first was a 66-48 win over N.C. State in the regional semifinal that put the Tigers in the regional final against Providence, which had defeated St. Joseph’s in the other regional semifinal. 

The next day, March 13, 1965, the Tigers took it one step further against the Friars. Bradley made 14 of his 20 field-goal attempts, and all 13 of his free throws, to score 41 points. Princeton shot 68% from the field and went more than 12 minutes in the second half without missing a shot. The final score was 109-69 Princeton, with the 109 points breaking a school record that had just been set two weeks earlier in a win against Cornell.

Princeton, which never once had made the Associated Press national rankings during the season, suddenly became the story of the tournament after the 40-point win against the No. 4-ranked Friars. The Tigers were also the first Ivy League team to advance to the semifinals in 21 seasons.

The reward for the Tigers was a national semifinal matchup in Portland, Ore., against Michigan, the consensus No. 1-ranked team in the nation and the NCAA championship favorite. The Wolverines’ Cazzie Russell was simply too much for the Tigers to handle in the semifinal, and Michigan advanced to the final with a 93-76 victory.

TigerBlog actually wrote that text about 25 years ago. Since then, he's forgotten that Princeton was never ranked during the season. He does know about the win over Providence and the way the Friars celebrated their win over St. Joe's, assuming they'd beat Princeton to get to the Final Four.

Princeton men's basketball has had some amazing moments since then, and some of their NCAA performances are among the most exciting the tournament has ever seen. Still, reaching the Final Four stands above any of them.

And now, as four teams head to Minneapolis to try to win a title of their own, that record of 58 points is still sitting there.

Prediction - it'll last forever.

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