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Wednesday, March 12, 2003
Updated: March 26, 10:43 PM ET
Kings of the Big Dance

Page 2 staff

Great individual performances are not what we're typically looking for during March Madness. When our teams can be eliminated because of just a few minutes of sloppy play, or a foolish foul, or a bad call, we're focusing on the basics -- good defense, ball control, solid passing and so on.

But sometimes we're treated to solo play that transcends, that's memorable whether the team won the title or lost after a few games. Sometimes, as in the case of Austin Carr, it's an incredible three games -- and then out. Other times, like for Lew Alcindor in 1968, it's complete, utter, unspectacular but total domination in the Final Four. And Bill Bradley once put on a spectacular show in a meaningless consolation contest.

Bill Walton
Bill Walton's importance superceded his superior play on the court for the 1972-73 UCLA Bruins.
As we listed the top 10 individual performances of all-time, the arguments flew at the Page 2 Tournament Bunker and Control Center, and things weren't pretty by the time we finally finished. We even had to expand our field to 11 (or, as we like to think of it, 10A) -- the kind of thing the NCAA would never allow. But now we're warmed up for the Big Dance.

1. Bill Walton, UCLA (1973)
During the Bruins' semifinal victory, Walton tossed a towel that accidentally hit John Wooden in the face. A prophecy? No way. Bill had terrific aim in the final, hitting a near-perfect 21-for-22 from the field (no, that's not a typo) for 44 points as the Bruins topped Memphis 87-66 for the title in front of 19,301 fans in St. Louis. Walton also grabbed a total of 41 rebounds in the semis and title game.

2. Elvin Hayes, Houston (1968)
Houston vs. UCLA. Hayes vs. Alcindor. No question, 1968 was the Year of the Big Men, and the Big E shined in the tournament. In the first round of the Midwest Regional, he scored 49 points and grabbed 27 rebounds as Houston beat Loyola of Chicago 94-76. Though the Cougars made it to the Final Four, they lost both the semifinal and the consolation game,. However, Hayes' performance is still one for the ages: 97 rebounds (a tourney record) and 167 points in five games. Despite dominating as an individual, Hayes didn't make the all-tournament team. Go figure.
Print And Pick
The NCAA Tournament brackets are set, so sharpen your pencil and get busy. Whether it's for fun, bragging rights or maybe even a few greenbacks, we've got everything you need -- a printable bracket and free entry to the world's largest office pool, Tournament Challenge, where you can form group competitions among friends.
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  • 3. Austin Carr, Notre Dame (1970)
    Carr set a slew of tournament scoring records, pumping home 61 points vs. Ohio in the first round, 52 vs. Kentucky in the second, and 45 in Notre Dame's loss to Iowa in the third round. His 52.7 scoring average tops the all-time list.

    4. Bill Russell, San Francisco (1956)
    The Dons dominated in 1956, sweeping through the tournament with ease even though playing without K.C. Jones, who was declared ineligible. The reason why: Bill Russell. He averaged 22-plus points in four tourney games, and dominated off the glass. His 50 rebounds in the final four (23 against SMU and 27 in San Fran's 83-71 title win over Iowa) still stand as a Final Four record, nine more than any player before or since. In the final, Russell scored 26 points, grabbed 27 rebounds and held Iowa center Bill Logan, who had scored 36 in the semis, to only 12 points.

    5. Lew Alcindor, UCLA (1968)
    Tournament semifinals; UCLA 101, Houston 69.

    Final: UCLA 78, North Carolina 55.

    See above? Yeah, it looked easy, but that doesn't mean it wasn't great. Alcindor combined for 53 points and 34 rebounds in the two blowouts (including 34 points in the final), and picked up the second of his three tourney MVP trophies. Alcindor was also the defensive linchpin, helping to throttle Elvin Hayes in the semifinal and blocking seven shots in the final.

    Bill Bradley
    Dollar Bill definitely had the refs' vote after his consolation performance.
    6. Bill Bradley, Princeton (1965)
    Princeton, in the Final Four? The Tigers couldn't have come close without Bradley, who scored 177 points in his five tournament games, the second-highest total in tournament history (behind only Glen Rice of Michigan, who scored 184 in six games). In the regional final against Providence, Bradley went 14-for-20 from the field and a perfect 13-for-13 from the line, scoring 41 points. He also grabbed 10 boards and dished nine assists in the Tigers' 109-69 rout.

    In Bradley's final game, against Wichita State in the consolation contest, he scored 58 points, setting a tournament record. Bob Korte, one of the game's refs, looked for Bradley after the buzzer sounded. "That was the greatest exhibition I ever saw," he told Bradley. "It was a pleasure to watch."

    7. Jack Givens, Kentucky (1978)
    In the title game vs. Duke, Givens went 18-for-27 for 41 points, pouring in his team's final 16 points in the first half. Givens also grabbed eight rebounds as Kentucky beat Duke 94-88 for the title. "Jack Givens played the best game I have ever seen anyone play," Duke's Jim Spanarkel said. "I guess we played him on a night we shouldn't have played him."

    8. Danny Manning, Kansas (1988)
    Unranked, sixth-seed Kansas (nicknamed "Danny and the Miracles"), coached by Larry Brown, won it all, and Danny Manning was the reason, as he combined for 66 points, 28 rebounds and nine steals in the Final Four. He scored 31 points and added 18 rebounds (including seven offensive boards) in the final against Oklahoma, a team that beat Kansas twice during the regular season.

    Typical Manning play: With a little more than five minutes left and the Jayhawks holding on to a slim 72-70 lead, he blocked Sooners center Stacey King's shot and then finished on the other end of the floor with a layup.

    In a brilliant strategic stroke by Brown, Manning also brought the ball down the court, pulling Oklahoma's big men out and befuddling the Sooners on defense.

    Finally Manning dropped four free throws in the final 14 seconds to seal the Kansas 83-79 victory. "Manning raised the standard of play to a level rarely approached in college basketball," wrote John Harris in the St. Petersburg Times. He "was undeniably brilliant in the spotlight."

    9. Steve Fisher, Michigan (1989)
    Fisher has the honor of being the only coach to make this list, because his 1989 story is one for the ages. After Michigan head coach Bill Frieder announced late in the season that he had accepted a job at Arizona State, he was shown the door -- and Fisher, an assistant, took over. Michigan had gone 24-7 during the regular season, to finish third in the Big Ten. Fisher then guided his squad to six consecutive tourney wins and a title, including nail-biting squeakers in the semis (Michigan 83, Illinois 81) and finals (Michigan 80, Seton Hall 79 in OT).

    Sure, Fisher inherited Frieder's players and system, and had Glen Rice at his best (Rice broke Bill Bradley's tourney scoring record), but Fisher's cool guidance made the difference.

    Christian Laettner
    How many times do you think Rick Pitino has watched this shot?
    10. Christian Laettner, Duke (1992)
    Duke won the NCAA title in 1992, and Bobby Hurley was named tournament MVP. So what's Laettner doing here? One perfect game: Against Kentucky in the East final, he shot 10-for-10 from the field, 10-for-10 from the charity stripe, and scored the game-winning basket at the buzzer -- a 17-footer against two Kentucky defenders -- to give Duke a 104-103 overtime victory in one of the greatest games in tournament history.

    "I felt like I was watching Robert Redford in 'The Natural,' " said Laettner's teammate, Grant Hill.

    10a. David Thompson, NC State (1974)
    Alley oop! Thompson's play in the Wolfpack's semifinal OT win over UCLA and The Walton Gang was nothing short of spectacular. He scored 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, as N.C. State stopped UCLA's run of seven consecutive NCAA titles. Bill Walton, writing about that semifinal victory, put it simply: "David Thompson was clearly the best player we ever played against in college."

    Also receiving votes:
  • Jerry West, West Virginia (1959)
  • Gail Goodrich, UCLA (1965)
  • Jerry Lucas, Ohio (1961)
  • Rumeal Robinson, Michigan (1989)
  • Bobby Hurley, Duke (1992)