The 1993 Final Four saw North Carolina return to the stage after an uncharacteristic eleven-year absence. It saw Michigan’s famous Fab Five make their second straight appearance. It saw Rick Pitino bring Kentucky here for the first time and another future legend, Roy Williams, arrive with Kansas. Here’s a look back at the paths the Tar Heels, Wolverines, Wildcats and Jayhawks took to New Orleans…
The Tar Heels hadn’t been to a Final Four since their championship season in 1982, but they had reached the Sweet 16 in each ensuing year. They were knocking on the door and the 1993 team was no different. A balanced lineup was led by 7’0” Eric Montross, who averaged 16 points/7 rebounds per game. George Lynch was a tough forward, who added 15/10. Donald Williams and Brian Reese were double-digit scorers on the wings and Derrick Phelps was a solid and steady quarterback of the offense.
North Carolina went 28-4 and won the ACC’s regular season title. They got the #1 seed in the East Regional and opened the NCAA Tournament with an 85-65 win over East Carolina. It was a somewhat shoddy performance, with the Tar Heels needing a 22-10 edge in free throw scoring to really get separation. There was no such problem with Rhode Island. UNC held the Rams to 32 percent shooting from the floor, outrebounded them 43-32 and crushed them 112-67.
The Meadowlands was the venue for the regionals and North Carolina met 4-seed Arkansas. It was a sizzling first half, tied 45-45 at intermission. The Tar Heels were rebounding, while the Hogs kept pace by hitting threes. In the end, Lynch got 23/10, Williams added 22 and North Carolina survived 80-74.
Cincinnati, the bracket’s #2 seed, coasted past Virginia in the Sweet 16 behind Nick Van Exel’s 19 points/11 assists and Corie Blount’s 19 points/11 rebounds. The Bearcats had been to the 1992 Final Four and would be a tough out in the regional final.
Van Exel went for 23, but North Carolina held Blount to eight points. Williams knocked down 20 for UNC and Lynch was a force, with 21 points/14 rebounds. The game went overtime and North Carolina’s 75-68 win sent them to the Final Four. Lynch was named Most Outstanding Player.
The Fab Five had reached the Final Four as freshmen and were looking for a national title in their sophomore season. The interior was manned by Chris Webber and Juwan Howard, who combined for 34 points/17 rebounds per game. Jalen Rose added 15 ppg and ran the offense. Jimmy King and Ray Jackson rounded out the all-sophomore lineup and Eric Riley provided veteran rebounding help off the bench.
Michigan rolled through the regular season at 26-4, although two losses to Indiana cost the Wolverines a Big Ten title. They still got the #1 seed in the West Regional. Jackson’s 19 points led an easy 84-52 win over Coastal Carolina to start the tournament. But a Round of 32 game with UCLA would be a battle. The Wolverines trailed by thirteen at the half and were sloppy with 17 turnovers. But they won the rebounding battle 38-26 and Webber had a big afternoon with a 27/14 line. Michigan rallied and won 86-84 in overtime.
They came to Seattle with the region’s 4-seed (Georgia Tech) and 2-seed (Arizona) already gone. Instead, 12th-seeded George Washington awaited in the Sweet 16. In spite of another sloppy performance—twenty turnovers this time—Wolverine rebounding prowess was again too much to overcome. Michigan won 72-64. Then they watched 3-seed Vanderbilt, the SEC regular season champ, lose to Temple thanks to 26 points from the Owls’ Eddie Jones.
It was also noteworthy that Temple forced 18 turnovers, in light of Michigan’s difficult caring for the basketball in their most recent two wins. And the Owls did take a 38-27 lead at the half. But the Wolverines were again far more talented and gradually took a game over. All five starters hit double figures, with Webber’s 13 points/12 rebounds securing his Most Outstanding Player trophy. Michigan won it 77-72 and returned to the Final Four.
It was Rick Pitino’s fourth year in Lexington and the Wildcats were coming off a crushing overtime loss to Duke in a 1992 regional final, one of college basketball’s greatest game. Kentucky was built around forward Jamal Mashburn, a future NBA lottery pick, who averaged 21 points/8 rebounds/4 assists. Mashburn led a lineup that was very deep. The most notable members of the supporting cast were Travis Ford, who knocked down 13ppg in the backcourt and Rodney Dent and Jared Prickett adding some rebounding help.
Kentucky went 23-3 in the regular season, but finished behind Vanderbilt in the SEC race. The Wildcats responded by winning the conference tournament and the Selection Committee gave them the #1 seed in the Southeast Regional. The Wildcats went to Nashville to open NCAA play and first blasted Rider, 96-52, then rolled over Utah, 83-62. In both games, Kentucky had at least ten players get in the scoring column and both games were effectively over by halftime.
On the far side of the bracket, 2-seed Seton Hall had been knocked out. Although there’s no evidence it would have mattered. For the first two weekends of this tournament, the only team that was going to beat Kentucky was Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. Kentucky blasted 5-seed Wake Forest 103-69. This one was 60-26 by halftime and this time thirteen Wildcat players got on the board.
Florida State was the 3-seed and a credible foe in the regional final, with future NBA players in Sam Cassell and Charlie Ward. The Seminoles overcame horrid free throw shooting in the Sweet 16–18/38 from the line—to survive Western Kentucky in overtime. And Florida State at least hung in with Kentucky for a half, trailing 54-46 at intermission. The Wildcats took over the second half. Ford was the region’s MOP, scoring 19. Prickett was the best player in the final, with 22 points/11 rebounds. The 106-81 win sent Big Blue Nation to its first Final Four since 1984.
Roy Williams was in his fifth year at Lawrence. This was his second dance at the Final Four, coming here in 1991 and reaching the title game before losing to Duke. The 1993 edition of Kansas basketball was exceptionally well-balanced. Rex Walters and Adonis Jordan combined to average 27 points/9 assists in the backcourt. Richard Scott and Eric Pauley combined for 22 points/10 rebounds up front.
Kansas went 23-6 and grabbed the 2-seed in the Midwest. They blasted Ball State 94-72 behind 23 from Walters and eleven assists from Jordan. The Jayhawks then beat BYU 90-76, with Walters knocking down 28 more. There were red flags though—Ball State had shot over 50 percent from the floor and BYU won the rebounding battle 33-26. The Jayhawks would need to step up the intensity at the regionals in St. Louis.
But at least they had survived, which was more than could be said for 3-seed Duke, the two-time defending NCAA champion, who lost to 6th-seeded Cal and their dynamic point guard Jason Kidd. The Golden Bears hung with the Jayhawks for a half, trailing only 43-40. But Kansas was able to hold Kidd to 13 points, Walters again got loose for 24 points and the Jayhawks pulled away, 93-76.
A showdown with #1-seeded Indiana was the last step, although the Hoosiers had been badly hurt by a late-season injury to forward Alan Henderson. Already a small team, Indiana was now effectively forced to a four-guard lineup. It got them past Louisville in the Sweet 16, thanks to Calbert Cheaney’s 32 points, but the Jayhawks had too much balance.
The magnificent Cheaney scored 22 more and shot 10-for-19. He actually got Most Outstanding Player honors in defeat. But Kansas shot 60 percent from the floor with all five starters hitting double figures. It was enough for an 83-77 win and a Final Four trip.
THE 1993 FINAL FOUR
North Carolina and Kansas met in the early game, just as they had in 1991. This time the Tar Heels got the upper hand. Montross had his best game of the tournament, with 23 points. Williams hit for 25. The Jayhawks shot the three-ball, with Walters and Jordan hitting five apiece from behind the arc. But UNC’s 32-22 rebounding advantage keyed a 78-68 win.
The Michigan-Kentucky battle in the late game was one of the best Final Four games of the decade. Mashburn knocked down 26. But Webber scored 27, grabbed 13 rebounds and got help from Rose and Howard, who combined for 35. Kentucky’s depth kept them in it and there were times it looked like the Wildcats would win, but the Fab Five survived again. This time it was 81-78 in overtime.
Donald Williams continued his hot shooting on Monday night with 25 points. The inside players on both teams came to play, with Lynch putting up a 12/10 line and Montross scoring 16. Webber was excellent for almost the entire night, with 23/11. But trailing 73-71 in the closing seconds, Webber made the play this game is remembered for—he called a timeout he didn’t have. It was an automatic technical foul and it was effectively the ballgame. UNC hit their free throws and the 77-71 win gave Dean Smith his second national championship.