The court stood in the middle of the Astrodome, which touted itself as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” and even the fans who shelled out the big bucks for the best seats in the house needed binoculars to see the action 40 yards away.
It was called “The Game of the Century,” and on Jan. 20, 1968, it lived up to the billing.
In a rematch of the previous year's national semifinal, No. 1 UCLA led by Lew Alcindor — later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — played No. 2 Houston and star Elvin Hayes in the first game broadcast nationally in primetime. The two college basketball titans went back and forth until Hayes made two late free throws to help the Cougars end the Bruins' 47-game winning streak.
"There were 52,000 at the game, but now you’d think there were 200,000 people there that night,” Hayes told The Associated Press years later. “Everywhere I go, I run into people who remember so much about it.”
As the AP Top 25 celebrates its 75th anniversary, it is worth reflecting on some of the great games that shaped the poll, all of them during the regular season. There have been 43 games pitting the nation's top two teams, most recently Gonzaga's victory over UCLA on Nov. 23, 2021.
Seven of the 1-2 matchups have been for the national title and a further eight played in the Final Four, though those would have had no bearing on the poll because they were played after the final rankings were released for the season. For the purposes of this exercise, that also would eliminate seminal games like Magic Johnson and Michigan State against Larry Bird and Indiana State in the 1979 NCAA title game, or Texas Western's all-Black lineup facing Kentucky for the 1966 championship.
Rather, here are some of the great games played during the regular season that AP voters would have had to consider:
MICHIGAN 80, PRINCETON 78 — Dec. 30, 1964
In the finals of the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden, Princeton star (and future U.S. senator) Bill Bradley poured in 41 points to give the Tigers a 12-point lead over the No. 1 Wolverines. But when he fouled out with less than 5 minutes to go, Cazzie Russell rallied Michigan to victory. The two met again in the NCAA semifinals and the Wolverines won in a rout.
NOTRE DAME 71, UCLA 70 — Jan. 19, 1974
The Bruins had won 88 straight games, a streak that might never be matched, before coach Digger Phelps and the Fighting Irish pulled off the upset. John Shumate and Gary Brokaw led the way against mighty UCLA star Bill Walton, though he would get his revenge. The Bruins won a rematch at Pauley Pavilion a week later.
CHAMINADE 77, VIRGINIA 72 — Dec. 23, 1982
With all due respect to recent No. 16 seeds that triumphed in the NCAA Tournament, this remains the biggest upset in college basketball history. The Silverswords, an NAIA school of fewer than 900 students, had just lost to tiny Wayland Baptist a couple of days earlier before taking down the top-ranked Cavaliers, led by 7-foot-4 star Ralph Sampson.
UNLV 112, ARKANSAS 105 — Feb. 10, 1991
Arkansas led by four at halftime inside deafening Barnhill Arena before the team of Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony and Stacey Augmon silenced the crowd with an absolute dismantling of the Hogs. Jerry Tarkanian's team beat Nolan Richardson's bunch at its own game, turning “40 Minutes of Hell” into a hellish night for the Razorbacks.
KENTUCKY 99, LSU 95 — Feb. 15, 1994
It became known as the “Mardi Gras Miracle,” at least by those in Kentucky, and for years it was the biggest comeback in college basketball history. The Wildcats trailed by 31 points with 15 minutes left when Walter McCarty, Jeff Brassow and Travis Ford led them on a 62-27 charge for the miraculous victory.
DUKE 85, NORTH CAROLINA 84 — Feb. 9, 2012
It would be a “great games” list without one matchup along Tobacco Road. The Tar Heels had won a school-record 31 straight at home, and they had the Blue Devils down by 10 with a 2 1/2 minutes to go, before Austin Rivers capped an unlikely rally with a swished a 3-pointer over 7-footer Tyler Zeller at the buzzer.
KANSAS 109, OKLAHOMA 106, 3 OT — Jan. 5, 2016
Rarely do opposing players get standing ovations at Allen Fieldhouse, but that's exactly what the Sooners' Buddy Hield received after a 46-point performance against Kansas. His eight 3-pointers kept second-ranked Oklahoma within striking distance of the top-ranked Jayhawks, but Perry Ellis and Co. proved to be too much at the end.
For more on the 75th anniversary of the AP Top 25: https://apnews.com/the-ap-top-25-at-75
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