When Gonzaga meets UCLA in a national semifinal, the game will mark the third time in 30 years that an undefeated team will attempt to become the eighth national champion with a perfect record, the first since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. The last two did not make it to the championship game.
In 1991, defending champion UNLV lost to Duke to end a 34-1 season. The 2015 Final Four had the last team in a similar position to Gonzaga this year: Kentucky came into that game 38-0, and was looking like strong favorites to win the championship. In a national semifinal rematch, the Wildcats ended their season with a record of 38-1 when they lost to Wisconsin.
Let’s take a look at the storylines coming into this Final Four, and how they might compare to Final Fours previously held in the Circle City:
2021 NCAA tournament
Teams: No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 11 UCLA, No. 1 Baylor, No. 2 Houston
How they got here: Gonzaga has been on an absolute tear, coming into the tournament undefeated and rolling right through, winning four games by at least 16 points. Baylor has been similarly dominant, with its closest margin of victory being nine points against No. 3 Arkansas in the Elite Eight. Houston has had a more difficult path, narrowly escaping No. 10 Rutgers 63-60 in the second round before beating Syracuse 62-46 in the Sweet Sixteen and squeaking by No. 12 Oregon State 67-61. UCLA was one of the First Four teams in the tournament, beating Michigan State 86-80, then proceeding to upset No. 6 BYU 73-62. The Bruins blew out No. 14 Abilene Christian by 20, then beat No. 2 Alabama 88-78 in one of the best games in the tournament. In the Elite Eight, UCLA beat No. 1 Michigan 51-49 on the strength of sophomore Johnny Juzang’s 28 points.
Storylines to Watch:
- Can Gonzaga be the first undefeated team since Indiana in 1976? Gonzaga is looking to become the first undefeated team since Indiana in 1976, 52 miles from Assembly Hall in Bloomington.
- Can Scott Drew redeem the Baylor Bears in his home state? Drew, who graduated from Butler in 1993 and coached under — and after — his father Homer Drew at Valparaiso, has heavy Indiana roots. In 2003, Drew arrived in Waco and slowly built the program from the ground up. Will Drew be able to take his team to the mountaintop in his home state?
- Can Kelvin Sampson lead Houston back to its Phi Slama Jama glory? Sampson has led the Cougars back to their first Final Four since 1984, when Hakeem Olajuwon was still on campus and lost to Patrick Ewing and Georgetown in the title game. Houston is going to be an underdog heading into this game, a matchup with a history in the old Southwest Conference. Can they pull off the upset against Baylor?
- Will UCLA be able to keep up its magic? Mick Cronin’s Bruins face a tall task, going up against a dominant Gonzaga team and facing the winner of Houston or Baylor should they knock off the Bulldogs. But UCLA has been counted out all tournament, so it will be interesting to see if the Bruins can play spoiler two more times.
2015 NCAA tournament
Teams: No. 1 Kentucky, No. 1 Wisconsin, No. 1 Duke, No. 7 Michigan State
What happened: Kentucky came into the semifinals 38-0 and were looking to complete the undefeated season, but Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin had other plans, defeating the Wildcats 71-64 to advance to the championship round. Duke beat Michigan State by 20 to advance, and then beat Wisconsin on the strength of Tyus Jones’ 23 and Grayson Allen’s 16 off the bench, with Jones being named the Most Outstanding Player for the Blue Devils.
2010 NCAA tournament
Teams: No. 1 Duke, No. 2 West Virginia, No. 5 Butler, No. 5 Michigan State
What happened: Butler, from a campus less than seven miles north of Lucas Oil Stadium, upset No. 1 Syracuse and No. 2 Kansas State to make it to the Final Four with the help of Gordon Hayward before beating Michigan State in a semifinal. Duke made quick work of West Virginia on its side of the semifinals before squaring off in one of the more memorable championship games of the decade. The game went 61-59 Duke’s way, as Hayward unleashed a half-court shot that missed by a hair, and Duke won the national championship, with Kyle Singler being named the Most Outstanding Player.
2006 NCAA tournament
Teams: No. 3 Florida, No. 11 George Mason, No. 2 UCLA, No. 4 LSU
What Happened: No. 3 Florida played No. 11 George Mason in the Final Four, with the Patriots the second double-digit seed to make the Final Four since the seeding process was introduced in 1979, following 1986 LSU. The Gators spelled the end of the line for the Patriots’ season, and UCLA put away LSU in that same round. In the championship game, Florida won the first of two consecutive championships, with Joakim Noah claiming the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player with a title-game record of six blocks that he shares with Anthony Davis of Kentucky.
2000 NCAA tournament
Teams: No. 1 Michigan State, No. 8 Wisconsin, No. 5 Florida, No. 8 North Carolina
What Happened: In the Final Four, Michigan State and Wisconsin went through a defensive slugfest that ended with Michigan State winning 53-41. Florida beat UNC 71-59, and it led to a matchup between young coaches in Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Florida’s Billy Donovan. In the championship round, the Spartans defeated the Gators 89-76 with Mateen Cleaves chipping in 18 points en route to winning Most Outstanding Player.
1997 NCAA tournament
Teams: No. 4 Arizona, No. 1 North Carolina, No. 1 Minnesota, No. 1 Kentucky
What happened: Kentucky came into 1997 looking to repeat as champions, and defeated Minnesota 78-69 to get to the championship game. Arizona, the only team that wasn’t a No. 1 seed, defeated No. 1 UNC with Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison to get to the championship game, behind 24 points from Miles Simon and 20 points from Mike Bibby. In the championship game, Arizona defeated Kentucky 84-79 in the sixth of eight overtime games in the history of the tournament. Simon scored 30 points and was voted Most Outstanding Player. The Wildcats defeated three No. 1 seeds in the tournament.
1991 NCAA tournament
Teams: No. 2 Duke, No. 1 UNLV, No. 3 Kansas, No. 1 North Carolina
What happened: UNLV came into a national semifinal with a record of 34-0, looking to win its second consecutive national championship a year after a 30-point victory over Duke in the championship game. But the Blue Devils shocked UNLV 79-77 on the strength of 28 points for Christian Laettner. In the first national semifinal, Kansas took down North Carolina 79-73, as Roy Williams, Dean Smith’s former assistant, coached the Jayhawks to a victory over his old boss. The Kansas victory ended the possibility of an unprecedented, highly-anticipated championship game between UNC and Duke and matching Smith and Mike Krzyzewski. In the final, Laettner had 18 points to take Duke past the finish line against the Jayhawks, with Laettner winning Most Outstanding Player.
1980 NCAA tournament
Teams: No. 2 Louisville, No. 5 Iowa, No. 6 Purdue, No. 8 UCLA
What Happened: Denny Crum, John Wooden’s former assistant coach, led the Cardinals to the Final Four where they played Iowa, whom they beat 80-72 behind Darrell Griffith’s 34 points. The once dynastic Bruins were an eighth seed, led by a young Larry Brown, who led the team to its first Final Four since 1976, and the Bruins defeated Purdue 67-62, with Kiki Vandeweghe putting in 24 points. In the championship game, Crum’s Cardinals defeated UCLA, with Griffith scoring 23 points on his way to winning the Most Outstanding Player.