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INDIANAPOLIS — They danced, they laughed, Kelvin Sampson gave his kids hugs. Houston was one band of happy Cougars to be back in the Final Four this week. Of course, the program has been there before, quite some time ago.

It didn’t end well.

Five times it didn’t end well. In fact, you could make the case that few programs have had a more star-crossed Final Four history than Houston, which now has a chance to vastly improve on that situation. Illinois and Oklahoma are the only other schools who have been to as many as five Final Fours and are yet to win a title. If the current Cougars lose next weekend, they will stand alone at six.

And it’s just not the record, but how it’s happened. They have had meaty roles for two of the most famous Final Four games in history — as the victims. In their five past trips they somehow managed to run into Kareem Abdul-Jabbar . . . and Michael Jordan . . . and Patrick Ewing. A wall of Hall of Famers for Houston to beat its collective heads against.

But let’s start at the beginning.

1967 — Timing is everything, and the Cougars didn’t have it. They advanced to their first Final Four and who should be waiting for them but one of the greatest teams in history; unbeaten UCLA with Lew Alcindor – later Abdul-Jabbar — in his first season of steamrolling college basketball.

The Houston players had an idea of what they were in for the day prior to the game, when they were sitting in their hotel lobby pretty much to themselves and in strolled the Bruins, surrounded by a gaggle of fans and media. UCLA arrived like rock stars, while the Cougars, Don Chaney would say years later, “felt like country bumpkins.”

The next day, Alcindor had 19 points and 20 rebounds and UCLA breezed to a 15-point victory.

1968 — Houston ended UCLA’s 47-game winning streak by two points in the Astrodome in a made-for-TV January spectacular that was instantly billed The Game of the Century. Two months later they were together again in the Final Four in Los Angeles, with the Cougars unbeaten and No. 1 and the Bruins with only that one loss. It was the rematch everyone wanted, and the nation settled back to watch college basketball’s version of Frazier vs. Ali.

What the nation got was more like an accountant vs. Ali. The first bad sign for Houston was when its student manager – selling leftover tickets from the team allotment outside the arena as coach Guy Lewis had requested – was arrested by LA police, taken to jail and charged with scalping.

It wasn’t any more pleasant inside the building for the players. Alcindor had a scratched cornea in the January meeting but was at full speed for the rematch, and he and the rest of the Bruins had a message to send. It ended 101-69. Houston star Elvin Hayes, who had vexed the Bruins with 39 points in January, was held to 10, nearly 28 points under his average.

Lewis called it then “the greatest exhibition of basketball I have ever seen in my life.” A lot of people could say that.

1982 — More than 61,000 people were in the Superdome audience when Houston took on North Carolina, which included stars such as Sam Perkins and James Worthy, and a freshman named Jordan. As was their custom back then, the Tar Heels got the lead and then four-cornered the Cougars into oblivion, 68-63.

1983 — The one that haunts the most. Phi Slama Jama was all the rage, as the high-flying Cougars soared into the national championship game by beating Louisville in a 94-81 dunkathon in the semifinals. The media immediately dubbed that game 21st century basketball, and all that was left for No. 1 Houston was to finish off a 10-loss team from North Carolina State that barely eked into the tournament.