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New Orleans Has Had Some Great Final Fours

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JIM O’CONNELL,AP Basketball Writer

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Two of the most replayed shots in NCAA tournament history. Two terrible mistakes that are played over and over. Freshmen redeeming the most painful loss in school history.

That’s what New Orleans has given college basketball fans in the first four Final Fours it has hosted.

No. 5 starts Saturday, and as sure as there will be hot sauce in your jambalaya, you can expect New Orleans to add to its tradition of throwing a great party — on and off the court.

To start with the positives, a freshman from North Carolina named Michael Jordan made the first big jumper in 1982. Five years later a junior college transfer from Indiana named Keith Smart hit what turned out to be the game-winner from almost the same spot on the Superdome court.

If you haven’t seen either shot, just watch the commercials and teases for college basketball.

Jordan, still known as Mike then but with his tongue sticking out just a bit, made his with jumper with 17 seconds to go to give the Tar Heels a 63-62 lead over Georgetown. When those 17 seconds ticked off, North Carolina coach Dean Smith had his first national championship.

“I’m very blessed for what that shot did, and my name did change from Mike to Michael,” Jordan recounted five years ago. “To sit back and think ‘What if?’ is a scary thought. There are a lot of other options. I could be pumping gas back in Wilmington, N.C.”

Smart’s jumper with 5 seconds left gave Indiana a 74-73 win over Syracuse, which had a chance to expand its lead when Derrick Coleman missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 28 seconds to play and none of his teammates along the lane. The national championship was coach Bob Knight’s third and last at Indiana, and the loss was a crushing one for Orange coach Jim Boeheim.

“If it goes in, it’s my shot,” Smart, now the coach of the Sacramento Kings said then of his game-winner. “It’s a pickup game shot.”

Jordan’s shot was followed by one of the biggest mistakes ever seen in sports.

Georgetown’s Fred Brown had the ball inside the midcourt line, setting up the Hoyas’ chance at a win in their first Final Four appearance ever and first in a three-year span with center Patrick Ewing. Inexplicably, Brown turned and flipped the ball to James Worthy of the Tar Heels who was fouled but missed both free throws.

One of the lasting images of that NCAA tournament was Georgetown coach John Thompson hugging a disconsolate Brown after the game, telling him the Hoyas wouldn’t have gotten to that point without him.

Thompson will be in New Orleans this weekend, this time as a radio analyst. He’s glad to be back in the Crescent City, even with that memory from 30 years ago.

“I think the moment itself is difficult to deal with as is the case with everybody that got that far,” Thompson said Thursday. “You lose, you feel bad, but you put it in perspective. New Orleans was the first city we played in a Final Four in. It was the first city we got to the final two. If you’re competitive you’re always disappointed when you lose. I don’t hate New Orleans because we lost. Just the opposite, I love it because it was the first place we had a chance to play for the national championship.”

When the Final Four was held in New Orleans in 1993, North Carolina again made it to the championship game, this time facing the Fab Five of Michigan, who were playing for the title for a second straight season.

The Tar Heels led 73-71 when Michigan got the ball with 20 seconds to go. Chris Webber, the best of the Wolverines’ young team, took off like a runaway train and finally stopped in front of his own bench and called a timeout Michigan didn’t have. Under the rules at the time, Michigan was charged with a technical foul and lost possession of the ball. Donald Williams made all four free throws, and North Carolina had another national title in New Orleans that was sealed by another major mistake by its opponent.

In one of the most standup news conferences ever, Webber, still a teenager, faced every question thrown at him.

“I just called a timeout and we didn’t have one and it probably cost us the game,” he said. “If I’d have known we didn’t have any timeouts left, I wouldn’t have called a timeout.”

Steve Fisher was the coach of the Wolverines then. Now the coach at San Diego State, he said Thursday that the NCAA tournament always stirs up memories of that night.

“When they talk about plays in tournament history, that’s one of the things they talk about,” he said. “It’s part of who we are, our legacy. … I wish it hadn’t happened, but it happened to us.”

Brown and Webber never got a chance to atone for their Superdome transgressions. Syracuse did.

In 2003, the last time the Final Four was held here, the Orange were led by freshmen Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara in an 81-78 win over Kansas that gave Syracuse its first national championship.

The game was sealed with seconds to play when sophomore Hakim Warrick, appropriately nicknamed “Helicopter,” came from out of nowhere to block Michael Lee’s potential game-tying shot from the corner.

Boeheim, who had left New Orleans 16 years earlier with a tough loss, had the trophy in his hands and a net around his neck.

“I was glad we got to go back in ’03,” Boeheim said Thursday. “We had an opportunity to win, to get to erase the memory. Honestly, it was better than if we won someplace else.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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