The Eight Best Championship Week Games in Las Vegas in the Last Five Years

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 16th, 2015

Over the past week in Las Vegas, I’ve taken in three conference tournaments at three different venues, seen as many as 10 different NCAA Tournament contenders (and that’s without even getting out to the WAC Tournament to see New Mexico State) and several wildly enjoyable college basketball games. It takes some time to pass before you can consider how an event will fit in with other events over the course of history, but all these great games got me thinking. You see, this was the sixth straight season I’ve been in Las Vegas for Championship Week. And over those years, I’ve seen some absolutely classic basketball games. So, I figured I’d put together my list of the best games I’ve seen in Las Vegas in the previous five seasons. Games like Wyoming/San Diego State in this year’s Mountain West title game, or the latest iteration of Arizona/UCLA, or several other games from this week (Gonzaga/BYU, USC/Arizona State, Stanford/Washington, among others) will doubtlessly be on this list in the future. But we need time to age and mellow the remembrances of this vintage of Vegas epics. So, for your consideration below, here are the eight best March masterpieces that Las Vegas has served up in the past five seasons.

  1. San Diego State 65, Boise State 62, March 8, 2012, Mountain West Quarterfinal. For 39 minutes and 59 seconds, the then 13-16 and eighth-place Broncos would play Mountain West Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin and his Aztecs to a draw. And then, on a three-pointer as time expired, Franklin showed everybody why he was the MW POY and why the Aztecs were the #1 seed. After getting a hand-off at the top of the key and with two guys in his face, Franklin drilled a 22-footer to send the Aztecs to the semifinals in dramatic fashion.

  1. New Mexico 72, UNLV 67, March 9, 2012, Mountain West Semifinal. The Runnin’ Rebels raced out to the first 12 points of this game. Playing on their homecourt, a place where they hadn’t lost since the previous year’s Mountain West tournament, the Rebels had to feel confident in knowing that they had never lost to the Lobos in their previous eight Mountain West tournament matchups. New Mexico took that early punch and then rode Drew Gordon and some great defense on the comeback trail, setting up a championship matchup against San Diego State.

  1. Arizona State 89, Stanford 88 (OT), March 13, 2013, Pac-12 First Round. It was Jahii Carson’s chance to shine in the Las Vegas spotlight. The freshman went for 34 in his first postseason game, a Pac-12/10 postseason record high for a freshman. He scored off the bounce; he dropped in three threes; he handed out four assists; and, to get right to the point, he sent wows of appreciation through a sparse opening day matinee crowd. Aaron Bright hit six threes, including a four-point play with 41 seconds remaining in regulation to keep the Cardinal around, but Carson’s heroics were too much to overcome.
  1. UNLV 70, BYU 66, March 12, 2010, Mountain West Semifinal. After turning an ankle late in the game, junior Tre’Von Willis returned to make a key runner and then four late clutch free throws to send the Rebels to the title game, holding off the Cougars despite “only” 30 from Jimmer Fredette.
  1. San Diego State 72, New Mexico 69, March 12, 2010, Mountain West Semifinal. The Aztecs came into the Mountain West Tournament needing to earn the automatic bid to ensure themselves a spot in the Big Dance. A late Dairese Gary runner was off, allowing Kawhi Leonard to pull down a man’s rebound with less than a second left and knock in two free throws for the final margin. A terrific back and forth battle throughout, I’ll remember this game as cementing my expectations that Leonard was something special: three threes; numerous one-on-one offensive moves; terrific rebounding; and all-conference-type defense.
  1. UCLA 66, Arizona 64, March 15, 2013, Pac-12 Semifinal.He touched the ball. He touched the ball. He touched the ball. He touched the ball. He touched the ball.”… “By the way, full credit to UCLA.”

  1. BYU 87, New Mexico 76, March 11, 2011, Mountain West Semifinal. The score doesn’t seem like much to write home about, but there was all sorts of drama here, highlighted mainly by Jimmer Fredette going off for 52 stunning points. In a twist, showing us the pain of sports alongside its glory, the Lobos’ senior point guard Dairese Gary went down with a torn ACL early in the second half, robbing the game of significant suspense other than Fredette’s continued offensive fireworks. Still, just being in the building to watch such a performance puts it among my favorite sports memories of all-time. Fun stat: Fredette got to 52 points while hitting just one free throw.
  1. UCLA 75, Arizona 71, March 15, 2014, Pac-12 Championship. A year to the day later after “he touched the ball,” Jordan Adams knocked in a three-pointer with 45 seconds left and the Bruins knocked off Aaron Gordon, Nick Johnson and the #4 Wildcats in a true Pac-12 classic. This wasn’t a game decided by a last-second shot, but it was a game full of outstanding play and high drama for the entire 40 minutes. With as many as – what? 10? – future NBA players, a capacity crowd in the MGM Grand Arena and a margin of no more than two possessions over the last 25 minutes of the game, college basketball games aren’t played at a higher level than this one. Both teams played into the second weekend in the NCAA Tournament the following week.
AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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