Flashback: Louisville tops 11-seed LSU in 1986 Final Four

Twenty-five years ago today, Louisville overcame an eight-point halftime deficit to top Cinderella LSU - the first 11-seed to crash the Final Four and the only one until George Mason in 2007 - 88-77 in the 1986 Final Four. The Cards would claim their second national title two days later with a victory over Duke.

Here's how it happened (the last quote from Dale Brown is especially pertinent given this year's Final Four):

With the score tied at 31 at the 8:56 mark in the first half, LSU closed with a 13-3 run and held Louisville scoreless for the last 3:14. The Cardinals were noticeably frustrated and confused by the Tigers' patented "freak defense" that had been effective all tournament.

"We played so over out heads in the first half, we thought we were the Boston Celtics," LSU head coach Dale Brown said.

The telling statistic of the first half might have been that of Louisville's talented backcourt tandem of Milt Wagner and Jeff Hall. The two combined for only five field goals to go along with nine turnovers in the first 20 minutes. 

"LSU did baffle us," Hall said. "Coming down on offense, the guards have to recognize the defense. If it takes five seconds to look at it, you can get out of sync. It was a changeup defense but at halftime we made adjustments."

The Cardinals quickly trimmed the lead to 44-40 with the first two baskets out of halftime. Then, five minutes into the second half, Louisville went on a fast-paced 17-1 run thanks to a full-court press that disrupted LSU's offensive rhythm.

"What the press did was to keep them out of set on offense," Cardinal head coach Denny Crum said. "It made them work and fatigued them a little. Even though we didn't get the steals, the press worked because it allowed us to conduct the tempo of the game in the end."

With the 10:23 left to play, Louisville took a commanding 65-55 lead.

After shooting 57 percent in the first half, the Tigers were stymied offensively, going 0-for-11 during the run.

The full-court pressure led the Cardinals to their first lead of the game at 56-54 with a Billy Thompson bank shot at the 12:53 mark off of a turnover. Meanwhile, Williams fell into foul trouble and was a non-factor for most of the second half.

When he returned, the 6-8 sophomore was blanketed by Thompson and held to two points the rest of the way.

LSU pulled to within five late in the game and then cut it to 82-77 after a pair of Taylor free throws with 0:56 remaining. But it was too little too late as Louisville closed with the final six points and forced the Tigers to four misses from the field.

The Cardinals outrebounded LSU by nine in the second half and finished with 26 assists.

All five Louisville starters finished in double figures, including Wagner who responded in the second half and tallied 22 points and 11 rebounds. Thompson added 22 points, while freshman sensation Pervis Ellison pulled down 13 boards.

"They have the best depth of any team we played all year," Brown said. "And they have the best athletes. They are just very athletic. This is a typical Louisville team."

Brown praised his team's effort not only on Saturday but throughout its entire Cinderella march through the tournament.

"I thought we played as hard as we possibly could," Brown added. "We could not expect more out of this team. They gave it everything they had the entire tournament, and I can't be more proud of what we did this season."

Even though LSU's dream ended in a tale of two halves, the Tigers embarked on one of the most remarkable seasons in school history. What began in the early fall was a team that wasn't supposed to reach the NCAA Tournament, let alone reel off five straight upsets en route to its third Final Four.

LSU, which finished with a 26-12 record, barely earned a berth in the tournament after dropping 11 of its last 19 regular season games and exiting in the second round of the SEC Tournament. The Tigers were the only unranked team in the field and brushed off by most of the national media when the dance began.

Yet, Brown and his team overcame injuries and illnesses during the season to begin perhaps the most improbable journey of any team in NCAA Tournament history. The emergence of the freak defense, a 6-6 makeshift center in Ricky Blanton and the scoring efforts of Redden and Williams proved to be the ingredients for a magnificent run.

"It's been a great achievement," said Redden. "We had so much adversity this year – a chicken pox epidemic, guys getting hurt, academic ineligibilities – that just to end up in the Final Four is a great way to go out."

All five of the Tigers' postseason opponents were recognized on paper as more talented and more athletic teams. In the end, it was "outright guts" Brown said propelled his squad to upsets over Purdue, Memphis State, Georgia Tech and Kentucky.

"We earned our way here," Brown said. "We had the hardest road to the Final Four, and we got here through a democratic system of playing games. We're an example of what makes America great."


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