With the annual NCAA tournament looming next month, it seems like a good time to reminisce and recount some of the best games ever recorded on college basketball's biggest stage by future Celtic players.
Incredible performances by two Boston teammate buddies from 1985-88 immediately jump to mind. Bill Walton, who was the Sixth Man of the Year on perhaps the greatest team in NBA history, the 67-15 Celtics of 1985-86, enjoyed a record-setting night in the first-ever Monday night NCAA final back in 1973.
Despite playing just 33 minutes due to foul trouble and then because of a sprained ankle suffered in the waning minutes of the title game, Walton cemented his second straight tournament Most Outstanding Player award with a display for the ages.
The big redhead connected on an incredible 21 of 22 field goal attempts to lead UCLA to an 87-66 win over Memphis State as he netted a championship game-record 44 points.
His outburst broke the record of 42 points set by former Bruin guard Gail Goodrich in the 1965 finals, and the mark still stands today despite the addition of the three-point line and the shot clock.
Walton's play was so outstanding that even an admiring Memphis player helped him off the floor after he sprained his ankle.
Only sharpshooting small forward Jack Givens of Kentucky, who tallied 41 points in the 1978 NCAA finals vs. a very porous Duke zone, has even approached Walton's total of 44 in the 42 seasons since Big Bill set the mark.
Ironically, Walton made just two of five free free throws in his record outing, but he also added 13 rebounds to lead UCLA to its unprecedented seventh straight NCAA crown. And of course, he joined a very elite club of multiple MOP winners.
The year before, as a greatly-awaited sophomore at a time when freshmen were still ineligible, Walton also turned in a similarly efficient performance against Louisville in the national semifinals.
Facing a Cardinal club coached by former UCLA player and assistant Denny Crum, the man who recruited Walton out of San Diego for John Wooden's Bruins, Walton shredded the first-year mentor's squad.
Walton canned 11 of 13 field goal tries and hit on 11 out of 12 free throws for a game-high 33 points vs. Louisville. He added a whopping 21 rebounds for good measure as UCLA spanked the Cards, 96-77.
In the 1972 finals, Walton compiled 24 points and 20 rebounds to pace the Bruins past upstart Florida State 81-76 and win tournament MOP honors. Ironically, it was two years after another Celtic redhead center-to-be, Dave Cowens, had led FSU to prominence before moving on to NBA stardom.
As a senior, Walton also tallied 29 points and 18 rebounds in the 1974 national semis vs. North Carolina State in a much-ballyhooed showdown between the nation's top two teams and players. Walton faced off against Wolfpack All-American jumping jack David Thompson and 7-2 Tom Burleson, and was on the verge of leading UCLA to an eighth straight title when the center could not hold.
After building a seemingly insurmountable 74-67 lead in the second overtime (and with no shot clock or three-point line), the Bruins inexplicably fell apart and had their incredible 38-game NCAA tournament win streak snapped 80-77 by the Wolfpack in a double OT epic.
Earlier in the west regional semis of that sea-changing 1974 NCAA tourney, the last one where only league champions were eligible to play and the Bruin dynasty finally fell, UCLA was almost upset by Dayton and Walton's future Portland teammate, guard Johnny Davis.
But the Bruins held off the Flyers in a triple overtime marathon, 111-100. Walton scored 27 points and pulled down 19 rebounds to offset 36 markers by Dayton forward Mike Sylvester, and 17 from Davis.
In their sweet 16 matchup vs. Arizona State in 1973, Walton poured in 28 points on 13 of 18 shooting, and also grabbed 14 boards while dishing out six assists.
Amazingly, Big Bill and the Bruins started out 73-0 before losing to Notre Dame his senior season in a Jan. 19, 1974 game for the ages that saw th Fighting Irish scored the final 12 points to rally and win by a 71-70 count.
Ironically, their last defeat three years earlier had also come at the hands of ND at South Bend, where Hoosier native legend John Wooden had served several years as a high school coach.
Five years later in 1979, Walton's future teammate, friend and MVP of the 1986 Celtics put on one of the greatest shooting performances in the history of the Final Four.
Larry Bird's superb season-long performance carried an otherwise-ordinary team to the championship game with a perfect record, the last team to do so. The college Player of the Year capped his great season with a display of accuracy for the ages in the 1979 national semifinals.
Bird was a high school junior when Walton scored 44 points in the 1973 NCAA finals, and the brilliant redhead was as close as any player came to being an idol of the Hick from French Lick.
Facing a strong DePaul club led by Mark Aguirre in the 1979 national semis, undefeated Indiana State needed all of Larry's 35 points to stave off the Blue Demons 76-74.
All Bird did was connect on 16 of 19 shots from the field and three of four foul shots while pulling down 16 rebounds and dishing out nine assists, just missing a triple-double by one helper.
Bird hit from deep, he made post-up shots, left-handers, leaners, putbacks and mid-range jumpers as he carried ISU to the brink of the finals.
In the end, his no-look pass in the lane against a DePaul double team led to the winning basket as the best-kept secret in the game had his splendid all-around skills finally on display for the basketball world to marvel at.
His monster effort lifted ISU to a 33-0 record, making them the last team to make it to the national finals undefeated and matching the uniform number on Larry's powder blue jersey.
Unfortunately, his deadly shooting eye deserted him two nights later in the altitude of Utah amid the swarming Michigan State zone defense that double or triple-teamed him virtually every time he touched the ball.
In his sophomore season, as league newcomers Bird and ISU were not eligible to compete for the Missouri Valley Conference title, which kept them from having a chance to make the NCAAs despite a 25-2 record and a number 16 ranking.
ISU was edged 83-82 in the NIT by eventual runner-up Houston.
In 1977-78 despite starting out 13-0 and being ranked as high as number four at one point, the Sycamores were relegated to the NIT, which was still prestigious. ISU finished second in the MVC to Creighton and lost to the Bluejays 54-52 in the league tourney finals to miss out on an NCAA berth despite a 22-8 mark.
The Sycamores then lost another one-point game in the 1978 NIT quarterfinals to Rutgers, 57-56.
But those near-misses and a lack of national exposure made Bird and Indiana State's fabled rise to the top of the rankings in 1978-79 at 33-0 even more remarkable and hypnotic. Poetic justice also made it true that Bird's jersey number equaled the team's number of wins.
In Bird's long-awaited first NCAA tournament game vs. Virginia Tech in 1979, the Sycamores beat the Hokies 86-69. All Larry Legend did was amass 22 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. But he would get even better in the next contest, and in each succeeding one until the Finals.
In the round of 16 vs. Oklahoma forward and current Portland head coach Terry Stotts, Bird compiled 29 points, 15 caroms and five assists as ISU drubbed the Sooners 93-72. He shot 11-19 from the field and 7-8 from the foul line, and his point total certainly would have been higher if he had the three-point line at his disposal.
Bird also dispelled the myth of his supposed lack of jumping ability with a one-step leap and soaring block of a Sooner drive as he scraped it off the top of the square on the backboard.
In the regional finals vs. star Sidney Moncrief and second-seeded Arkansas, a team which had gone to the Final Four the previous March, Bird upped his production once more.
Larry tallied 31 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and passed out three assists vs. the talented fifth-ranked Razorbacks. ISU won a 73-71 thriller at Cincinnati on a last-second, off-handed runner by Bob Heaton that danced around the rim before falling in to provide the winning margin.
Bird shot 12-22 from the field and 7-8 from the foul line in the historic win that propelled Cinderella State to the Final Four in their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance.
In a crow-eating bonus, Bird got to be interviewed by then-NBC analyst Billy Packer, who had openly questioned Indiana State's record, seeding and Bird himself due to playing in the mid-major Missouri Valley Conference.
A skeptical sporting nation did not anoint unbeaten ISU to the number one ranking until mid-February when Notre Dame and UCLA lost. Yet the NCAA performance of Bird and the Sycamores vindicated their top ranking, and embarrassed the ACC-biased Packer.
As Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News said in a 2007 CBS program ranking college basketball's top 10 shooters (the show rated Bird as the number one shooter in NCAA history), "Larry Bird was probably the single most dominant player in college basketball in the last 35 years (since Walton).
"If there was no Larry Bird, they are mid-pack to lower in the Missouri Valley Conference," he continued. "Instead they are the first or second-best team in college basketball. It is as simple as that; he meant everything," added DeCourcy.
Highly-respected basketball writer Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe also voiced his opinion that Bird carrying an otherwise-ordinary team to the cusp of a national title with an unbeaten record was the greatest single achievement in college basketball history.
Larry then followed the Arkansas win with his fifth successively better performance in the semis vs. sixth-ranked DePaul, where he recorded that incredible 35-16-9 line. Even then, Bird's mother Georgia afterward shook her head and said Larry committed "too many turnovers."
In 1956, Bill Russell led San Francisco to its second straight NCAA title with a dominating effort against Iowa. All Russ did was score 26 points and yank down 27 rebounds to pace the Dons to an 83-71 victory.
In the semis, he was "held" to 17 points and 23 caroms as the Dons mauled SMU, 86-68.
Celtic defensive ballhawk and future coach K.C. Jones also had a great game in the 1955 NCAA finals for San Francisco. Jones, who won eight NBA titles as a player and two more as a head coach, also captured two titles in college with Russell at San Francisco.
Against defending champion LaSalle in the 1955 title bout, the 6-1 Jones fired in a game-high 24 points on 10-23 shooting from the floor and 4-4 accuracy at the charity stripe to lead USF to a 77-63 win over the Explorers and their versatile star, Tom Gola.
Russell added 23 points in the victory. Due to an eligibility issue, Jones was not allowed to play in the 1956 tournament, yet USF still repeated as champions.
In 1952, future Celtic/Laker center and Hall of Famer Clyde Lovellette put the capper on one of the greatest seasons in NCAA history. The burly 6-9 hook-shooter from Terre Haute, Indiana became the first and only man to win the NCAA scoring title AND the national title in the same season.
After averaging 28.6 points a game to top the nation in the 1951-52 season, Lovellette scored 31 in the first round of the 1952 NCAA tourney to lead the Jayhawks past TCU, 68-64.
Then in the West region final, Lovellette bombed in 44 points on 16 baskets and 12-14 foul shooting to carry Kansas to a 74-55 win over St. Louis. By the way, future North Carolina coaching legend Dean Smith went scoreless for Kansas as a backup guard vs. St. Louis.
In the national semis, Big Clyde fired in 33 points (12-22 FG, 9-12 FTs) to lead the Jayhawks to another identical score, a 74-55 win over Santa Clara.
Then in the title game vs. St. John's the Terre Haute, Indiana native again torched the nets for 33 points on 12-25 shooting from the field and 9-11 accuracy from the charity stripe. He also added 17 rebounds as Kansas won its first NCAA crown over St. John's, 80-63.
For the tournament, he averaged a record 35.3 points per game in the four Jayhawk wins.
All-time Celtic great and franchise leading scorer John Havlicek made it to the NCAA finals in all three years of his college eligibility from 1960-62 at Ohio State (freshmen were not allowed to play varsity then), compiling a gaudy 78-6 record.
As a super sophomore in 1960, Havlicek tallied 17 points and eight boards in his first NCAA tournament game, a 98-79 win over Western Kentucky. In the round of 16 vs. Georgia Tech, Hondo registered 15 points and 10 rebounds in an 86-69 win, along with typically strong defense.
Future Celtic teammate Tom Sanders pulled down 22 rebounds in New York University's 76-54 loss to Ohio State in the 1960 semis. In the finals Havlicek posted 12 and six as OSU won its only national title with a 75-55 blowout of defending champion California.
In the second round of the 1961 tourney, OSU narrowly avoided an upset by Louisville 56-55 behind the heroics of Havlicek. With the score knotted 54-all, the clutch Hondo nailed the winning basket with just six seconds left, smething he would do countless times in his 16 Celtic seasons.
Cardinal John Turner was fouled with a second left and made the first foul shot to cut the deficit to a point, but missed the second tying shot and the unbeaten Buckeyes escaped.
In the sweet 16 of 1962, Hondo hit on seven of nine shots to lead Ohio State to a 93-73 win over the WKU Hilltoppers. Then in the national semis, John scored 25 points and yanked down 16 rebounds to lead OSU past Wake Forest and guard Billy Packer (17 points), 84-68.
In the other semifinal, defending champion Cincinnati was tied 70-70 with UCLA and coach John Wooden in his first of 12 Final Four showings. Future Celtic reserve guard Tom Thacker hit a 25-footer just before the buzzer to give the Bearcats a 72-70 win.
Ironically, it was Thacker's only basket of the game. Wooden's Bruins would return to the Final Four every year from 1964-75 except 1966, and post an incredible 19-1 record once there.
In a finals rematch of the 1961 title game won by Cincinnati, the Bearcats beat the Buckeyes again 71-59 as Jerry Lucas was hobbled by a knee injury suffered late in the previous win over Wake.
Hondo scored 11 points and grabbed nine boards, but Thacker tallied 21 for the victors. Celtic mid-1960s sharpshooter Ron Bonham netted 10 points for Cincinnati in that 1962 finals win.
In the same 1962 tourney, future Celtic backup center Mel Counts pulled down 21 rebounds for Oregon State in a 69-67 round of 16 win over Pepperdine.
Counts then tallied 24 points and 17 boards in an 88-69 elite eight loss to UCLA. The next year, Counts led the Beavers to the Final Four.
The future Olympian scored 22 points to lead OSU past USF 65-61 in the 1963 sweet 16. In the west regional finals, he posted 26 points and 13 caroms to lead the Beavers past Arizona State and future NBA/ABA All-Star Joe Caldwell, 83-65.
In the semis, Counts scored 20 points and grabbed nine boards but the Beavers were blown out by the defending champion Bearcats, 80-46. Thacker and Bonham each tallied 14 markers for Cincy in the win.
In the consolation game, the 6-11 Counts registered 25 markers and 18 rebounds but OSU was whipped by Duke, 85-63. Incidentally, one of Mel's starting teammates on the Beaver squad was Heisman Award-winning quarterback Terry Baker, a guard who shot just 3-20 from the field in the two State Final Four losses.
After struggling as Russell's backup, Counts went on to better NBA days with the Lakers and Suns.
Bonham's best tournament showing came in the 1963 Finals as the Bearcats aimed for the first three-peat in NCAA history. He tossed in 22 points on 8-16 field goal shooting and 6-6 at the foul line to lead the Bearcats to a big lead.
Cincinnati held a 15-point lead in the second half against Loyola of Chicago, but went into a stall too soon, lost its momentum and ultimately the lead. The Ramblers tied it at the end of regulation and then pulled off the upset in overtime when Vic Rouse tipped in a shot at the buzzer, 60-58.
Thacker added 13 points and 15 rebounds in the difficult defeat.
Tom Sanders, a defensive standout and a fixture for the Celtics at forward during their title years of the 1960s on into the early 1970s, had a big game in the 1960 third-place contest.
In the consolation game, Cincinnati and Oscar Robertson (32 points) blew out NYU 95-71. But Satch acquitted himself well with 27 points (11-23 FGs) and 11 rebounds.
In 1966, seven-time Celtic All-Star guard JoJo White led Kansas to the regional finals vs. Texas Western. As time ran out, White bombed in a long shot that appeared to win the game. However, White was ruled to have stepped on the sideline before launching the winner in a controversial call.
Texas Western went on to win 81-80 in double overtime and eventually took the national title. The 6-3 White scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in defeat.
In 1967, Kansas lost to Houston and White's future backcourt mate with Boston from 1970-75 in Don Chaney, 66-53. JoJo scored 18 points while Chaney netted 20. In the regional third-place contest, Kansas edged Louisville and Wes Unseld 70-68 as White tallied 22.
Houston went on to the Final Four behind Elvin Hayes and defensive ace Chaney. "Duck" scored 19 points for the Cougars in the national third-place consolation game, an 84-62 win over North Carolina in Dean Smith's first of 11 trips to the Final Four.
In 1968, Houston ended UCLA's 47-game win streak in a 71-69 epic at the AstroDome before a national TV audience and nearly 53,000 fans. Thus the Cougars entered the tournament unbeaten and ranked number one.
But in the national semifinal rematch, UCLA avenged that loss with a 101-69 blowout of Houston as Chaney scored 15 points. A stunned Cougar club was then upset in the third-place contest by Ohio State, 89-85.
Also in 1968, future Celtic Hall oF Famer/White and Chaney teammate Dave Cowens led Florida State to the school's first-ever NCAA tournament as a sophomore. But the Seminoles lost to East Tennessee State and eventual ABA fan favorite Skeeter Swift, 79-69.
The fiery Dave scored 11 points but never got back to the tournament in an era when it was much tougher to merely qualify for the smaller tournament field, despite leading FSU to a 41-11 record over the next two seasons.
The year 1968 was a strong NCAA tournament for future Celtics. Charlie Scott, Chaney's replacement and a starting teammate of Cowens and White on the 1976 Boston title team, averaged 16 points in four games to help North Carolina to the final game, a 78-55 drubbing at the hands of UCLA and Lew Alcindor.
Scott tallied 21 points in the 91-72 Tar Heel win over St. Bonaventure in the sweet 16 for his best game of the 1968 big dance.
In 1969 Scott, who broke the Atlantic Coast Conference color line under Dean Smith, scored 22 points to pace NC to a 79-78 second round win over Duquesne.
In the elite eight, Scott nailed a 20-footer with three seconds left to lead the Heels over Davidson (coached by eventual Maryland mentor Lefty Driesell), 87-85. Scott, who wore number 33 in college and number 11 with Boston, netted 32 points on 14-21 shooting accuracy.
But in the 1969 semis, Purdue and deadeye guard Rick Mount (36 points) blew out the Tar Heels 92-65 to prevent a repeat of the UCLA/NC championship game. Scott scored 16.
In the third-place contest, Scott exploded for 35 points but Drake blew out Blue Heaven 104-84.
Late 1970's Celtic forward Curtis Rowe tallied 14 points and 13 rebounds for the Bruins in their barnburner 1969 semifinal 85-82 win over Drake, the closest Bruin Final Four victory of the Wooden era.
Rowe then added a dozen points and 12 boards in the 92-72 Bruin blowout of Purdue and sharpshooter Rick Mount in the finals.
In 1970 it was time for Sidney Wicks, Rowe's forward tandem mate at UCLA and Boston, to shine. Wicks scored 22 points on 10-12 shooting and snared 16 caroms to pace UCLA to a 93-77 win over New Mexico State in the semis. Rowe contributed 15 points and 15 boards. The smooth Alabaman tallied 19 points and grabbed eight boards.
In the 1970 NCAA finals, Rowe scored a game-high 19 points while Wicks pulled down 18 rebounds, scored 17 points and blocked several shots by 7-2 Jacksonville center Artis Gilmore. Wicks, who played for Boston along with Rowe from 1976-79, was named tourney MOP.
Rowe and Wicks each netted 26 points for the Bruins in the 1970 elite eight 101-79 blowout of Utah State. Wicks also shot 10-12 from the field to tally 22 points and 16 boards in a 93-77 semifinal win over New Mexico State.
Hall of Famer Gilmore, who ended his long pro career as a backup for the 1988 Celtics, scored 30 points in a wild 104-103 Dolphin win over Iowa in the 1970 sweet 16.
The Hawkeyes featured future NBA standouts in long-range bomber "Downtown" Fred Brown and slick-passing John Johnson, who eventually teamed up to help Seattle win the 1979 NBA crown.Sinewy Celtic backup guard Rex Morgan added 23 points for Jacksonville in the win.
In the elite eight, Artis posted 24 points and 20 boards in a 106-100 shootout win over Kentucky and future ABA teammate Dan Issel, who scored 28. The 6-5 Morgan led Jacksonville with 26 points.
In the 1970 semis vs. St. Bonaventure, who was without fellow star southpaw center Bob Lanier due to injury, Gilmore went wild with 29 points and 21 rebounds. Lanier tore a knee ligament near the end of their elite eight win over Villanova when future Piston teammate and Celtic Chris Ford collided with him.
The Dolphins, in just their fourth season as a Div. I program, advanced to their first and only NCAA finals with a 91-83 win as Morgan added 17.
Morgan contributed 10 points and 11 assists in the 1970 Jacksonville loss to UCLA, 80-69.
In the 1971 first round, Jacksonville blew a 14-point halftime lead and lost in the closing seconds to Western Kentucky, 74-72. Gilmore pulled down 22 rebounds in the shocking loss. Future Celtic first round pick Clarence Glover helped the Hilltoppers with 16 points and 17 rebounds.
Glover posted 18 points and 17 caroms in the 1971 sweet 16 as WKU blew out in-state bully Kentucky, 107-83, in what had to be the sweetest win in program history.
In the 1971 semis, Western lost a 92-89 double overtime heartbreaker to Villanova and future Celtic guard/coach Chris Ford despite 20 rebounds by Glover. Glover added 10 points and 13 boards in the third-place contest, a 77-75 WKU win over Kansas.
The Jayhawks were paced to the 1971 Final Four by good-shooting 6-10 southpaw center Dave Robisch, who was drafted by Boston but chose to sign with the ABA to start an underrated 14-year career that saw him play for seven teams. Robisch was voted MOP Of the Midwest region after averaging 28 points and 13 boards in two wins, and he contributed 40 points in the two close Final Four defeats.
Had Robisch signed with Boston, he would have provided much-needed frontline depth on the great Celtic clubs of 1971-76, perhaps leading to a few more banners. Instead he averaged almost 15 and nine over that span in the ABA.
Meanwhile, in the other 1971 semifinal Wicks netted 21 points while Rowe added 16 points and 15 boards in a 68-60 UCLA win over Kansas at the Houston AstroDome. The duo combined for just 15 points in the finals vs. Villanova, but the Bruins still prevailed 68-62.
The victory meant Rowe, Wicks and Steve Patterson joined Lynn Shackelford and Alcindor as key Bruin three-time NCAA champions.
Chris Ford passed out 10 assists in the 1971 Wildcat title game loss, and averaged eight assists per outing in the five Villanova games.
Glover, a 6-8 bruiser and the 10th overall pick in the 1971 NBA draft, would only play 25 non-descript games for the Celtics before being released.
In the first round of the 1972 NCAA tourney, Ford scored 24 points on 11-19 shooting and dished out seven assists as Villanova whipped East Carolina, 85-70.
Ford then scored 14 points with four assists in the round of 16, but Penn and future Piston and Dream Team coach Chuck Daly upset the Wildcats, 78-67. Then in the long-defunct East region third-place contest, Ford posted 19 points, six assists and six caroms in a 90-78 loss to South Carolina.
Ford averaged 10.3 ppg for Boston from 1978-83 and started on the 1981 championship squad. The heady guard later coached the Celtics at the end of the Bird era and beyond, from 1990-95.
His Boston teams won two division titles, both in Larry Legend's final seasons, and posted a 222-188 regular season record. But his Celtics were only 13-16 in the post-season and won just two series, both over Indiana in the first round.
In 1973, 6-9 Indiana University workhorse Steve Downing led the Hoosiers to the Final Four in just Bob Knight's second season, and became Boston's first round draft pick later that year.
In the semis vs. UCLA, Downing outscored Bill Walton 26 to 14 but fouled out late in a controversial collision with the big redhead as both players were saddled with four personal fouls. UCLA went on to pull away late from a one-point lead for a 70-59 win.
In the 75-69 first round win over Marquette, Steve scored 29 points and grabbed 10 caroms. In the regional final 72-65 victory over rival Kentucky, Downing muscled his way to 23 points and 13 boards. Big Steve was an NBA bust, but he did collect a ring as a backup for the 1974 Celtic champions.
In Indiana's third-place consolation game 97-79 win over flashy All-American guard Ernie DiGregorio and Providence, Downing netted 21 points and snagged 14 boards.
A backup Celtic guard at the end of his career in 1978, "Ernie D" fired in 32 points and doled out seven assists for the Friars in the 1973 semifinals, but Providence fell to Memphis State 98-85 when Marvin "Bad News" Barnes went down early with a knee injury.
Nevertheless, the six-foot Ernie, a direct descendant of Celtic legend Bob Cousy in terms of size and court vision, wowed the crowd with a behind-the-back pass off the dribble from behind halfcourt that covered 50 feet to hit a teammate perfectly in stride cutting through the lane for a layup.
Unfortunately for Ernie, a knee injury curtailed his pro career that began so promisingly when he won Rookie of the Year honors in 1975 for Buffalo after averaging 15 ppg and leading the NBA in both assists and foul shooting in his first year.
Barnes, who also played briefly with Boston in the dark days of the late 1970's, put up 19 points and 15 rebounds in the Providence 103-89 elite eight win over Maryland. Ernie D poured in 30 points with five assists in the victory.
In the third-place loss to the Hoosiers, feisty future Celtic backup guard Kevin Stacom tossed in a game-high 29 points while Ernie D added 17 with seven assists.
In their 89-76 first round win in 1973 over St. Joseph's, DiGregorio scored 31 points while Barnes added 21 points and 17 boards.
In 1974 with DiGregorio having graduated to NBA stardom, Providence managed to return to the NCAA tournament as a 27-2 independent. Barnes (26 points) and Stacom (16) led the Friars to an 84-69 victory over Penn in the first round. But eventual champion N.C. State eliminated the Friars in the round of 16.
In the late 1970s, a versatile future Celtic Finals MVP forward who wore number 33 led an unheralded small school overshadowed by big-name traditional powers in its own state to the Final Four.
No, it wasn't Larry Bird in this case, but Cedric Maxwell. Max, who also wore number 33 in college but donned 31 in Boston, led little-known 17th-ranked North Carolina-Charlotte (now known as just Charlotte) to the 1977 Final Four in Atlanta's Omni.
In the first round of the 1977 NCAA tourney, UNCC's run almost got derailed before they got started on the journey. The clever 6-8 Maxwell scored 32 points with a variety of unorthodox inside moves, and also snared 18 rebounds to help the 49ers edge Central Michigan in overtime, 91-86.
In the regional finals, Maxwell led UNCC to a 75-68 upset of top-ranked Michigan, which had lost in the national title contest the previous year to undefeated Indiana. Cornbread scored 25 points and yanked down 13 rebounds to carry the Niners to the first and only Final Four in program history.
In a national semifinal nailbiter, Charlotte took Marquette to the wire. In the low-scoring 1977 semifinal at Atlanta, the score was tied 49-49 in the final seconds. Warrior center Jerome Whitehead grabbed a fullcourt in-bounds pass and bounced in the winning layup an instant before the buzzer sounded, but only after the play was disputed for several minutes afterward.
Maxwell led UNCC with 17 points on efficient five of six field goal shooting and seven of nine sniping at the foul line, and he also grabbed a team-high dozen rebounds in the low-scoring contest.
The bitter, controversial loss prevented Charlotte from facing in-state foe North Carolina in the finals, whom Marquette defeated 67-59 in coach Al McGuire's swansong.
In the consolation game, Cornbread poured in 30 points (9-15 FGs, 12-13 FTs) and snared 16 rebounds, only to see his 49ers lose to UNLV and Chicago Bull All-Star Reggie Theus in a 106-94 shootout.
The next year a future teammate of Maxwell and Bird helped Kentucky win its fifth NCAA crown, and its first in 20 years. Burly 6-11 center Rick Robey poured in 20 points and yanked down 11 rebounds to help UK beat Cinderella Duke (which started an all-freshman frontline) in the finals, 94-88.
Robey, who played for Boston from 1978-83 and averaged a career-high 11.5 ppg in 1979-80 during pal Larry Bird's rookie season, drained eight of 11 shots from the floor and four of six at the line in 32 efficient minutes vs. Duke.
In the first round of the 1977 NCAA tourney vs. Princeton, Robey scored 20 points and snared nine rebounds in a 72-58 victory. But in the elite eight, the Wildcats lost to North Carolina 79-72 despite 15 points from Robey.
Derek "the Rock" Smith scored 13 points, played strong defense and grabbed eight rebounds to help Louisville beat Iowa 80-72 in the 1980 NCAA semifinals.
The 6-6 Smith scored nine in their finals win two days later over UCLA, and was a key player on the early 1990s Celtics, helping them beat Indiana in their memorable first round matchup before tragically dying at age 34 in 1996.
Ironically, 30 years after Derek helped Louisville win the NCAA title in Indianapolis, his son Nolan Smith started at guard on the 2010 Duke squad that won the championship - also in Indianapolis.
In 1981, future Celtic All-Star guard Danny Ainge nearly carried Brigham Young to their first Final Four. In round one, BYU beat Princeton 60-51 as current Cleveland head coach David Blatt went scoreless off the Tiger bench. Ainge scored 21 points and Fred Roberts added 19.
In the second round, the All-American guard came out of a sick bed to burn UCLA, the school which spurned the Oregon native in recruiting, for a whopping 37 points in a 78-55 blowout.
In the round of 16 "Holy War" vs. Notre Dame at the Omni in Atlanta, Ainge authored one of the most iconic plays in tournament history. Irish All-American Kelly Tripucka had nailed a long right side jumper to give ND a 50-49 with just seconds left.
But a determined Ainge took the in-bounds pass and sped upcourt, intent on making a big play. Danny dribbled behind his back past two defenders, advanced to the lane and lofted in a finger roll over 6-9 Orlando Woolridge two seconds before the final horn to give BYU a thrilling 51-50 victory.
Ainge scored 12 points in the low-scoring battle, while future Celtic teammate Roberts added 11.
In the regional finals vs. Virginia and 7-4 Ralph Sampson, the Cougar Final Four dream came to a halt. After leading 31-28 at the half, BYU fell apart and lost 74-60 as Sampson totaled 22 points and a dozen boards.
Ainge scored 13 points and Roberts added a dozen with seven caroms. Future Celtic backup center Greg Kite was also the starting center for BYU.
Indiana won the 1981 national title, in part because of the late-season emergence of versatile 6-10 redshirt sophomore Landon Turner, who made the all-tournament team and promised to be a good NBA player. But Turner was paralyzed in a car crash that summer and has never walked again.
Nevertheless, in one of Red Auerbach's finer moments, he chose Turner with the 225th and final selection of the 1982 draft.
In 1986, Pervis "Never Nervous" Ellison was a slender and relatively unknown 6-9 center for Louisville. In the championship game vs. Duke, Ellison poured in 25 points on 10-14 shooting, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked two shots to lead the Cardinals to a thrilling 72-69 victory.
He became the first freshman in 42 years to be named Final Four MOP and was the number one pick in the 1989 NBA draft by the Kings. It was the only game out of six in the tourney where the unassuming frosh scored more than 15 points.
Two years later as a junior in the 1988 first round, Ellison scored 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Cardinals past Oregon State, 70-61. In the second round he poured in 24 points to lead Louisville to a 97-76 blowout of BYU.
Ellison posted 23 points and 14 rebounds in the elite eight, but eventual runner-up Oklahoma outscored the 'Ville 108-98.
Never Nervous scored 21 points, passed out eight assists and snared 15 caroms to help Louisville beat Arkansas in the 1989 sweet 16, 93-84. But in the regional final vs. top-ranked Illinois, Pervis saw his career end with a whimper, not a bang, 83-69 as he was held to 12 points.
Later in five unproductive injury-plagued seasons from 1994-2000 with Boston, the oft-injured Ellison jokingly became called Pervis "How About Some Service" Ellison.
In the 1988 NCAA first round, future Celtic 6-9 forward Michael Smith of BYU tossed in 29 points to lead the Cougars to a 98-92 overtime win over Charlotte.
But in the second round, Louisville ousted BYU 97-76 despite 21 and 11 from the sharpshooting Smith. In the 1987 NCAA first round, Smith scored 23 points with 15 rebounds but the Cougars fell to New Orleans, 83-79.
Former Celtic swingman Todd Day fired in 27 points for Arkansas in the 1990 national semifinals, but the Razorbacks lost to Duke by a 97-83 count.
In the 1990 Sweet 16, Georgia Tech freshman southpaw guard Kenny Anderson scored 31 points, including a controversial top of the key shot at the buzzer to force overtime, vs. Michigan State.
Fortunately for Tech, no replay monitor was in use at the time since the shot was released just after the horn. The Yellow Jackets eventually beat the tough-luck Spartans 81-80.
In the elite eight vs. Minnesota, Anderson tossed in 30 more points as the Jackets edged the Gophers 93-91. But in the semifinals, eventual champion UNLV beat Tech 90-81 despite 16 points and eight assists by Anderson, who played for the Celtics from 1998-2002.
In 1991, Anderson fired in 31 points as Tech beat DePaul 87-70 in the first round of the big dance. But in round two, Ohio State eliminated Tech 65-61 despite 25 points by Kenny, who then turned pro.
In 1993, Indianapolis native Eric Montross was a powerful 7-0 center for the national champion North Carolina Tar Heels. In the semis and finals that year, Montross muscled his way to 39 points on 14-25 shooting accuracy, including a 23-point night in a 78-68 win over Kansas in the semis.
The top Celtic draft pick in 1994, the shaven-headed Montross made the NBA all-rookie team in 1995 with Boston before tailing off. But in the first round of the 1992 NCAAs as a sophomore, he made 11 of 13 shots for 22 points in a tight 68-63 win over Miami of Ohio.
Big Eric posted 21 points and a dozen rebounds vs. Ohio State in the 1992 regional semis, but Carolina lost 80-73.
In the West region finals of 1995, future Celtic sharpshooter Ray Allen bombed in 36 points for UConn. But the Huskies lost to eventual champion UCLA 102-96 in perhaps the game of the tournament, despite 12-25 shooting by Allen. Ray would go on to become a key starter on the 2008 Boston champions and their 2010 runner-up squad.
In the previous three UConn NCAA wins in 1995, Allen averaged 20 ppg. In 1996, the consistent Allen averaged 23.7 ppg over three tourney games yet the southeast top seed Huskies were upset by Mississippi State in the round of 16, 60-55.
Kentucky guard Tony Delk, who played 89 games for Boston from 2001-03, was the 1996 Final Four MOP after pouring in 24 points on seven treys in a 76-67 NCAA finals win over Syracuse.
In the semis, Delk led UK again with 20 points as the Wildcats knocked off Massachusetts by seven.
Freshman swingman Ron Mercer, another future Celtic under Rick Pitino who also recruited him to Lexington, came off the bench to perhaps make the difference with 20 points in the 1996 finals as the Wildcats staved off an upset bid by undermanned Syracuse.
Mercer also netted 19 points in the 1997 semis to lead UK past Minnesota, 78-69.
Future Celtic gunner Antoine Walker also scored 14 in the 81-74 UMass victory, and added 11 in the 76-67 finals win over the Orange to go along with nine caroms and four assists.
In 1996, future Celtic great and Jayhawk freshman Paul Pierce scored 20 points to help Kansas beat Arizona in the sweet 16, 83-80. But they lost to Syracuse in the regional finals, 60-57.
In 1997 top-ranked Kansas came into the tournament as a heavy favorite, boasting a 31-1 record. Their only blemish had been a 95-94 defeat at rival Missouri.
But they were upset by eventual champion Arizona in a round of 16 rematch, 85-82. Pierce was valiant in defeat, scoring 27 points and grabbing 11 rebounds to lead a late rally that came up just short.
In the second round of 1997 Kansas beat Purdue 75-61 as Pierce posted team-high totals of 20 and 12. In the first round 78-64 victory over Jackson State, Pierce led Kansas with 19 points and added 13 boards.
In 1998, Kansas was upset in the second round by Rhode Island. Pierce averaged 24 ppg in the two games before turning pro that spring with the Celtics.
In the first round of the 1999 NCAA tourney, Miami of Ohio forward Wally Szczerbiak authored one of the greatest one-man scoring displays in history in a 59-58 win over Washington.
All the 6-7 Wally did was score 43 of his team's mere 59 points, sinking 18 of 33 from the field and five of 12 beyond the arc. For good measure, he also snared 12 rebounds.
He followed that with a 24-point, eight-rebound, five-assist effort to lead 10th-seeded Miami past second-seeded Utah, 66-58. But his amazing run came to an end in the sweet 16 at the hands of defending champion Kentucky, 58-43.
However, the future Minnesota NBA All-Star scored 23 points to end up with 90 of his team's 168 points in the tourney. The 2005-07 Celtic scored 54 percent of his team's points in the tourney, which is likely a record for a tourney run of three games or more.
Austin Carr scored 125 of Notre Dame's 280 points in 1971 for a 41.7 ppg average, or 45 percent of the Irish total. Lovellette (35.3 ppg) tallied 141 of the 296 Kansas points in their 1952 title run to account for 48 percent of the Jayhawk markers.
In 1965, Bill Bradley scored 177 of Princeton's 429 points (41 percent), and Gail Goodrich tallied 140 of the 400 markers by champion UCLA (35 percent).
Current Celtic power forward Jared Sullinger scored 18 points in the Ohio State 73-66 win over Gonzaga in round two of the 2012 NCAA tourney. Sullinger then posted 23 points and 11 rebounds as OSU knocked off in-state rival Cincinnati in the round of 16.
Sullinger added 19 in the elite eight win over Syracuse in the elite eight as the Orange played without suspended center Fab Melo, a Celtic draft pick. Sullinger scored 13 points with 11 boards in the 64-62 semifinal loss to Kansas, but he shot only 5-19 from the floor.
In the second round in 2011, Sullinger registered 18 points and eight rebounds in the 98-66 blowout of George Mason. The big man added 21 points and 14 caroms in the sweet 16 vs. Kentucky, but the top-ranked Buckeyes were upset by the Wildcats, 62-60.
Ironically, it was the first NCAA tournament win over Ohio State in six tourney meetings.
Bringing it back nearly full circle, forgotten Hall of Fame 6-9 center Arnie Risen was a member of the first Celtic title team in 1957 during his penultimate pro season.
But a dozen years before that in 1945, Risen led Ohio State to the NCAA semis well before the Final Four was known by that now ubiquitous moniker, and only eight teams competed in the post-season tournament.
In fact, up to 1951 the NIT was a big or bigger event than the NCAA tourney. After the New York-centered point shaving scandals broke in 1951, the NCAA surpassed the NIT event, which was held completely in Madison Square Garden.
In the 1945 semifinals, Risen netted a game-high 26 points but OSU lost to eventual runner-up NYU, 70-65. Risen also led the Buckeyes to the NCAA semifinals in 1944, where they fell to Dartmouth 60-53 despite 21 Risen markers.
Bob Cousy won an NCAA title as a freshman for Holy Cross in 1947, yet was not a major factor. But George "the Golden Greek" Kaftan, who averaged 11 ppg for the Celtics from 1948-50, was the star for the victorious Crusaders.
Kaftan led all players in the tourney with 63 points in three games, including 30 in the semifinal win over CCNY. Kaftan added 18 more points in the title game, a 58-47 triumph over Oklahoma.
To contact author Cort Reynolds directly, you can email him at email@example.com.