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Wednesday, October 4, 2023


UH basketball remembers historic game

On April 4, 1983, Houston fell victim to one of the greatest upsets in sports history, in what has been called one of the greatest basketball games of all time.

The Cougars were the most intimidating team in college basketball and were given the nickname "Phi Slama Jama" because of their ability to play above the rim.

Led by legendary coach Guy V. Lewis and center Hakeem Olajuwon, they were literally the Goliaths of the NCAA and expected to make it to the national championship game.

North Carolina State entered the tournament with less than 20 wins and had to win its conference tournament just to make it to the Big Dance. The team was supposed to be happy just to be playing another game.

Wolfpack head coach Jim Valvano and his squad, however, sent tremors through the sports world by defeating the giants of the hardwood by giving them a taste of their own medicine. Some say that was when March Madness was born.

"I don’t know if that’s really when people started catching on to the March Madness and excitement, but that game certainly personified what people love about the NCAA Tournament," said Reid Gettys, a backup guard on that Houston team.

"When you have two teams, it’s winner-take-all, one game, it doesn’t matter who the better team is. All that matters is who’s better on that night in that gym on that court, and that’s what makes the NCAA Tournament so fun."

Lewis led Houston to the Final Four five times, as well as back-to-back NCAA Championship games.

Houston’s current head coach, Tom Penders, said he knows how difficult it can be to get to the Final Four and that he felt empathy for the Cougars’ loss.

"That particular game I remember very well. I was there. I remember just feeling really bad for coach Lewis. He had been to the Final Four. It was his third trip there. I was rooting for the Cougars."

Penders said the 1983 championship game meant a lot for college basketball, but paled in comparison to the Game of the Century between UCLA and Houston in the Astrodome, with Lewis integrating the South Western Conference by recruiting Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney, and his style of play – the press and the high-percentage shot.

All of those influences are present in today’s game.

Before playing the Wolfpack in the national championship game, Houston played the Doctors of Dunk, the Louisville Cardinals, in a game that had more slams than an NBA All-Star game.

Clyde Drexler, Olujawon and Michael Young all threw down dunks in the championship game, and now playing above the rim is a must for top-tier basketball entertainment.

"It was a huge part of our team," Gettys said. "Coach Lewis told us confidently that there is no greater shot than a dunk. You get 2 points. You get the crowd excited. You get yourself excited. You get your teammates excited. There was nothing coach Lewis loved more than a dunk."

Former Houston Player Rickie Winslow was a senior at Jack Yates High School at the time of the North Carolina State upset, and said he knows Lewis’ style of play has shaped the way college basketball is played today.

"(The Cougars) were going to press you. They were going to get up and down the floor and make some things happen. Now I think you can see the same type of style with Memphis," Winslow said. "They make you turn the ball over and then they are doing something at the other end after they play great defense. They’re the closest thing you could compare to the Phi Slama Jama teams in this day and era."

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