As March Madness is almost here, we take a trip down memory lane and look back at some of the best viral moments in NCAA tournament history. Here is Alligator Army’s take on Chris Chiozza’s epic buzzer-beater over Wisconsin in 2017:
By the 2017 NCAA Tournament, the Florida Gators men’s basketball program had accomplished just about everything there was to accomplish in the sport — and in the span of about 25 years.
After only making the Tournament for the first time in 1987 — and making a Sweet Sixteen run that would later be wiped out by the NCAA because Vernon Maxwell got a free ticket to a basketball camp — the Gators would make their first Final Four in 1994 under Lon Kruger, their first Tournament final in 2000 under Billy Donovan, and win their first national title under Donovan in 2006.
Then, in 2007, Florida would become the only men’s program of the 21st century to repeat as national champions, with Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, and Taurean Green stepping into legend as the so-called “Oh-Fours,” a 2004 recruiting class that left Gainesville both intact as a foursome and with two rings to its name.
And while it could have ended there, with Donovan making an ill-fated first jump to the NBA with the Orlando Magic that summer, he eventually reneged on that decision and had a significant second run with the Gators that culminated in a second, less-heralded quartet from a single recruiting class making the 2014 Final Four, bowing out to eventual national champion UConn, and authoring one of the great seasons in all of Florida athletics history on the way.
A year after that, Florida failed to make any postseason tournament for the first time since Donovan’s early years — and then Donovan really did leave for the NBA, joining the Thunder to try to get Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook over the hump. In came Mike White, whose attempt to return Florida to greatness and sustain it has been greeted by plenty of skepticism to date.
But in 2016-17, his Gators — who did not play a true home game until December 21, as a long-overdue renovation of their home arena stretched into the season — were among the nation’s best teams by February, despite losing big man John Egbunu to injury, and then roared through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament with double-digit victories despite losing three of their final four games before it.
Fourth-seeded Florida earned passage to meet eighth-seeded Wisconsin, which had just knocked off defending national champion Villanova, in the NCAA Tournament’s first regional to be held at Madison Square Garden since the completion of renovations in 2013, and would be the late game behind what most expected to be a Duke rout of South Carolina.
But the Gamecocks shocked the Blue Devils in the early window — and then the Gators and Badgers played one of the great games in NCAA Tournament history in the nightcap.
Wisconsin led by as many as 11 in the first half, but Florida stormed back to lead at halftime. Then it was the Gators’ turn to get chased down, as Wisconsin erased separate 10- and 12-point Florida leads in the second half. When Zak Showalter closed an 8-0 run at the end of regulation with a game-tying running three-pointer, he borrowed noted Wisconsin athlete Aaron Rodgers’s championship belt celebration — and pointed to Rodgers, sitting courtside, as he did it.
Wisconsin made the mistake of leading for most of an overtime that stretched past midnight on the East Coast. The Badgers, up five entering the final minute of play, gave up a lay-up that brought KeVaughn Allen to a career-high 35 points, then let up a 4-0 run in which Canyon Barry hit two free throws and made a game-saving chasedown block that allowed Chris Chiozza to blow by a defender for a game-tying lay-up at the other end.
Still, Florida seemed dead in the water thanks to a foul on Nigel Hayes with seconds to go, as Wisconsin’s decorated junior hit two free throws with four seconds remaining. A hell of a fight on a night that proved Florida could still ball during March Madness seemed then to have come up just short, with the Gators a full court away from the Elite Eight.
If the Gators’ two decades of being a fixture in March had lacked anything, though, it was a seminal buzzer-beater. Yeah, Mike Miller’s lunging shot to beat Butler in 2000 was a technical qualifier for the category, but it came during that Tournament’s first hours, and came to be overshadowed by the Gators’ run. And while Florida made seven other Elite Eight visits from 1994 to 2014, the only shot even approaching Miller’s was Corey Brewer’s own off-balance jumper to beat Georgetown in the Sweet Sixteen in 2006, and that wasn’t quite a buzzer-beater.
In four seconds and five dribbles, Chiozza went from end line to three-point line and changed that, on a floating three-pointer that hung in the air as the final horn sounded and splashed through the net just moments after.
And a program that had done everything in men’s college basketball finally authored a magical March moment, too: The Madison Square Miracle.