In 1984, UH Makes It 3 Final Fours In A Row

1984 Tournament

Two-Seed | Midwest Region | Final Record: 32-5 | 1984 Full Bracket

3/17W - 77-69#10 Louisiana TechMid-South Coliseum
3/23W - 78-71#6 MemphisSt. Louis Arena
3/25W - 68-63#4 Wake ForestSt. Louis Arena
3/31W - 49-47 (OT)#7 VirginiaSeattle Kingdome
4/2L - 75-84*#1 GeorgetownSeattle Kingdome

* National Championship

1984 would be different. Not as flashy. It wouldn’t be as easy. After UH’s loss to NC State in the 1983 national title game, Clyde Drexler declared for the NBA Draft. Houston also lost Larry Micheaux, who had completed his eligibility. 1984 would be a rebuild on the fly but with plenty of talented pieces returning.

Things started to go haywire on Christmas day in Honolulu. After a win over #10 Louisville, Benny Anders and Braxton Clark quit the team before the championship game of the Chaminade Classic. UH lost the next day to Fresno State in the title game. But after a week off, the team regrouped and after the new year only lost two games: at #3 Kentucky and at #12 Arkansas. UH won both the SWC and the SWC Tournament and received a first-round bye in the NCAA Tournament.

The ’84 Tournament would be a preview of NBA life for Akeem with matchups against players he would battle for the next 15 years.

Houston 77, Louisiana Tech 69

Akeem and Michael Young vs. LaTech

It looked like Houston would get a rematch with Fresno State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. But upstart Louisiana Tech beat the Bulldogs in the first round in Memphis.

“I’ve been wanting to play (Akeem) all year,” LaTech center Karl Malone said after Tech beat Fresno State to advance to play Houston. “Now, I’ll finally get my opportunity.”

Akeem was not as hyped for the meeting.

“I’ve never seen him play,” Olajuwon deadpanned in a way only he can.

Shreveport Times cartoon of The Mailman and The Dream

UH sleep-walked through much of the game before pulling it out, 77-69. Houston had four players in double figures led by Alvin Franklin with 21. Akeem had 16 and 12 against Malone while the Mail Man scored 18 points and 8 boards.

In the postgame, Akeem said of Malone, “he has no class. He was constantly throwing elbows. That’s all he did.”

Malone responded by saying, “He’s not the best big man. I’m not knocking him because he is a good player. But I didn’t think we felt his presence like everyone said we would.”

Malone was 5/12 shooting but didn’t seem to think Akeem had anything to do with his struggles. Meanwhile, Akeem went 6/9 from the floor.

UH, maligned all year for their poor free-throw shooting, hit 27 of 34 shots at the line (79.4%). Michael Young scored 16 and Ricky Winslow had 14.


Houston 78, Memphis State 71

Akeem was too much for Tiger center William Bedford

Houston had beaten Memphis, 70-63, in the 1983 Tournament in Kansas City. In 1984, Memphis State had their best-ever record, 26-6, heading into the game with UH.

Memphis State All-American Keith Lee had averaged 25.5 points in the weeks leading up to the UH game. Memphis players had dreamed about playing UH again.

Two All-Americans battle: Akeem and Keith Lee

“I’ve always wanted another chance at Houston after last year,” captain Phillip “Doom” Haynes said. “I’ve been hoping all along we’d meet up again.”

Somehow, Tech coach Gerald Myers was asked about the game. Myers, who played a small role in starting Phi Slama Jama’s epic run, told a Memphis Commercial-Appeal writer that, “Memphis State will have a psychological edge because of the result of the game last year.

“If I were Houston, I’d be worried.”

Gerald Myers’ wisdom aside, Houston used the inside-outside punch of Alvin Franklin and Akeem to run by the Tigers. The Dream scored 25 points and had 13 rebounds while Franklin had 24 while Reid Gettys dished out nine assists in the game. A Saint Louis Arena record crowd of 20,143 saw UH beat Memphis State again.

Point guard Alvin Franklin was consistent with his jumper early, scoring 15 of his 24 points in the first half. Franklin’s offense opened up the middle for Akeem Olajuwon to do his work.

“When I hit from outside, they had to come out to play me, and we were able to get it to Akeem,” Franklin said.

Alvin Franklin shooting vs. Memphis State / The Houstonian Yearbook

At halftime, Guy V. switched from his 2-3 zone to “what we call a crazy 1-3-1 zone.” Lewis put Winslow on Lee and the former Yates star held the All-American to just four points.

The win was Houston’s 30th of the season, the second-straight year of 30 wins. But as soon as the game ended, the team turned their focus to making it to the Kingdome for the Final Four.

“There is a different attitude with our team this year,” said Reid Gettys at the time. “I don’t think there is much evidence of us being uptight but we’re more serious. We’re not new to this anymore.”


Houston 68, Wake Forest 63

A reporter casually mentioned to Wake Forest coach Carl Tacy that Houston had 175 dunks coming into their Elite Eight matchup with the Demon Deacons.

“That’s more than in Wake Forest basketball history,” Tacy exclaimed.

In the game, the determined Cougars dealt with a pesky Wake squad but UH had too much firepower. Akeem was super-human, going 14/16 from the field, including five dunks, and had 29 points and 12 rebounds. He also recorded two assists, three blocks, and two steals.

Gannett News Service / Mike Lopesti’s game story lede

Like the Memphis game, UH went to the 1-3-1 zone in the second half. “This game belongs to Coach Lewis. He was the difference by changing defenses,” an elated Reid Gettys said after the game.

Despite Akeem’s 17 first-half points, the Coogs were up just three at the half. It was Michael Young that came through for Houston. Wake inched to within 55-53 but Young scored on twice, then Akeem on the bank shot, and two free throws by Rickie Winslow steadied the Cougars. With Wake chipping away, Young picked up a loose ball and took it the length of the court for a flying jam.

The Cougars missed the front end of five one-and-ones that could have put the game away earlier.

“If I didn’t have to coach the damn thing, I would have enjoyed watching it,” Lewis said of the back-and-forth game.

Akeem made sure the Coogs reached the Final Four

The Final Four

Source: New York Times

“I don’t think you ever get over the thrill of the Final Four,” Guy V. said at the time. “But this year there wasn’t as much hype at the University of Houston. I wanted it that way. There were no pep rallies because I wanted it that way. Instead of being happy to be here, our attitude was, ‘By golly, I want to win it.'”

The day before the UVA game, Michael Young’s brother, James Earl Young, was injured in a shooting. At his parents’ request, Michael did not learn about the incident until just after the UH win over the Cavaliers.

The wounds to James were superficial and he was not seriously injured.

Houston 49, Virginia 47 (OT)

UH did not get the rematch they wanted with Fresno State in the second round but in the national semifinal, they did get a rematch. Houston had beaten UVA by nine at Hofheinz just six weeks earlier.

In the Final Four, the Cougar starters – Young, Akeem Olajuwon, Alvin Franklin, Reid Gettys, and Rickie Winslow – played 224 of the 225 possible minutes. Young led all scorers with 17 points while Akeem had 12 and 11 boards to go along with 5 blocks.

Alvin Franklin had 7 assists and Reid Gettys had six. Both finished with 6 points. Young hit five of his first 8 shots and the Coogs led 14-4 early on.

But UVA slowed the game to a crawl, employing a four-man sag to keep Akeem in check. Every time Olajuwon touched the ball, four men would crash towards him. The strategy worked: the big man took just five shots and had 8 turnovers.

Four Virginia defenders surround Akeem

“They made up their minds that Akeem wouldn’t beat them,” Lewis said.

Akeem rebounds over UVA players. He led the country in rebounding in 1984. / The Houstonian

In OT, the game continued at a slow pace until Young scored off an inbound pass from Gettys. 47-45. A minute later, Rickie Winslow followed an Akeem miss with a dunk and it was 49-45.

UVA hit two foul shots to get within two before Mike Young missed the front end of a one-and-one to give the Hoos a chance. But when Virginia PG Othell Wilson tried to drive the lane, Akeem tipped it out to Young who got it to Franklin up the court. The Cougars survived.

Michael Young over UVA’s Kenton Edelin / The Houstonian Yearbook

It was the only time in Phi Slama Jama’s run that Guy V.’s team was held under 50 points. The 32nd win was a school record (it stood for 35 years until the 2019 team surpassed it).

Alas, the UVA win in OT was the last win in the magical three-year run of Phi Slama Jama.

Akeem is ready for Rick Carlisle
Houston advances to national title game / Washington Post

Georgetown 84, Houston

The day before the national championship game, Akeem surprised the world – even Guy V. Lewis – by saying he intended to return to UH for another year. He said the prospect of four-straight Final Fours was exciting. A few weeks later, Akeem reversed course and decided to go pro. After facing Karl Malone, Keith Lee, Olden Polynice, Rick Carlisle, and Patrick Ewing in the Tournament, he was certainly ready.

The game was Akeem vs. Patrick Ewing and it had the media salivating. A TV network had tried to get a game between the two schools during the 83-84 regular season but Georgetown coach John Thompson squashed that idea. But CBS execs got their wish in the national title game, the first championship matchup between the two centers.

Houston could not overcome Georgetown’s depth. While UH played just five guys through much of the Tournament, Georgetown was able to rest their starters leading up to the title game. Michael Young struggled shooting it but scored 18 points. Alvin Franklin, called the weak link heading into the Georgetown game, scored 21. Akeem had just nine shots as Georgetown succeeded in limiting his touches.

After the game, Akeem lashed out at his teammates and the officials. “We haven’t played like that all year long. We didn’t pass the ball the way we’re supposed to. That’s why we lost the game,” he said.

“I say, ‘you pass me the ball and I take care of the rest.'” When asked if his comments might hurt his teammates, Olajuwon said, “I don’t care how they feel. We lost the game.”

Akeem picked up his third foul with under a minute to play before halftime and his fourth just 23 seconds into the second half.

“He called everything on me,” Akeem said, referring to the head official. “The fourth foul, I didn’t even touch him.” Virtually every major newspaper had a story on Akeem’s comments alongside the game story.

The Cougars had gone 63-8 in 1983 and 1984, 31-1 in the SWC, won four conference titles and been to two Final Fours. But two agonizing losses in the national title game haunted the program. It took 37 years before Houston returned to the Final Four.

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