On Monday, the Houston Cougars men’s basketball team did what the program hasn’t done in decades, defeating No. 12 seed Oregon State, 67-61, to reach the Final Four. We know it’s been a while, but when was the last time Houston made the Final Four?
Houston Cougars Last Final Four Appearance
The last time Houston went to the Final Four was 37 years ago in 1984. Head coach Guy Lewis led the Cougars to their second-straight national championship game that season, the fifth time the program had reached the national semifinal.
It was the Phi Slama Jama era, and it is one of the most recognizable monikers in basketball. Clyde Drexler had already moved on by the start of the 1983-84 season, but Houston had plenty of other massive talents on its roster, including Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Young, Rickie Winslow, Alvin Franklin, and more.
Young was the team’s leading scorer, averaging 19.8 points per game. Olajuwon was second at 16.8 points per contest, but he was by far the team’s best on the glass, hauling down 13.5 rebounds per outing. Franklin posted a 12.4 points per game average and dished 4.2 dimes per night, too, though Reid Gettys was the team’s top assister, amassing 8.4 assists per contest for the season.
After returning a lot of the squad that got to the national championship game in 1983, Houston began the season at No. 3 in the AP Poll and never left the top 10 through the entire 1983-84 campaign. After falling in its opening game of the season against North Carolina State, 76-64, Houston would only lose three more times before the postseason. The Cougars carried a 7-2 record into Southwest Conference play, which included two top-10 wins over LSU and Louisville, then rattled off 17 wins in 18 tries through January, February, and the start of March. They dropped their last game of the regular season to No. 12 Arkansas, 73-68, to ruin their perfect conference season.
Still, Houston’s 15-1 SWC record was one game better than Arkansas at 14-2 and enough for the conference’s regular-season crown, and the Cougars would get revenge over the Razorbacks soon. After escaping an upset bid from Rice, 53-50, in the SWC Tournament Semifinals, Houston took the league’s tournament title, too, narrowing defeating Arkansas, 57-56, in the final.
As a reward for Houston’s 25-4 overall record and handful of high-level wins, the team was given the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region of the 1984 NCAA Tournament. At the time, the tournament included only 48 teams, so top-four seeds received byes to the second round.
Houston faced No. 10 seeded Louisiana Tech team that included Karl Malone in its first game of the tournament. Both Olajuwon and Winslow had double-doubles, and Franklin led the team in scoring with 21 points as the Cougars advanced, 77-69.
In the Sweet 16, No. 6 Memphis State stood in Houston’s way. Olajuwon dominated, putting up 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting from the field, pulled down 13 rebounds, and made four swats while playing in all 40 minutes of the game. Franklin has had 24 points himself, and Winslow had yet another double-double, too, as Houston won, 78-71.
No. 4 seed Wake Forest is all that stood in the way of Houston and a second-straight Final Four appearance. In yet another competitive game, Olajuwon showed out, dropping 29 points on 14-of-16 shooting from the field and snagging 12 rebounds in another 40-minute night. Young chipped in 15 points and Gettys had 10 assists as Houston outlasted the Demon Deacons, 68-63, to advance out of the Elite Eight.
Houston would need overtime to take care of No. 7 seed Virginia, 49-47, in the Final Four in the Kingdome in Seattle as Olajuwon had yet another double-double, his fourth in four games in the tournament, on 12 points and 11 rebounds. But the Cougars got it done, returning back to the national championship game.
That game didn’t go as well as the ones before as Patrick Ewing’s No. 1 seed Georgetown overpowered the Cougars, 84-75, with Reggie Williams leading the Hoyas in scoring with 19 points. Olajuwon narrowly missed the double-double mark with 15 points and nine rebounds, and Franklin provided Houston with its largest offensive output with 21 points and chipped in nine assists to boot.
The 1983-84 Cougars and 2020-21 team play with very different tempos, but they will soon have both played in the Final Four, a meaningful mark for a once-remarkable program that has spent so long outside of the national spotlight. And perhaps this team will accomplish what no other Houston one has: a national championship.