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80’s Chaminade: Louisville and Virginia

If you are a devoted follower of college basketball, the name Chaminade undoubtedly resonates as symbolic of David overcoming Goliath in remarkable upsets. My father often cited it during my formative years, deeming it the most significant upset in history. What remains seldom discussed is that Louisville, among other nationally ranked teams, also succumbed to Chaminade in subsequent years during tournaments held in Hawaii. Despite the evident advantage of playing on their home court, with an arena only half-filled by 3,383 spectators, Chaminade’s victories remain commendable.

The pinnacle of Chaminade’s accomplishments is undeniably their triumph over Virginia, constituting the most monumental upset in the annals of college basketball. Virginia, occupying the top spot in the national rankings, fielded a team led by a seasoned senior who held the prestigious title of two-time National Player of the Year, destined to clinch his third that very season. This senior had steered his team to the Final Four during his sophomore year and, in preceding seasons, secured a #1 seed. Even after the loss to Chaminade, Virginia maintained its status as a #1 seed, eventually bowing out in the Sweet 16 to the eventual national champions, NC State. The team’s dominance, coupled with the presence of one of the most exceptional college players ever as a senior, rendered the upset all the more astonishing.

Chaminade, a modest institution with a student body of 900, coexisting with a high school, was in only its eighth season of competitive play at that juncture. While they had suffered a defeat to Wayland Baptist a few days prior, it is imperative to note that in the preceding season, they boasted an impressive record of 28-4 in the NAIA and held the fourth rank in that poll. Previous encounters between UVA and Chaminade resulted in decisive victories for the former, with Sampson, Virginia’s standout player, notably recording 30 points and 16 rebounds in their most recent matchup. Familiarity bred confidence for Chaminade, mitigating any nervousness, especially since a 6-6 player was tasked with guarding the towering 7-4 Sampson—a player he had previously faced in both high school and college.

The news of this momentous upset reached the public through Chris Berman’s reporting on a late edition of ESPN SportsCenter. In his words, “We can’t tell you what happened, but the No. 1 team in college basketball has lost to… we don’t even know who they are.”

Chaminade concluded the season with an outstanding record of 34-5, securing a coveted spot in the NAIA Final Four—an accomplishment that underscored their remarkable prowess in collegiate basketball.

The subsequent year saw Chaminade continuing their streak of noteworthy victories, eliminating the formidable Sweet 16 Louisville team. By this point, Chaminade had earned a well-deserved reputation as “giant killers,” making their triumph over Louisville not a mere surprise but a testament to their consistent and formidable performance. Louisville, a team with national recognition and a ranking of 12th in the nation at that time, certainly wouldn’t have underestimated their opponents. The victory was significant, even more so considering the heightened anticipation for retribution from Louisville, having suffered defeat to Chaminade in the previous season.

The feat became even more impressive as Chaminade followed up their victory over the 1985 Louisville team by overcoming the challenge posed by the NIT Final Four Louisville team. This demonstrated not only their sustained excellence but also their ability to triumph over high-caliber opponents. The 1985 Louisville team, featuring standout players Milt Wagner and Billy Thompson as juniors, would later become the leading scorers on the National Title-winning team the following year.

To further underscore Chaminade’s prowess, a mere three days after defeating the 1985 Louisville team, they secured another monumental victory by besting the 3rd-ranked SMU. This sequence of triumphs solidified Chaminade’s status as a force to be reckoned with in the realm of college basketball, marking their enduring impact on the sport during that era.

Chaminade Upsets
Rank @ TimeNCAA SeedFinish
1985SMU4rd5th2R
1985Louisville12thNITFinal Four
1984Louisville14th5thSweet 16
1983Virginia1st1stSweet 16

It’s been 40 years in 2022 since Chaminade beat Virginia and has went on to beat 8 D1 teams now, including Texas(2012) and California(2017) most recently.

Merv Lopes was the coach of Chaminade from 1977-89 going 236-120 record and a .663 winning percentage. It’s pretty amazing D1 didn’t come for him in 1985. I guess the money wasn’t as big or life-changing back then.

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