How Many Times Has Houston Won March Madness?
The Houston Cougars are the only men’s basketball program in the top 15 for Final Four appearances to have never won a National Championship. The team has repeatedly come close to a National Championship throughout the years but has fallen short on each occasion. Let’s look at the best March Madness runs in Cougars’ history.
After changing conferences three times and spending 15 seasons as an independent program, the Houston Cougars joined the Southwest Conference in 1975, which coincided with head coach Guy Lewis’s 21st season in Houston. Once they became members of the Southwest Conference, the Cougars started dominating the scene and became one of the most dangerous teams in the 1980s NCAA.
The University of Houston’s turnaround started when Guy Lewis recruited Hall of Fame guard Clyde Drexler to the program in 1980. His recruitment was followed by another great prospect, Hakeem Olajuwon, who enrolled at the school the following year. The two stars were joined by other Cougars legends such as Michael “Silent Assassin” Young and Dave Rose. Altogether, they formed the “Phi Slama Jama,” a popular nickname signifying the squad’s explosiveness and physical dominance under the rim. This group reached three consecutive Final Fours from 1982 to 1984.
Entering the 1982-83 season, the Cougars were fresh off a Final Four appearance in the previous season, making them one of the favorites to dominate college basketball that year. The team answered with 16 wins and zero losses and won the Southwest Conference Tournament, which earned them the number-one seed in the country.
In the NCAA Tournament, their path to the national championship was smooth, beating Maryland, Memphis State, and Villanova to qualify for the Final Four, where they were slated to face Louisville. Like the Cougars, that Cardinals team was dominant in the paint, earning the team the nickname “the Doctors of Dunk.”
Houston dominated the legendary matchup behind 42 combined points from Drexler and Olajuwon. The Cougars entered the national championship as huge favorites against number 16 seed NC State but ended up suffering one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history, as Jim Valvano’s Wolfpack defeated the Cougars 54-52 with an improbable buzzer-beater.
Following the heartbreaking loss to NC State in 1983, the Cougars lost Clyde Drexler to the 1983 NBA Draft but were able to keep most of their core intact to attempt another run at National Championship glory in the 1983-84 season. Despite losing again to NC State in the inaugural game, Houston had a dominant regular season, finishing with 26 wins and four losses, with only one of those losses coming in conference play. The team won the Southwest Conference tournament again after a thriller against Arkansas and finished the season ranked fifth in the nation.
The Cougars were put in the Midwest Regional side of the bracket as a number two seed, meaning that they were automatically qualified for the second round of the tournament. There, they met Louisiana Tech, who they beat 77-70. In the following round, they again faced Memphis State, defeating them to advance to the regional final against Wake Forest. The Cougars earned a tight 68-63 win against the Demon Deacons to qualify for their third consecutive Final Four.
The national semifinal turned out to be a close contest where neither team managed to score much, but the Cougars eventually sealed the deal, winning 49-47. Georgetown was awaiting them in the National Championship Game after defeating Kentucky in another low-scoring contest. Another legendary matchup was set as Olajuwon was facing star center Patrick Ewing. The Cougars were trailing by 10 at halftime, but despite a strong second half, could not come back as the Hoyas won 84-75.
Final Four Appearances
Houston reached five out of their six Final Fours during Guy Lewis’s 31-year tenure. Besides the two trips to the National Championship in 1983 and 1984, the Cougars made it to the Final Four in 1967, 1968, 1982, and 2021.
Guy Lewis was able to create a great roster in the 1960s, recruiting future NBA legends like Don Chaney and Elvin Hayes. Led by this duo, the Cougars reached back-to-back national semifinals in 1967 and 1968, losing both times to John Wooden’s UCLA. In 1967, the Cougars won the third-place game against North Carolina but lost it the following year to Ohio State.
The third Final Four appearance under Guy Lewis and the first for the Phi Slama Jama came in 1982 when the North Carolina Tar Heels led by Michael Jordan denied the Cougars their first-ever National Championship appearance.
The Cougars’ most recent Final Four trip came in 2021, almost twenty years since their last. Led by star junior Quentin Grimes, the team coached by Kelvin Sampson was able to win the American Athletic Conference tournament and advance all the way to the Final Four, where they were eliminated by eventual champions, the Baylor Bears.
When was the last time Houston won the National Championship in basketball?
The Houston Cougars Men’s Basketball team has never won a National Championship. The closest the team ever came was two consecutive runner-up finishes in 1983 and 1984. Houston has made six Final Four appearances in program history, in 1967, 1968, 1982, 1983, 1984, and 2021.