The Washington Huskies recently found themselves upset in humiliating fashion during the 2012 Pac-12 Tournament. Playing in their first game in the tournament against the No. 9 seed Oregon St. Beavers, the Huskies were almost certainly entertaining grand visions of the following rounds of the event, and beyond.
Washington finished 2011-12 as the regular-season champs in the Pac-12 and entered the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed. More than that, they were the two-time defending Pac-10 champions and looking to keep that streak going as the inaugural Pac-12 title holders. They needed just one win in the tournament to ensure a slot in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, given the weak state of the Pac-12 during the season. Washington likely felt that would be an easy task, particularly when the Beavers knocked off the No. 8 seed Washington St. Cougars to advance and take on UW. In their two previous meetings with OSU during the regular season, the Huskies prevailed both times, winning 95-80 on Dec. 29 and 75-72 on Feb. 12. A trip to the dance felt inevitable and the Huskies were hoping to prove the naysayers wrong about their team and their season.
It didn't work out that way, of course. The game went to the final minute, with Oregon State holding a slim lead. Tony Wroten, who was the best player on the court for the Huskies all season, was twice fouled in that final minute and twice went to the line for shots that would have either given Washington the lead or tied the game and forced overtime. Wroten had a career-high 29 points in the game and was 9-for-11 on free throw attempts at that point. Wroten proceeded to miss all four free throws, each attempt getting progressively and demonstrably worse. The upset was cemented and the Huskies lost, 86-84.
The immediate backlash to the choke job was not pretty. Sports fans, as they tend to do, made Wroten the instant scapegoat, because someone had to be blamed. The final insult came on Selection Sunday, when the California Golden Bears -- the No. 2 team in the standings and in the tournament -- were selected over the Huskies as the lone at-large Pac-12 team for the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
It was a terrible choke, certainly. Let us not dispute that. But it is always important to have a sense of historical perspective. Let's take a look at some of the most disastrous, inexplicable, humiliating, or improbable first-round chokes (or first appearance, if the odds-on favorite had a first round bye) in recent sports history. I'm sure the No. 1 on this list has already been guessed by pretty much every Seattle-area basketball fan already, but we'll get there eventually.
Remember, we're talking first round of playoffs or first appearance in playoffs. We're also talking about choke jobs more than strict upsets. Not surprisingly, plenty of these involve NCAA basketball. Enjoy, or cringe, whichever is most appropriate.
Honorable Mention: 2007 Dallas Mavericks
In 2007, the Mavericks put together one of the best regular-season records in NBA history. They were riding high on an MVP season from Dirk Nowitzki. They felt awfully good about hosting the No. 8 seed Golden State Warriors in the first round. That all changed a week later, when they fell four games to two, including an inexplicable 2-for-18 from the floor for Nowitzki in the elimination game, which ended as a 25-point blowout.
Honorable Mention: 1993 Arizona Wildcats
The Wildcats became just the second team in NCAA Tournament history to enter the Round of 64 as a No. 2 seed and be defeated by a No. 15 seed; in this case, the Santa Clara Broncos. This only gets an honorable mention because the originator of this type of upset appears higher up the list.
5. 1994 Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings entered the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the best record in the Western Conference. They faced No. 8 seeds the San Jose Sharks in the opening round; an expansion team that was only in its third year of existence. The Wings lost the opening round in seven games to the Sharks in one of the biggest upsets in NHL history. Detroit would have the last laugh, however, as they would win their eighth-through-11th Stanley Cups in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008, while the Sharks would go on to be the biggest perennial postseason chokers in professional hockey.
4. 2009 Carolina Panthers
In a performance that somewhat resembles that of Tony Wroten, quarterback Jake Delhomme had one exceedingly bad day in the 2008-09 NFL Playoffs. His Carolina were the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. They played their first game in the second round as they hosted the No. 4 seed Arizona Cardinals, who reached the playoffs by being the only team with a winning record in the exceptionally-squishy NFC West. Delhomme put on a horrifying performance, tossing five interceptions and losing a fumble, as he flubbed his team to a 33-13 loss.
3. 1998 Stanford Cardinal Women's Team
In the NCAA men's basketball tournament, a No. 1 seed has never been defeated by a No. 16 seed. It has happened on the women's side, however. And in spectacular fashion. The Stanford Cardinal entered the 1998 NCAA Women's Division I Basketball Tournament as the top seed in the West Region, hosting the No. 16 Harvard Crimson in Palo Alto. The Crimson stunned Stanford -- and the world -- with a 71-67 victory. To add insult to injury, Harvard was blown out by No. 9 seed Alabama in the subsequent round, 82-64.
2. 1991 Syracuse Orange
In the 1991 NCAA Tournament, a No. 2 seed was defeated by a No. 15 seed for the first time -- ever. The Syracuse Orange went up against the Richmond Spiders and were handed a 73-69 upset loss. The Orange had gone 26-6 overall that season, including becoming regular-season Big East champs with a 12-4 record, but in a stellar bit of foreshadowing, dropped their opening game of the Big East Tournament 70-68 to the Villanova Wildcats. Richmond went on to lose by 13 points to the Temple Owls in the Round of 32, but they had effectively stunned the world.
1. 1994 Seattle Supersonics
You all pretty much had this one figured out, didn't you? A regular season record of 63-19 and the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, the Sonics jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five first-round series against the No. 8 seed Denver Nuggets. Seattle would proceed to play out one prolonged choke for the next three games, the last two of which were overtime losses, the last one coming at home. For the first time in NBA history, a No. 1 seed was knocked off by a No. 8 seed. Sonics fans would forever be left with the lasting image of Dikembe Mutombo laying on the ground and screaming in victory as the Nuggets clinched the win.
Is there a choke job that I forgot about or missed? Let me know about it in the comments or tell me on Twitter.