When the buzzer sounded at Rupp Arena early Saturday evening, UNCW basketball player Shykeim Phillips flung the ball toward the rafters in joy.
Several teammates bounded across the brand-new playing surface of the legendary basketball court as the scoreboards surrounding them explained it all: UNCW 80, Kentucky 72.
The Seahawks had beaten Southeastern Conference competition in the past, but taking down one of the sport’s true powerhouses was uncharted territory. The Wildcats had just blitzed one of last season’s Final Four darlings, Miami, making Saturday’s result even more improbable – and impressive.
Even for a UNCW program with a mitt-ful of NCAA Tournament appearances and other standout seasons, the win immediately forced its way onto “that list”: Top wins in program history.
You can debate best vs. most important. After all, any victory in a conference tournament final is program-changing. But putting your name on the short list of winning in Rupp Arena can’t be erased, either.
With that in mind, here’s one way to rank the top five wins in UNCW basketball history.
5. UNCW 78, James Madison 77 (OT)
Feb. 19, 2022 – Trask Coliseum
This Seahawks team enthralled a fan base with a litany of absurd comebacks and narrow victories, including a buzzer-beater 3 in Harrisonburg in the teams’ previous meeting of the season. But the regular-season home finale turned Trask Coliseum into a roiling pit of sound and fury.
UNCW retired the jersey of legend Devontae Cacok at halftime, lost three players to ejection after an on-court punch and fight, erased a nine-point deficit to force overtime, then won the game on two free throws by Trazarien White with .7 seconds to play. The student section rushed the court in celebration and sent JMU (coached by UNCW alum Mark Byington) off to the Sun Belt with one final loss in Wilmington.
4. UNCW 57, Richmond 47
March 6, 2000 – Richmond Coliseum
The Seahawks broke their CAA title frustration on one of the most unlikely shots in program history, as forward Danny Dahl’s 3-pointer beat the shot clock late in the second half to restore a two-possession lead and propel UNCW to its first NCAA Tournament appearance.
CAA Rookie of the Year Brett Blizzard led the way, but Dahl – who made less than 10 3-pointers in his career – saved the Seahawks against the Spiders, who were trying to deliver heartbreak in this spot for the second time in three years. UNCW had lost its previous four CAA finals.
3. UNCW 80, Kentucky 73
December 2, 2023 – Rupp Arena
Less than 48 hours after a disappointing ending at rival East Carolina, the Seahawks raced to a big first-half lead, watched the 12th-ranked Wildcats erase all of it (and then some) in the second half, then made all the big plays in the final eight minutes for their first road victory over a ranked team in program history.
Trazarien White and Shykeim Phillips combined to score 26 of UNCW’s final 31 points of the game. White finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds, and coach Takayo Siddle became only the third person in men’s college basketball to win a game both as an opposing player and opposing coach in Rupp Arena.
2. UNCW 80, Hofstra 73 (OT)
March 7, 2016 – Royal Farms Arena, Baltimore
The 2016 CAA championship was a battle between the top two teams in the league, who had each rallied from at least 18 points down on the other’s home court to win during the regular season. Their third matchup followed a similar script, as UNCW trailed by 12 in the second half before grabbing a win.
While transfers Chris Flemmings and Denzel Ingram were offensive stars, fifth-year senior Craig Ponder became a figurehead of the meteoric rebirth of UNCW’s program under coach Kevin Keatts. The team had gone through a stretch of one winning season in nine years, yet made the CBI the previous year, and proceeded to sweep through the CAA the following year.
1. UNCW 93, Southern Cal 89 (OT)
March 14, 2002 – ARCO Arena, Sacramento
In the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, the 13th-seeded Seahawks were sent cross country to face a No. 4-seeded Trojans team that finished among a logjam for second place in a loaded Pac-10 Conference. Yet the Seahawks didn’t care – flying to a 19-point lead in the second half before USC woke up in time to send the game to overtime.
UNCW’s nervy finish carried over to extra time until Stewart Hare stormed down the middle of the lane for a now-famous, two-handed dunk over three USC defenders that gave the Seahawks a two-possession lead with less than 35 seconds to play. Six Seahawks scored in double figures in what remains the program’s only NCAA Tournament victory.