The Greatest Upset Never Seen

Virginia, Chaminade, and the Game That Changed College Basketball, Jack Danilewicz, University of Nebraska Press.

The Greatest Upset Never Seen

On December 23, 1982, Chamindade University’s men’s basketball team defeated Ralph Sampson’s No. 1 ranked Virginia Cavaliers at Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu by a score of 77-72. Many still regard the game as the greatest upset in college basketball history, but hardly anyone is familiar with the circumstances surrounding it—or even what unfolded on the court. In fact, unless you attended the game—or listened to the live radio broadcast in Virginia—you probably didn’t hear about the shocking result until a day or two later, when the outcome became a national news story. But Jack Danilewicz’s book provides rare insight into what transpired before, during, and after the contest.

Among other things, we learn how key players for both teams chose their respective schools; how, just a week earlier, Virginia had defeated Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas, 68-63, in a classic “Game of the Decade” that matched the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in the country; and how Chaminade—a tiny, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) school with just 800 students—authored a huge win of its own in the run-up to the Virginia contest (a 56-47 upset of the University of Hawaii), only to lose to Wayland Baptist two days before facing Virginia.

Never mind that basketball insiders might have expected the Chaminade-Virginia game to be close. After all, the Cavaliers had played Virginia at Blaisdell Arena a year earlier, losing by just 16 points. This is spite of the fact that Chaminade had decidedly limited resources to devote to basketball. Consider that head coach Merv Lopes had to work two jobs to make ends meet. And the school’s only athletic facility was referred to as “the Shack,” on account of being not much more than a shack.

So when a controversial double-dribble call went against Virginia in the final minute of the 1982 contest, one could be forgiven for thinking that the result might be part of God’s plan. Don’t count Chaminade president Father Raymond Roesch among them, though. In an interview with NBC Nightly News he said, “Miracles are part of my background. We pray for these things, you know. But I don’t think it [the victory] was luck. They [the players] worked hard and they earned it.”

And though neither team went on to win a national championship that season (the Cavaliers lost to eventual champion North Carolina State in the NCAA Tournament, and the Silverswords fell to the College of Charleston in the semifinals of the NAIA Tournament) the outcome of the game dramatically changed the course of Chaminade’s history, not to mention its marketing plans.

You see, Chaminade was planning to change its name to the University of Honolulu on January 1, 1983, but abandoned that idea after the basketball team made the university a household name nationwide, virtually overnight. Today, Chaminade still plays a feature role in each college basketball season, serving as hosts of what is now known as the Maui Jim Maui Invitational tournament.

As for the University of Virginia, well, its basketball program is now best-known for being on the losing end of two of college basketball history’s most notable upsets. On March 16, 2018, the Cavaliers became the first No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament history to lose to a No. 16 seed, falling to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, by a score of 74-54, this despite entering the game as a 20.5 point favorite.