BLOOMINGTON — Bob Knight turns 80 on Sunday.
Knight guided Indiana to three national championships and five Final Fours in 29 years as basketball coach from 1971-2000, becoming an icon in both the Hoosier state and nationwide. Blustery personality aside, Knight was synonymous with winning at IU, while graduating his players and holding them to a high standard.
After returning to Bloomington a year ago and while dealing with symptoms of early onset dementia, Knight made an emotional return to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in February, his first official appearance at the building since being fired by IU 20 years ago following a player abuse scandal.
Of Knight’s 902 career wins as a coach, 662 came at Indiana. There were a number of landmark wins Knight achieved with the Hoosiers, but here’s a look at Knight’s eight biggest wins, one to represent each decade of his life:
8. Dec. 4, 1993: Indiana 96, Kentucky 94 — In what turned out to be Knight’s only win against a No. 1 team during the regular season at IU, the No. 11 Hoosiers upset the top-ranked Wildcats at the Hoosier Dome. Damon Bailey lifted IU to the win, scoring 29 points in 37 minutes and going 16-of-19 from the foul line.
7. Dec. 11, 1971: Indiana 90, Kentucky 89 — In the first big win of the Knight era, the unranked Hoosiers squeaked by the No. 7 Wildcats in double overtime. Center Steve Downing had 47 points and 25 rebounds to help lead IU to victory.
6. Nov. 29, 1975: Indiana 84, UCLA 64 — The preseason No. 1 Hoosiers set the tone of their undefeated season early, knocking off No. 2 and defending national champion UCLA in a marquee matchup to open the season at the Checkerdome in St. Louis. “It would be a hell of a basketball game if we played it at 2 o’clock in the morning,” Knight told then Bloomington Herald-Times Sports Editor Bob Hammel. “I’m happy to be a part of what promises to be a major college spectacular.” It turned out to be a blowout. Knight’s motion offense gave UCLA fits, and behind 33 points from forward Scott May, the Hoosiers won going away.
5. March 28, 1992: Indiana 106, UCLA 79 — Calbert Cheaney led five Indiana scorers in double figures with 23 points, with Damon Bailey adding 22 points, lifting Indiana to its fifth and last Final Four under Knight. The late Eric Anderson added 17 points off the bench as the Hoosiers overwhelmed the Bruins with 62 points in the second half
4. March 17, 1973: Indiana 72, Kentucky 65 — A breakthrough win that got Indiana to its first Final Four under Knight in just his second season as coach with the Hoosiers. Downing and guard Quinn Buckner both recorded double-doubles in the win. Downing had 23 points and 13 rebounds, while Buckner had 16 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
3. March 30, 1981: Indiana 63, North Carolina 50 — Behind 23 points from sophomore point guard Isiah Thomas and 16 points from shooting guard Randy Wittman, Indiana pulled away in the second half and smothered North Carolina defensively to win its fourth national title in school history and second under Knight. Thomas would go on to a Hall of Fame NBA career, leading the Detroit Pistons to back-to-back NBA titles in 1989 and 1990.
2. March 30, 1987: Indiana 74, Syracuse 73 — Keith Smart’s baseline jumper with five seconds remaining lifted Indiana to its fifth national title overall and third under Knight. The Steve Alford-led Hoosiers finished the year 30-4 and showed a season-long penchant for winning close games. “The greatness in this team,” Knight said following the win, “may be the greatness no other team here has had, to the degree that this one did — almost a total resolve not to recognize or be a part of defeat. This team played the last five minutes of critical games as well as I’ve ever seen a team play.”
1. March 29, 1976: Indiana 86, Michigan 68 — The national championship win over the Wolverines capped a perfect 32-0 season, a mark that has been unmatched by a college basketball team in 44 years. Indiana actually trailed 35-29 at halftime, but behind 26 points from May, 25 points from Kent Benson and 16 points from Buckner, surged in the second half to secure its third national title and first under Knight.