The LSU Tigers, outright champions of the Southeastern Conference, looked to be on their way to another early exit from the NCAA Tournament. A year after being ran out of the gym by Alabama-Birmingham in the first round of the Big Dance, John Brady's team looked primed for another letdown.
Not this time, though.
The Tigers put together a tremendous rally, outscoring Iona 48-27 in the second and propelling LSU into the second round with an 80-64 victory.
The Tigers never looked back.
Over the next week and a half, LSU did what many knew they could, but few thought they could accomplish. The Tigers knocked off Texas A&M, No. 1 overall seed Duke and finally the Texas Longhorns, advancing to the program's first appearance in the NCAA Final Four in two decades.
Ironically, the 2005-06 season marked the 20-year anniversary of Dale Brown's last magical run to the round of four. That year, LSU became the lowest-seeded team ever to reach the national semifinals as the Tigers advanced to the Final Four as an 11th seed.
Brady's team rallied past Iona and were just seconds away from a second-round knockout before Darrel Mitchell hit yet another long-range three-pointer, giving LSU a 58-57 victory over the Aggies.
A Sweet 16 berth was quite an accomplishment for this Tiger team, but no one expected LSU to get past top-seeded Duke and National Player of the Year J.J. Reddick.
Next up was Texas and projected No. 1 NBA overall pick LaMarcus Aldridge. Davis took the team on his back, held Aldridge to just two points, and scored 26 of his own en route to a 70-60 overtime victory over the Longhorns.
"I thought we could beat Duke, and I thought our team was good enough to beat Texas," Brady said. "I always thought that when you are on the outside looking into something like that, you tend to make a much bigger deal about that than when you are in the middle of it working hard at it."
It seemed LSU got off to a slow start to the 2005-06 season as the Tigers opened non-conference play with an 8-5 record. But that is determined by who you ask.
Of those eight wins, one came at No. 13 West Virginia, LSU's first road win over a ranked team in two years. The rest of the Tigers' non-conference schedule wasn't a sleep-walk either, as it had been in years past. LSU lost its grip on late leads, losing back-to-back against Cincinnati in Las Vegas 75-72 and at Ohio State 78-76.
And although it counted as an "L" in the win-loss column, the Tigers' 67-66 loss at No. 2 Connecticut began getting some folks' attention on the national level and set the stage for a dominating run through the SEC.
Brady's bunch returned home for a pivotal showdown with upstart Tennessee and its brash coach Bruce Pearl. The eventual SEC Eastern Division champions were no match for the Tigers on this night as LSU ran away with an 88-74 victory.
The Tigers rattled off five more victories in a row, including an impressive 71-57 win at Mississippi State and a dominating 68-57 victory over Alabama at home.
Ranked No. 24 in the nation, LSU traveled to that same Crimson Tide team the first week of February and lost for the first time since the UConn game, 67-62.
Just days later, Darrel Mitchell hit a prayer three-pointer on the game's final play to beat Arkansas at home 78-77. But the Tigers lost for the second time in a week at Florida 71-62.
Little did Brady, his team, or the fans know that it would be LSU's last loss of the regular season.
The Tigers closed out the SEC season with six consecutive victories, including a 77-66 win at Vanderbilt and a 71-67 win over Kentucky at home. Brady had never won in Nashville, and it was just the second time in Brady's tenure that his team had beaten the Wildcats.
LSU clinched the SEC title with a nail-biting 64-61 win at South Carolina, a team which would be the eventual NIT champion. And the Tigers closed out a sparkling 14-2 conference run with a 55-52 win over Ole Miss in the home finale.
After beating Vanderbilt in the second round of the SEC Tournament, LSU was dealt its worst loss of the season, an 81-65 defeat at the hands of eventual national champion Florida.
But the Tigers regained their momentum heading into the NCAA Tournament and never looked back in reaching the Final Four. By the time Brady clipped the final piece of the net on the floor of Atlanta's Georgia Dome, the Tigers had everyone believing they could win it all.
LSU would face UCLA in one national semifinal as tournament Cinderella George Mason would square off with the Gators. Florida did what it had to do holding off George Mason, but the Tigers seemed to have run out of gas, losing to the Bruins 59-45 and ending the season with a 27-9 record.
"I thought we were good enough to beat UCLA, but that game didn't turn out like we wanted," Brady said. "But we were never in awe or overwhelmed by any of it. We handled it, I thought, pretty well."
Brady and the Tigers return three a starters from last year's team, losing Darrel Mitchell to graduation and Tyrus Thomas to the NBA.
The 10th-year coach knows since his team has tasted the waters of the Final Four, getting back to the pinnacle of college basketball will be the Tigers' prime motivation in 2006-07.
"It was a wonderful experience," Brady said. "But it was like everything
else. You want to duplicate it and try and get there again and do better the
next time around. That is our motivation."