The basketball event that once brought legends Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to Salt Lake City just keeps delivering.
In terms of historical impact, nothing ever could match that 1979 championship game between Michigan State and Indiana State on the University of Utah campus. Yet the NCAA Tournament has produced some epic finishes, showcased great teams and introduced Utahns to future stars in subsequent years at the Huntsman Center and EnergySolutions Arena. As the 2013 event is played downtown Thursday with eight teams from coast to coast, more memories undoubtedly will be in the making.
Salt Lake City’s long list of indelible moments is partly explained by volume. The successful ’79 Final Four made the Huntsman Center a prized venue for the NCAA, which is staging the tournament in town for a 15th time since then.
To accommodate bigger crowds, the NCAA has moved to EnergySolutions Arena, where current Utah Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward and the upstart Butler Bulldogs won two games in 2010, advancing to the Final Four. The contestants in this week’s event (technically, the second and third rounds of the tournament) hope to experience more of the thrills that have stamped Salt Lake City as a go-to site.
This is where Loyola Marymount’s frenetic offense produced a 119-115 victory over Wyoming in 1988, playing as a team “possessed,” according to Wyoming star Fennis Dembo, who added, “I ain’t never played nobody like them, man.”
Only a year before, UCLA was saying the same about Dembo, who scored 41 points in an upset of the Reggie Miller-led Bruins. That performance sent the Cowboys to the Sweet 16 and landed Dembo on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s college basketball preview issue.
UNLV, led by coach Jerry Tarkanian and forward Larry Johnson, began its trek to the 1990 national championship by breezing through two games. The Rebels avoided the kind of upset that No. 2 seed Arizona would suffer in 1993.
Remarkably, the Wildcats scored 25 consecutive points in the middle of that game — and still lost to Santa Clara. Arizona went ahead by 13 points early in the second half, only to have the Broncos rally.
With clutch free throws from freshman guard Steve Nash, who would go on to a phenomenal NBA career, Santa Clara completed a 64-61 victory. Even during Arizona’s 25-0 run, the Broncos “didn’t panic,” coach Dick Davey said. “I did, but they didn’t.”
As a No. 1 seed, Arizona also was upset by No. 8 Wisconsin in 2000 in the round of 32, but the top-seeded Wildcats managed to overcome Gonzaga under similar circumstances three years later.
Arizona outlasted the Bulldogs 96-95 in double overtime, with Luke Walton corralling the final rebound and lying on the court in exhaustion and relief.
The move to ESA in 2010 produced an epic game between Kansas State and Xavier in the Sweet 16.
From the six-minute mark of regulation through the second overtime, there were 10 lead changes and nine ties before K-State finally took a 101-96 victory.
That sent the Wildcats into the West Region final against Butler, featuring Hayward as a sophomore forward. Seven years earlier, Utahns were introduced to the high socks and outside shooting ability of Kyle Korver, a future Jazz player who made five 3-pointers in Creighton’s loss to Central Michigan.
Among current local coaches, Utah Valley’s Dick Hunsaker led No. 12 seed Ball State to the Sweet 16 via two wins in Salt Lake City in 1990. Utah’s Larry Krystkowiak produced No. 12 Montana’s upset of Nevada in 2006.
Utah once received a home-court opportunity that’s no longer allowed by the NCAA. With stars Danny Vranes and Tom Chambers, the Utes hosted a North Carolina team led by James Worthy in the Sweet 16, absorbing a 61-56 defeat in 1981. BYU could have played at ESA in the Sweet 16 in 2010, but the Cougars lost to Kansas State.
For the first time in 19 years, no Utah school made the NCAA Tournament field this season. Utahns partially can fill that void by adopting one of the two teams advancing from ESA after Saturday’s games.
This is the (NCAA Tournament) place
Salt Lake City’s most memorable NCAA Tournament games, since the 1979 Final Four:
Year Result Comment
1981 North Carolina 61, Utah 56 Utes of Vranes, Chambers lose in Sweet 16
1987 Wyoming 78, UCLA 68 Fennis Dembo outduels Reggie Miller
1988 Loyola Marymount 119, Wyoming 115 Fast-paced Lions oust Dembo’s team
1993 Santa Clara 64, Arizona 61 Steve Nash helps No. 15 Broncos stage upset
2003 Arizona 96, Gonzaga 95 (2 OT) Blake Stepp misses 8-footer at the end
2010 Kansas State 101, Xavier 96 (2 OT) Xavier twice extends game to extra session