By Dick Degnon
Comparing basketball teams from different decades is a challenge-particularly when they were both so successful. Dick Degnon, SCU's athletic news director from 1962 to 1981, offers his perspective on the greatest basketball team in Santa Clara University history.
The late Coach Bob Feerick's nationally-ranked 1951-54 Bronco squads made three straight appearances in the NCAA playoffs, suffering a loss to Kansas in the 1952 semifinals in a season that saw the Broncos defeat John Wooden's UCLA team twice. Those SCU teams won nearly 70 percent of their games.
But it was the 1968-69 team, ranked second in both Associated Press and United Press International polls for most of that season, which was stronger than the Ken Sears-led 1952-53 squad.
Coach Dick Garibaldi's 1967-70 teams, which made the NCAA playoffs for three straight years, led by center Dennis Awtrey and the Ogden brothers--Bud and Ralph--posted a 73-12 record over the three-year span, including a school-record 20 straight wins. Those teams still hold more than 50 individual, game, or season records at SCU.
Ned McIver '51, SCU's game timer for 30 years, says the 1968-69 team featuring Awtrey, the Ogdens, and guards Terry O'Brien and Kevin Eagleson, was better than the highly successful early-'50s Bronco squads.
The NBA drafted three Bronco starters-Awtrey and the Ogdens- from the late-'60s powerhouse. Sears was the only player from the early-'50s teams to play NBA basketball.
"The '68-69 team could match up very well with our '51-52 team," said starting guard Dallas Brock '52.
Don Callejon '52, who has watched more than 600 SCU games since 1946, agreed, saying "There's no question that the Bronco teams [of the late '60s] were better than the '51-54 squads."
SCU's national basketball stature increased after winning the December 1968 Hawaii Rainbow Classic, in which the team downed 8th-ranked West Virginia, Houston, and Purdue. "We were over-achievers. Everyone had their own role," said Awtrey, who was recently enshrined in the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame.
Later that season, SCU broke seventh-ranked New Mexico's 21-straight home court winning streak by beating the Lobos 86-73 in a first-round playoff game. However, in the regional title game, SCU lost to UCLA in the midst of the Bruins' 10-year run as national champion. Prior to the contest, legendary coach Wooden complimented the Broncos by saying to Garibaldi, "We should be playing for the NCAA championship next month."
UCLA and SCU were ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively, entering the NCAA tournament. The next year, the NCAA revised its playoff structure so that the top-ranked teams would not meet in opening round play again.
While the teams of the late '60s may have been the best in school history, their winning percentage doesn't come close to the Broncos' 1917-18 squad, which didn't lose a game. Of course, they played only four.