Feb. 18, 2006
Some people don't understand the duress of traveling with a college basketball team. Take the trip to Honolulu for example. Right now, I'm on the beach trying to crank out a column WHILE finishing strawberry smoothie. Pure torture! Imagine trying to come up with meaningful transitions at the same time as debating whether to use SPF 15 or 30. We all must make sacrifices. Staring off into the Pacific I have a chance to reflect on the 300 games I've broadcast over 11 years at Santa Clara. There have been league titles and last second heartbreaks; without further adieu, here are my personal top five SCU games since 1995:
March 1, 1998. WCC semifinal loss to USF 85-83. In the San Jose Mercury News the next day, the esteemed Ron Bergman described the game as one that "nearly blew the Teflon roof off Toso Pavilion. Back and forth the Broncos and Dons went at it with neither team able to stop the other. In examining the box score, almost every statistical category was dead even, with the exception of two Jamal Cobbs free throws with a few seconds left. Craig Johnson missed a three pointer in the final minute but Todd Wuschnig ran down the rebound; trying to draw a foul, Johnson tossed up another three that went in to tie the game at 83. The shot luckily went in as Johnson later admitted to trying to draw a foul like he did earlier in the year against St. Mary's. After two free throws by Cobbs, Brian Jones made on final dash up the floor and fired a left wing jumper at the buzzer bounced on the rim twice before falling off.
The experts in attendance felt the winner would have nothing left for the title game. However, the Dons smoked Gonzaga behind seldom-used Raoof Sadat to advance to the NCAA Tournament. The loss for Santa Clara marked the end of the careers of Johnson and Lloyd Pierce. It was a game that was both exhilarating and draining.
November 29, 1996. Santa Clara sets school record in comeback win over Marquette 79-72. The Golden Eagles were just removed from the top 25 and had blasted Santa Clara the year before in Milwaukee as Steve Nash struggled in front of a dozen NBA scouts. The rematch at Toso looked like another blowout with Marquette leading by 19 with 12 minutes to play. At that point, freshman point guard Brian Jones put the team on his back, scoring 24 of his career-high 34 points in the 2nd half as the Broncos rallied for the win. Marlon Garnett's right wing three gave Santa Clara a lead it would not relinquish. Jason Sedlock was something like 0-11 until nailing a three-pointer during the dramatic run. Jones would later say the win was the turning point to a season that would culminate in a conference title after starting off with losses to Kansas and Fresno State. Jones point total set a new freshman record, eclipsing the old mark set by Kurt Rambis
Before moving on to number 3, I must shake the sand out of my flip flops. Okay, let's proceed.
March 5, 2001. Comeback against Gonzaga in WCC final comes up just short. After splitting the two regular season games, the rubber game would be for a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Dan Dickau and Casey Calvary led a charge to a 14-point lead but Brian Jones, Jamie Holmes and freshman Kyle Bailey kept the Broncos alive. With just over :02 seconds left, Santa Clara had the ball, down three. Jones would always throw the ball in but could not get the ball back as the Zags ran two players at him. Holmes would take a leaning three that came up short in a crushing 80-77 defeat to close out the careers of Jones and Holmes. I always felt BJ deserved to take that last shot after what he meant to the program. After a 20-12 season, Santa Clara would be left home for the post season despite some lobbying by the WCC office for a bid to the NIT.
Wait Niko! Give me 30 minutes before my surf lesson. Just a little more to do.
March 7, 2004. Broncos fall to Zags in WCC classic 63-62. This was a team that made a tourney run following a four-game losing streak. The Broncos would seize a one-point win at Portland to build some momentum while J.C. transfer J.R. Patrick's game rounded into form after being racked with injuries during his time on the Mission Campus. SCU would get their largest margin of victory in the WCC Tournament over San Diego and take out USF in the quarterfinal. Against the Zags, the Broncos led by double figures in the 2nd half as Doron Perkins proved to a national TV audience that he was the best on the floor and not the league player of the year, Blake Stepp. Perkins would allow Stepp only two baskets while scoring a game-high 26 points. Stepp hit a three from the El Camino to give Gonzaga its first lead but sophomore Travis Niesen would answer with a jump hook for a one point lead in the final minute. Just one defensive stand was all they needed. Turiaf would stick back his own miss with :05 seconds left and the Broncos would make one final foray down the floor. Kyle Bailey's three would rattle out and the Zags survived. The members of that team still believe they would have beaten St. Mary's the next night even though they were blown out in both regular season games by the Gaels.
March 15, 1996. Nash leads Broncos in easy in over Maryland in NCAA Tournament. This was my first year doing the games and my thought process was, "You do D1 ball, go to The Dance". My appreciation for the experience grows with each passing year and I'd love to have each player have the opportunity at least once. Luckily for me, I never run out of eligibility. Even with no expiration date, I'm still waiting for another shot. Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe was electrified by Nash's performance. 28 points and 12 assists against a defense that was designed to stop him. Dick Davey made sure that Nash received the 2nd pass against the Terps press, not the first. Kevin Dunne would hit Nash in stride before a double team could arrive. Nash was 18-19 from the line in a 91-79 blowout, playing despite a hamstring injury that nearly kept him out of the lineup.
No time for the surf lesson. I've got to roll up my beach towel and head to today's walk through. If I'm lucky, I'll get another 300 games. Whatever the number, I'll enjoy the ride. What life could be better?