February 18, 2009

Santa Clara/USF: Hopes of a Rivalry Renewed

Feb. 18, 2009

By: Anthony Passarelli, the Bronco Men's Basketball Play-by-Play Announcer

Heading into Saturday's match-up at War Memorial, Santa Clara is riding a seven-game winning streak against the Dons. But for two schools who've played each other 201 times over the years, there hasn't been much recently to remind us of the awesome basketball history between them. We're talking just over a century of last second victories, tough losses and college basketball dynasties on both sides. I recently visited with a number of the former players who played in these games and the former Voice Jack Healey; and here are a few observations.

The Golden Age

Though both schools spent the early part of the 20th century building their programs, the 1950's would most likely be considered the Golden Age of SCU/ USF success.

Remember, the NIT was considered with high regard like the NCAA Tournament now back in the 1950s. While the Dons were making consecutive trips to the NIT in 1949 (winning the title) and '50, the Broncos hired Bob Feerick as head coach in 1950-51. After a 9-15 season, they welcomed freshman forward Ken Sears to the team. The Broncos took off ... finishing a 17-12 season with a trip to the 1952 Final Four, beating UCLA and Wyoming in the Regional in Corvallis, Ore., and then falling to eventual National Champion Kansas in the semi-finals in Seattle. That year the Broncos beat USF twice by only one point each time.

Santa Clara won 20 games each of the next two seasons, bowing out in the West Region Finals both years. But the Bill Russell-K.C. Jones-led Dons had become a powerhouse winning national championships in 1955 and '56 as part of a 60-game winning streak. The Don's won the head-to-head series with Santa Clara in the 1950's 13-11 which included the first meeting between the two at the newly-opened War Memorial Gymnasium in 1958.

"The level of competition was something fierce during those times because remember, Kenny Sears was at Santa Clara and (Bill) Russell was at USF," said former Broncos broadcaster Jack Healey. "Back then both teams were in the forefront of college basketball, they knew it and the rivalry was very intense."

Memorable Games, Memorable Names

December 14th, 1968

This Cable Car Classic match-up comes to mind with The Broncos beating the Dons in the only meeting between the two in a Cable Car championship game, 78-56. Bud Ogden (MVP), Ralph Ogden, Dennis Awtrey and Pete Cross (USF) were all named to the all-tournament team.

January 29, 1977

Chubby Cox. (link his name to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chubby_Cox). The name causes stomach problems for long-time Bronco fans. I've talked to a number of fans over the past couple of years and have seen the game mentioned on the SCU fan message board more than once. Santa Clara had lost in The City 3 days prior and were sure they had a victory in the bag at home. It's still etched in the memory of then freshman forward Kurt Rambis.

"...we were up a point with 3 seconds to go and all I had to do was sink two free throws to win the game, there was no 3 point shot at that time." Rambis missed both free throws, recalling the game on the night his jersey was retired at this year's Cable Car Classic.

"Chubby Cox drives the length of the court, hits a buzzer beater and we lose the game 71-70. It was heart-wrenching, disappointing not only for me but the fans. It was something that helped drive me as a player to achieve greater heights and work harder because I didn't want to be in that situation and fail again," said Rambis.

It was the ninth straight loss and part of a stretch of 13 straight defeats to the Dons (1973-78).

But the Broncos rebounded the next year, sweeping the season series and starting a two-decade run of success and a 29-13 head-to-head mark.

March 5, 1994

It was the first round of the WCC tournament and Steve Nash and company were coming off an NCAA Tournament berth the year prior. Phil Von Buchwaldt (1992 -96), who does color for the radio broadcasts up in Spokane where he makes his home remembered the match up.

"We had just scored to take the lead with less than a minute to go and John Woolery was guarding (PG) Orlando Smart. John was a good defender but Orlando made a basket for the victory (76-74) and I remember the feeling of helplessness. That was it. Time was up and the season was over," said Von Buchwaldt.

USF hall-of-famer Mike Quick (1970-73) summed up the rivalry while he was in school with one word. "War". "Day one, from the school priests to the coaches it was if you don't beat anyone else you need to beat Santa Clara. We had some great battles, physically battering each other," said Quick.

The Lighter Side

While tough losses are easily recalled, good friendships fueled the rivalry. The Broncos' all-time leading rebounder, Dennis Awtrey (1967-70) remembers some good-natured fun between head coaches Dick Garibaldi and Phil Vukicevich.

"...we played up there one year and the home team supplied balls to warm up with. The ones they rolled out to us weren't very good. But they made a mistake. Because they still had to come down and play us," Awtrey remembered last week from his home in Oregon. "Dick ended up getting every ball he could find from intramurals, they were flat, the glue was coming off. He rolls six balls out, could barely roll they were looking so funny. It was hilarious. Then he gave them some descent balls. In those days there were some really bad balls out there and he found every one at Santa Clara. "

Though the Broncos have been on the winning end the last seven meetings, fantastic finishes still pop up from time to time. Last year's WCC quarterfinal was decided in the final seconds by two John Bryant free-throws, with SCU winning it 51-50.

It may never return to the matchup of national powers of 50-plus years ago, but with Kerry Keating and Rex Walters starting a new era at both schools, there are hopes of returning this rivalry to prominence ... soon.