March 13, 2002
The calls come annually in March. Some writer or radio guy will call Santa Clara Basketball coach Dick Davey and ask how he did it. What's the formula for a 15 seed to beat a number 2, making the slipper fit. This morning alone he took three calls on how Santa Clara beat Arizona.
It was March 18, 1993. The Broncos had just one returning starter from the year before and a roster filled with freshmen. After a magical run through the WCC tourney led by a Canadian point guard named Steve Nash, Santa Clara was off to the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah for a date with the 5th ranked team in the country.
On this day, it wasn't Nash who was the star, but Pete Eisenrich. He was gangly blond shooting forward who believes the fearless effort Santa Clara put forth was a reflection of first-year coach Dick Davey.
"It was his first year and he was extremely motivated to do well," said Eisenrich, who tied Arizona's Chris Mills for a game-high 19 points. "He was a great motivator of players and a very tough coach who would get the best out of you. No doubt, that's what he did with us. But he did it in a way that made us focused but he allowed us to play basketball.
"It's just our competitive nature that we shared on the team. For most people it's a great accomplishment get to the tournament but our goal was to win and see what we could do on a national stage. We didn't go position by position and say we had no chance."
Nash fed freshman Kevin Dunne for a lay up to put SCU up 33-21 with 4:43 left in the first half, forcing Lute Olson to call a timeout. The fuse was then lit as four future NBA players Reggie Geary, Damon Stoudamire, Khalid Reeves and Mills led the 'Cats on a 14-0 run to take a 35-33 lead into the break.
Arizona would score the first 11 points of the 2nd half to take a 46-33 lead with 15:26 left after Mills made a 6-footer while being fouled by Mark Schmitz. The Broncos would have to rally from the short end of a 25-0 run.
During the timeout, Davey's strategy didn't involve a creative diagram on the dry-erase board. The message was simple. "Guys, we've got to score."
"I remember after they had scored 25 straight that my good friend Andy Karich told me to run down the back side and he would set a back pick on (Chris) Mills," said Schmitz, a senior who finished with 7 points and 6 rebounds. "Woolery hit me in the corner and I drove down the baseline and laid it in over Ed Stokes. That's kind of what Bronco basketball is all about. "
Schmitz' hoop ignited a 16-4 run to pull SCU to within 50-49. The blitz ended on a John Woolery eight- footer with 6:17 left.
"Honestly, when we were going through that stretch, it wasn't registering what kind of run they were on," said Eisenrich, who led the Broncos with 8 rebounds and a career-best 4 blocks. "We thought we were playing well enough to keep up them. We knew they would spurt and come back with 3 or 4 NBA guys. I look back at it and I wasn't consciously thinking this is ugly because their run spanned the first and 2nd halves. It wasn't like being blitzed 25-0 to start the game."
They rallied with the energy of the huge majority of the fans rooting for the underdogs. Said Davey: "Both teams had about 400 fans. The other 11, 000 became Santa Clara fans, giving us 8,400 while they still had their 400. It really began to build as our guys hung in there." Santa Clara didn't bring a band, so Vanderbilt's adopted the Broncos. Officially, it wasn't a home court, but it might as well have been.
Eisenrich gave Santa Clara the lead with a 15-footer from the right baseline, assisted by Woolery with 2:49 left. At that point, one could sense the 'Cats beginning to tighten. A Lewis lay up and 4 free throws by Nash made it 64-58 with 17 seconds left.
Mills nailed a three with :09 seconds left and Stoudamire fouled Nash with :07.3 seconds left, putting the freshman on the line to shoot two free throws. He missed them both and would admit to me three years later that he was scared to death in that spot.
"What I remember was we were up three points and Steve Nash was shooting two free throws and I was planning my celebration," said Eisenrich. "If he made just one, it would have been over. He missed them both and then Kevin Dunne got the rebound. He was fouled and then he missed his two. In this two or three minute stretch our elation turned to worry."
The worry would return to elation after Stoudamire missed a three at the buzzer.
Steve Seandel joined Davey's staff after spending two years with Mike Montgomery at Stanford: "I remember when Kevin Dunne missed a couple of free throws to give them one final chance. When I was at Stanford, (Damon) Stoudamire beat us a couple times, once going the length of the court at the end. As he had the ball I thought he was going to do it again. From where I was, his three looked right on line. After he missed, it was relief and then a pretty exciting time for our program."
While many details of the game remain vivid to Broncos fans, Cinderella's specifics have blurred to many nationally. Last December, Davey appeared on a talk show in Columbus before a non-conference game with Ohio State. After Coach hung up, one co-host asked the other, "Didn't they beat Arizona one year in the tournament?"
They sure did and it was magic.