Arizona will be celebrating McKale’s anniversary tonight, so I asked a great Wildcat, my buddy BH, to answer Sean Miller’s question:
— Sean Miller (@UACoachMiller) February 5, 2013
February 1st marked the official 40th anniversary of the 1973 opening of McKale Memorial Center. For those of you that don’t know, McKale Memorial Center (or just “McKale”) is located at 1 National Championship Dr. Tucson, AZ 85721, and houses the home court of the University of Arizona Wildcat basketball team. As a lifelong Wildcat fan, McKale is also the venue for some of my greatest college basketball memories (RIP RCA Dome ).
Fittingly, Sean Miller took to the Twitterverse to ask Arizona fans what their favorite memory at McKale was. As a coach who knows that many a Wildcat fan has an encyclopedic knowledge of every great game at McKale since 1973, this is a great PR move by Miller—who consistently has a deft touch when it comes to fan engagement. However, for this lifelong fan picking one memory is impossible, let alone fitting it into 140 characters. As such, @UACoachMiller: a list of my 3 favorite McKale Memores #guestblog:
Salim from the Cactus
Salim Stoudamire is one of my all time favorite ‘Cats. If most people are like me, they can’t remember the kid ever missing a shot—especially a three. Say what you will about J.J. Redick‘s 2005, Salim shot a ludicrous .504 from behind the arc. But it’s the afternoon of Saturday, January 15, 2005 that stands alone.
UCLA was in town with second year coach Ben Howland and 14,558 fans were there to watch with me. McKale was rocking: National TV, Steve Lavin on the call, and the red sweater crowd was standing. Arizona trailed by four at the half, but mounted a comeback fueled by Salim’s 24 point, 9-for-11-shooting second half. With the clock running under thirty seconds UCLA’s freshman prodigy, Aaron Aflalo, had just tied the game with a three. But now it was Arizona’s ball. Salim casually received it near mid court and cleared things out to break down Afflalo. Then, without warning, he pulled up from 27 feet and launched an arcing three pointer. The ball hung in the air for what seemed hours, and then like a movie, splashed straight into the net like a stone into a pond. McKale erupted.
The Other Rivals
At the end of the 1990’s and early 2000s Stanford and Arizona battled back and forth for Pac-10 supremacy. They forged a rivalry that featured heart wrenching defeats, heart stopping wins, top 10 matchups, and twins, always twins. I still get annoyed thinking about Mike Montgomery in his glasses, sitting on the bench clutching his clipboard, chewing gum and orchestrating plays for his limitless stable of three-point-assassins. Needless to say, beating Stanford was great. Beating Stanford when they were ranked second in the land entering McKale and favored by Vegas to win? Even better.
If I’d known or cared about spreads and betting as an 8th grader I would have told Vegas to go fly a kite. In 2000 Arizona just didn’t lose at McKale. In fact, leading into this Stanford game Arizona had only lost 15 times at home since 1990, and since the 1996-1997 season, had lost only twice at home by a combined total of 4 points. Vegas needed a better bookie. In 2000, when you marched through the tunnel under Speedway en route to McKale, you weren’t marching to a game. You were marching to a prelude to victory party. And March 9, 2000 would be no different.
Richard Jefferson was returning from a foot he had broken earlier that year in a win at Maples. He came off the bench for 19 points that day and as Stanford shot meaningless free throws at the end of the game he smiled and gestured to the crowd to quiet down as they chanted, “overrated, overrated.” And when the clock struck zeros, it was Jefferson himself celebrating atop the scorer’s table with fans streaming onto the floor.
At 4 pm McKale Center time on February 19, 2011 Washington and Arizona tipped off in McKale with first place in the Pac-12 on the line. Some two hours later the game finished as Derrick Williams blocked Darnell Gant’s potential game winner into the stands. The Block.
Many Wildcat fans will tell you that The Block is their favorite McKale memory. And you’d be hard pressed to find a single Wildcat fan in McKale that day that would say anything different. I was watching the game by myself in my friend’s basement in Portland, Oregon and it’s still one of my favorite memories. I can’t tell you what happened after I leaped up in jubilation and smashed my hands into the ceiling immediately following Williams’ blocked shot, but I’d imagine I immediately called or texted the author of this blog.
This game makes the list because it is probably the greatest McKale memory in the Sean Miller era (due respect to the Florida game this year). This game had all the ingredients: Miller had asked all the fans to wear white and all of them did, the game was nationally broadcast on ESPN, and the Pac-12 title was on the line. What made this game special is this was the first game in several years at McKale that really meant something. Arizona fans knew they had a special player in Derrick Williams and knew they had found a coach in Sean Miller that was going to do special things.
It was a coming out party for Miller, the program, fans at McKale, and fans in Tucson and across the country. When Derrick swatted that shot into the sea of white every one of those fans from McKale to Portland let out a cathartic jubilant scream years in the making.
The 1993-1994 ‘Cats welcomed the Michigan Wolverines into McKale. These were the same Wolverines of Fab Five fame that had run out of timeouts just one year earlier in the National Championship game. Although Chris Webber had split for the NBA, they came to town in their oversized shorts and with plenty of swagger. Khalid Reeves welcomed them to town by torching them for 40 points in a 119-95 route.
 The RCA Dome in Indianapolis hosted the 1997 Final Four, where Arizona won its first (and only) NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship.