SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Call it coincidence, fate or divine intervention. Whatever it is, the Mormon school and the Catholic school are simultaneously experiencing revivals this season. Not religious revivals, mind you. This is only basketball.
After prolonged sabbaticals, both BYU and Notre Dame are back in the hoops business.For the Cougars, it is altogether fitting and proper that their NIT quarterfinals opponent Wednesday night happens to be the Fighting Irish, against whom BYU executed its most famous, and most-talked-about play in school history (not to mention one of the most famous, most-talked-about plays in college basketball history) -- Danny Ainge's coast-to-coast dash.
Here's a recap. With 10 seconds remaining in the 1981 East Regional semifinals at The Omni in Atlanta, Irish forward Kelly Tripucka knocked down a 16-foot jumper to lift his team to a 50-49 lead. BYU called a timeout with eight seconds.
"I remember (coach Frank) Arnold trying to explain the play," former Cougar forward Steve Trumbo recalled recently. "I was looking around and the play wasn't the one designed. Danny took matters into his own hands."
Ainge caught the inbounds pass and deftly dribbled the length of the court, raced into the key and softly flicked the ball up and over the outstretched fingertips of center Orlando Woolridge and into the net. By the time the stunned Irish inbounded the ball, time had expired. BYU 51, Notre Dame 50.
While the Cougars lost two days later to Ralph Sampson and Virginia in the regional finals, it still stands as their best ever NCAA tournament finish -- one game from the Final Four.
Of course, ask current BYU players about Ainge's heroics, most will say they've seen the replay a thousand times. But they have no memories of the event, which took place 19 years ago last Sunday. The only dribbling some of them were concerned about then was coming out of their mouths. BYU's oldest player, junior Nathan Cooper, was four years old at the time. "Don't remember it," he said.
Besides, Cooper and the rest of the Cougars are busy creating new memories, having posted their first 20-win season in five years. Judging from its performance this season, including a victory over Utah and boisterous crowds at the Marriott Center for first- and second-round NIT games, BYU basketball is officially back. And coach Steve Cleveland is the most popular man in Provo.
Then there's Notre Dame, which would just as soon never hear the name Danny Ainge again. The Irish had a few more solid seasons in the 1980s after Ainge's heartbreaker, then they fell on hard times. Last year, the school hired North Carolina alum Matt Doherty to take over the program. With a victory over Xavier on Monday, the Fighting Irish reached a milestone -- their first 20-win season since 1988-89. Fans in South Bend are ecstatic about the state of Notre Dame basketball.
And who knows? With the way things are going, more BYU-Notre Dame postseason matchups may be in the offing.
THE CHRISTENSEN CONNECTION: Todd Christensen should feel comfortable in the middle of this NIT game. After all, his older brother, Craig, was a member of that 1981 team that defeated Notre Dame. His father, Harold, was a member of the Cougars' 1951 squad that claimed the NIT championship at Madison Square Garden.
NOTES: BYU and Notre Dame have met six times, most recently in 1986, which resulted in a 62-46 win for the Irish in South Bend . . . Doherty was a teammate of Michael Jordan's at North Carolina and was a member of the 1982 national championship team . . . Notre Dame defeated Michigan, 75-65, and Xavier, 76-64, both at home, to advance to the NIT quarterfinals.