For him to get to go to Maui now is pretty cool because I know firsthand what it’s like. – Kevin Dalton
PROVO — Almost everybody remembers, or has seen a replay of, Kevin Nixon’s stunning, 54-foot buzzer-beater to lift BYU over UTEP in the 1992 WAC tournament championship game.
That famous shot overshadows what Nixon accomplished several months later in Hawaii, which was similarly impressive.
In November 1992, the Cougars faced No. 9 Oklahoma in the prestigious Maui Invitational at the Lahaina Civic Center. Nixon snatched a long offensive rebound with about three seconds remaining, and, amid a pair of defenders, coolly knocked down a 14-footer as time expired to propel BYU to a 76-75 upset of the Sooners.
On the court, this Nixon was a crook — robbing both UTEP and Oklahoma in the same calendar year with improbable, last-second baskets.
“I bet if you polled BYU fans, they’d say, ‘Oh yeah, I kind of remember that now,’ ” Nixon said recently of his shot to beat Oklahoma in Maui. “But the WAC championship and that whole thing kind of overrides everything, and the Maui shot gets lost in the shuffle a little bit.”
Twenty-two years later, Kevin Nixon’s son, Dalton, a BYU freshman from Orem High, is part of this year’s team playing at the Maui Invitational. The Cougars face No. 16 San Diego State Monday (9:30 p.m. MST, ESPN2).
“For him to get to go to Maui now is pretty cool because I know firsthand what it’s like,” Kevin says. “Dalton’s pretty excited.”
Dalton grew up hearing stories about, and watching replays of, his dad’s clutch shots at BYU, especially the halfcourt shot against UTEP. But the video of Kevin’s dramatic bucket against Oklahoma in Maui is hard to find, and Dalton has never seen it.
When the Nixons found out that BYU was returning to Maui this season for the first time in a decade, it opened the door for more nostalgic conversations.
“I’ve talked to my dad a lot about Maui,” Dalton said. “He keeps telling me all the great things about that tournament and that same court he played on. It will be really fun to have that connection and go play in the same tournament my dad did 20 years ago, wearing the same jersey. It’s a really special thing for me. I’m really excited to get out to Maui with my team and see what we can do, playing some really good teams.”
Kevin Nixon’s heroics in Hawaii didn’t stop with the Oklahoma game.
In the second game of the 1992 Maui Invitational, the Cougars faced All-America and future NBA star Anfernee Hardaway and the Memphis Tigers. Hardaway finished with 37 points, and Nixon struck again. He hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 63-all with 1:09 to play in regulation, then, in overtime, he drained another three with 56 seconds remaining to put the Cougars up 69-67.
Nixon finished with 14 points, and BYU ended up winning 73-67 to earn a spot in the Maui Invitational championship game against No. 1 ranked, and defending national champion, Duke, which had Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski and stars like Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill and Cherokee Parks. The Cougars fell 89-66.
“Everyone expected us to get beat all the way through,” Kevin Nixon recalled. “To upset Oklahoma and Memphis and go to the championship game was a little crazy.”
That he played at all in the Maui Invitational was a minor miracle.
“Before that tournament, I was having some back problems,” he said. “I didn’t know how much I was going to be able to play because of my back. I wore a big back brace under my uniform. I remember being uncomfortable. I couldn’t sleep at night. I had a procedure on my back before we left. The long plane ride to Hawaii didn’t help. I wasn’t sure how much I was going to play and how well I would play. I ended up having a really good tournament — at least the first two games.”
Unfortunately, Kevin and his wife, Stephanie, won’t be able to make this trip to Maui to watch Dalton play. Stephanie is the head girls’ basketball coach at Pleasant Grove, and her first game is Tuesday.
“Her commitment is there. She’d never let me go without her,” Kevin said with a laugh. “It’s just not going to happen. We’ll just have to watch it on TV.”
Meanwhile, Dalton knows how important this tournament can be for his team’s future.
“If we can pull off a couple of wins in Maui, that’s something that could be really special for us to get some national attention early in the season,” he said. “Our focus is to win every game. We know we are playing a good San Diego State team on Monday. We’ll see what happens from there.”
Naturally, Kevin has provided Dalton a detailed scouting report on the intimate Lahaina Civic Center, which has a seating capacity of 2,400.
“He said it’s a shooter’s gym,” Dalton said. “They said they take really good care of you and it’s a fun venue. The best thing is playing against really good competition.”
What does Kevin remember about the Maui Invitational environment?
“The thing that was striking to me was, for the first game of the tournament, there was no one in the gym," he recalled. "As the day went on, it was amazing how it would start to fill up. It would get pretty loud because every team has its own traveling section. It’s amazing how small the gym is. The Orem High Fieldhouse seems huge compared to the Lahaina Civic Center. It’s a little crackerbox gym. It’s humid and hot in the gym toward the end of the day. It felt like running through a car wash — sticky and wet. In the locker room after we beat Memphis, it was so stinking hot, the coaches said, ‘Let’s get out of here and go outside.’ You also knew you were playing in front of the whole country on ESPN. It was a fun atmosphere to be around.”
As big as the Maui Invitational was then, it’s even bigger now, thanks to ESPN. This year’s field includes Arizona, Pittsburgh, Missouri and Kansas State, Purdue, and host Chaminade.
“Twenty-two years ago, it was a big-time tournament, but now, it’s the holiday tournament,” Kevin said. “There’s always a big buzz because they always get really big teams. The field is unbelievable.”
In 1992, BYU arrived in Maui the day before the tournament started and left as soon as it was over. The Cougars didn’t have much time for sun or surf. Things are a little different this time — coach Dave Rose and his team left Thursday for Maui and will participate in some team activities prior to Monday's game.
“I told Dalton to soak it up because it’s something he’ll always remember,” Kevin said. “He’ll have memories of it forever. I’m sure the extra three days on the beach he’ll remember as well.”