SALT LAKE CITY — We’ll never know whether Sam Merrill might have led Utah State to its first victory in the NCAA Tournament since 2001. Perhaps Yoeli Childs or TJ Haws might have helped the Cougars to their third-ever Sweet 16 appearance.
With no NCAA Tournament to enjoy in the waning days of March, here’s a look at 12 top individual performances by Utah college players in the NCAA Tournament.
12. Bradley blocks Virginia
March 14, 1991 — Playing at the University of Utah’s Huntsman Center, BYU was a No. 10 seed matched up in a first-round game against Virginia, which had knocked off the Cougars 10 years earlier in the Elite Eight. This time the Cougars scored a 61-48 upset behind 7-foot-6 freshman Shawn Bradley, who set a tournament record with 10 blocked shots that was later beaten by Shaquille O’Neal. Otherwise Bradley had a rather pedestrian stat line with eight points and five rebounds.
11. Mannion paces Utah upset of UCLA
March 19, 1983 — Pace Mannion, who these days may be better known as the father of Arizona freshman sensation Nico Mannion, led the Utes to an unlikely 67-61 upset over the Bruins, who had been ranked No. 1 earlier in the season. He scored 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting and dished out 10 assists to send Utah to the Sweet 16. Two other Utes, Peter Williams and Angelo Robinson, also scored 18 points in the win. The Utes were eliminated the following week in a loss to eventual NCAA champion North Carolina State.
10. Roberts’ big game can’t stop Bruins
March 14, 1970 — It was the closest Utah State ever got to the Final Four when the Aggies matched up against UCLA in an Elite Eight game at Seattle. Marv Roberts, a two-time All-American, scored 33 points and had 15 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough against a Bruin team featuring Sidney Wicks, Curtis Rowe and Henry Bibby that went on to win another NCAA title after the 101-79 victory.
9. Billy ‘The Hill’ sends Utah to Final Four
March 18, 1961 — Billy McGill scored 31 points and grabbed 18 rebounds to lead Utah to an 88-80 victory over Arizona State in the Western Region final at Portland, sending Utah to the Final Four. The following week in Kansas City the Utes lost to eventual champion Cincinnati 82-67 before losing to St. Joseph’s in that epic third-place game 127-120 in four overtimes, when McGill had 34 points and 14 rebounds.
8. Nembhard spoils Heathcote’s finale
March 17, 1995 — “We thought we could beat these guys as soon as the selection show said we were playing them,” Weber’s State’s Ruben Nembhard said about playing Michigan State at Tallahassee, Florida. A few days later, Nembhard went out and proved it, scoring 27 points as the Wildcats knocked off the No. 3-seeded Spartans 79-72 to spoil Jud Heathcote’s 19th and final season as a head coach. The Wildcats had trailed by nine points at halftime, but Nembhard led a second-half rally as the Wildcats outscored the Spartans 42-26. Two days later, the Wildcats nearly pulled off another big upset, but lost to Georgetown and Allen Iverson 53-51 on a last-second shot.
7. Chambers sets NCAA Tournament record
March 18, 1966 — Jerry Chambers scored 38 points and pulled down 17 rebounds in a semifinal loss to Texas Western, which went on to beat Kentucky for the NCAA championship at College Park, Maryland. Chambers nearly single-handedly willed the Utes to the title game as he scored 24 points in the first half alone. Utah was still within one point early in the second half, but the Miners pulled away. Chambers went on to set an NCAA Tournament four-game record with 143 points (35.8 ppg) in four games and was named the Most Outstanding Player, despite his team’s fourth-place finish.
6. Gonzaga gets Jimmered
March 19, 2011 — In a season in which he was the talk of college basketball while earning National Player of the Year honors, BYU’s Jimmer Fredette also shined in the NCAA Tournament. After starting off with a 32-point night against Wofford, Fredette scored 34 points, including 7 of 12 from 3-point range, with 6 assists in an 89-67 victory over Gonzaga in a second-round game at Denver’s Pepsi Center. Fredette’s brilliant collegiate career ended the following week in an overtime loss to Florida in a Sweet 16 game in New Orleans in which he scored 32 points.
5. Grant comes up big against Smith
March 17, 1991 — Josh Grant had a lot of great games on his way to scoring 2,001 points in his Utah career, but perhaps his best game came in a second round game at Tucson, Arizona, when he scored 29 points, and came up with 10 rebounds, five steals and four assists in an 85-84 double-overtime victory over Michigan State, outdueling Spartans’ All-American Steve Smith. Grant said after the game he dedicated his performance to his sister-in-law, who was dying of cancer. The victory sent the Utes to Sweet 16, where they lost to UNLV a week later.
4. Arnie leads Utah to NCAA title
March 28, 1944 — Arnie Ferrin scored more than half of his team’s points in the NCAA championship game with 22 points in a 42-40 win over Dartmouth at Madison Square Garden. Herb Wilkinson hit a 20-footer from the top of the key in the final 10 seconds to win the game, but Ferrin earned Most Valuable Player honors. As the New York Daily News said, “Most deserving and most applauded of all was Arnold (Whitey) Ferrin, a gangly, tousled-haired 18-year-old who dominated every minute of play.”
3. Arceneaux steals the show
March 11, 1999 — Before the NCAA Tournament, not many people outside of Utah had heard of Harold (The Show) Arceneaux, who came to Weber State that year as a junior college transfer from the College of Eastern Utah. Not much was expected of the 14th-seeded Wildcats in a first-round matchup against No. 3 seed North Carolina. But Arceneaux put on a dominant performance, scoring 36 points on 14-of-26 shooting, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range, in a 76-74 victory. Two days later, he scored 32 points, but it wasn’t enough as the Wildcats fell to Florida 82-72.
2. Danny goes coast to coast
March 19, 1981 — Nearly 40 years later, Danny Ainge’s length-of-the-court weave through the Notre Dame defense for the game-winning layup remains one of the NCAA Tournament’s iconic plays. A couple of things people forget about Ainge’s memorable basket: Future Utah Jazz player Kelly Tripucka scored with 10 seconds left after which BYU called timeout. Ainge’s shot went in with two seconds left but Notre Dame didn’t have a timeout to stop the clock and set up for a possible game-winning basket. Aside from the game-winning basket, Ainge didn’t have outstanding numbers with 12 points, three assists and one rebound.
1. Andre’s amazing triple-double
March 21, 1998 — Not many people gave the Utah basketball team a chance against No. 1 seed and defending national champion Arizona in an Elite Eight game at Anaheim, California. Utah coach Rick Majerus revealed the day before that the Utes had “a little wrinkle” for the Wildcats, which turned out to be a triangle-and-two defense with guard Andre Miller at the top of the triangle. The defense totally befuddled the Wildcats and Miller took advantage with the best rebounding game of his college career with 14 boards. He also scored 18 points and handed out 13 assists for only the third official triple-double in NCAA Tournament history as the Utes pulverized the Wildcats 76-51 to earn a spot in the Final Four.