March 14, 1998, 25 years ago today: In the second round of the NCAA Tournament in the BSU Pavilion comes one of the classics of all the tournament games played in Boise. West Virginia, a No. 10 seed, upset second-seeded Cincinnati, 75-74, to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.Bearcats coach Bob Huggins bickered with his players at the end, and Cincinnati star Ruben Patterson left to a chorus of boos as he ripped off his jersey while exiting the arena. Huggins, of course, now coaches at West Virginia, his alma mater.
D’Juan Baker had drilled a three-pointer with seven seconds left to give the Bearcats a 74-72 lead. As the clock wound down, West Virginia’s Jarrod West took a jumper from 22 feet. Cincinnati’s Ruben Patterson nicked the ball with a fingertip, but the ball glanced high off the glass and dropped in with less than a second left, giving the Mountaineers the victory and blowing the roof off the Pavilion. ”I don’t know why all those freak things always happen to us,” Huggins said after the game.
Huggins would be at Cincinnati another seven seasons before resigning under pressure in 2005. A DUI arrest, off-the-court player problems and lack of academic performance in the program contributed to his departure. Huggins took a year off before spending one season at Kansas State and going 23-12. It was then that the West Virginia job opened up, and he jumped at it. Huggins is now in his 16th season with the Mountaineers, who he has taken to four Sweet 16s. WVU, however, has missed the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons. If he can last, say, another three seasons at West Virginia, Huggins will hit 1,000 career coaching victories (he’s currently at 934).
It was not the first game Huggins had coached in Boise. Little-known fact: Huggins coached at Akron before taking the Cincinnati post and faced Boise State in a home-and-home series in December, 1988. The Zips won the first game in Akron, and the Broncos, under Bobby Dye, took the second in the BSU Pavilion. An even lesser-known fact is that Huggins started his head coaching career at Walsh University in North Canton, OH, in 1980. He was only 27 when he took the job and coached there three seasons, leading Walsh to a 71-26 record, including 34-1 in his final campaign.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)