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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


McKale Center: 50th anniversary of biggest sports moments

Sammy Cibulka

In the heart of the University of Arizona’s campus, where the passion of collegiate sports meets the halls of history, stands McKale Center — a bastion of athletic prowess and the iconic home of the Arizona men’s and women’s basketball teams. Yet, before it became synonymous with thrilling victories and unforgettable moments, the Wildcats played in a different arena.

Home games used to take place in Bear Down Gym, a modest structure that was opened in 1926 and housed the Wildcats’ basketball teams. It was a place where dreams took shape and young athletes honed their skills. However, on Feb. 1, 1973, a significant change took place. McKale Center was opened and dedicated to the legacy of J.F. — affectionately known as “Pop” — McKale, a stalwart figure in Arizona Athletics who served as a longtime UA athletic director and head coach who helped lay the foundation of the UA’s sports.

Now, as McKale Center celebrates its 50th anniversary, let’s explore its history from the humble beginnings to the hallowed grounds where history has been made. In the storied history of McKale Center, from nail-biting victories to emotional defeats, these moments have etched themselves into the hearts of Wildcat fans and the lore of college sports history. 

Here are the 10 greatest moments that have occurred in McKale Center.

McShot at McKale (Jan. 23, 1986)

In McKale Center, Arizona found itself trailing Oregon State University 62-61 with just 3 seconds left in overtime. The Beavers were a dominant force in West Coast basketball, while Arizona was vying for its first-ever Pac-10 championship. With the final timeout, then-head coach Lute Olson called for a daring play known as the “home run.” Steve Kerr launched a 94-foot pass to a cluster of players near Arizona’s foul line. Arizona forward Anthony Cook deflected Kerr‘s long pass, which landed directly in the hands of sophomore guard Craig McMillan. With an open path to the basket, McMillan dribbled twice and made the winning shot. The moment was coined as the “McShot at McKale.” This game would alter the balance of power in the Pac-10, as Arizona went on to win its first conference championship five weeks later against UCLA on the road in Pauley Pavilion.

Elliott breaks Lew Alcindor’s scoring record (Feb. 18, 1989)

In a showdown against UCLA on a February morning in 1989, Sean Elliott had a plan to make history. He shaved his head for the nationally televised game in McKale Center, where a record-breaking performance was about to unfold. Elliott‘s remarkable game, featuring six 3-pointers and 33 points, led him to surpass Lew Alcindor’s Pac-10 career scoring record of 2,326 points. Arizona‘s resounding 102-64 victory not only celebrated Elliott‘s achievement but also solidified his enduring legacy in Wildcat history, with the record-breaking moment coming from a pair of clutch free throws.

Losing to UCLA, snapping 71-game streak (Jan. 11, 1992)

During Arizona’s 71-game winning streak in McKale Center, UCLA had been a recurring victim. It took a career-defining performance from UCLA forward Don MacLean, who scored 38 points, and a Darrick Martin buzzer-beating 10-foot jumper to end the Wildcats‘ astonishing streak, securing an 89-87 victory for UCLA with just 1.8 seconds remaining. This game marked the conclusion of Arizona’s 71-game home win streak, which stands as one of the longest in Division I college basketball. The longest streak in history was established by the University of Kentucky from 1943-55, spanning 129 games.

The Steve Kerr game (Jan. 20, 1984)

On a day when the annual Arizona-ASU game normally took center stage in McKale Center, it was an unexpected hero who stole the spotlight. With the Wildcats struggling at 3-11 and ASU holding a dominant nine-game winning streak against them, few could have foreseen the events that unfolded. The crowd of 10,213 witnessed an emotional moment as Kerr, then a little-known freshman guard, delivered a stunning performance just days after the assassination of his father and the president of the American University of Beirut, Malcolm Kerr. Arizona routed ASU 71-49, ending their rival’s winning streak and igniting a resurgence for the Wildcats. Steve Kerr‘s 12 points in 25 minutes without a single turnover marked the beginning of a remarkable run for Arizona men’s basketball, leading to 25 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

Stoudamire’s game-winner vs. UCLA (Jan. 15, 2005)

In a thrilling showdown against UCLA, Salim Stoudamire made history with his performance. With the game hanging in the balance, Stoudamire, a left-handed senior, showcased his incredible scoring prowess. He erupted for 24 points in the second half alone, finishing the game with a staggering 32 points. Stoudamire‘s accuracy was impeccable, with a remarkable 9-of-11 shooting in the second half, primarily sinking mid-range jumpers, and an impressive 11-for-16 overall. His nerves of steel were on full display as he dribbled up the court and launched a 3-pointer from well beyond the arc with a mere 2.5 seconds left on the clock, sealing the win for Arizona.

Arizona shocks Stanford with Bristol‘s buzzer-beater (Jan. 12, 1998)

In a high-stakes clash, the No. 9 Arizona women’s basketball team pulled off a stunning upset, ending No. 11 Stanford University’s 48-game Pac-10 winning streak with a heart-pounding finish. The game came down to the wire, and Reshea Bristol delivered the defining moment, sinking a buzzer-beater that secured a 91-90 victory for Arizona

McDonald lifts Arizona over No. 4 Stanford (Feb. 28, 2020)

Aari McDonald delivered a clutch layup with just 8.5 seconds remaining in overtime, propelling No. 13 Arizona WBB past No. 4 Stanford to a 73-72 victory. Despite battling a leg injury, McDonald‘s resilient performance with 20 points13 of which came in the fourth quarter and overtime — secured Arizona’s first-ever win over a top-five team.

Derrick Williams’ clutch block (Feb. 19, 2011)

No. 12 Arizona pulled off an 87-86 victory over the University of Washington in dramatic fashion. The defining moment came when forward Derrick Williams swatted away Washington‘s Darnell Gant‘s shot, sending it soaring into McKale Center’s ecstatic white-out crowd. With just 0.2 seconds remaining, the Huskies’ hopes of stealing a victory were dashed, solidifying this game as one of the most memorable moments in Wildcats‘ history.

WNIT championship and record-breaking attendance (April 6, 2019)

In a historic Saturday afternoon matchup, Arizona clinched the WNIT championship with a commanding 56-42 victory over Northwestern University in a packed McKale Center. This achievement marked the Wildcats’ second WNIT title, but it was more than just a championship win. The game set an attendance record with 14,644 fans filling the arena, not only celebrating victory but also showcasing the immense support for Arizona women’s basketball.

Bob “Big Bird” Elliott‘s 38 and 25 vs. ASU (Feb. 3, 1974)

Arizona‘s Bob “Big Bird” Elliott, a towering 6-foot-10 freshman center, put on a dominating performance on the court against the Sun Devils. Finishing the game with 38 points and 25 rebounds against archrival ASU. This exceptional feat snapped a six-game losing streak to the Sun Devils, and Bob Elliott’s 25 rebounds fell just one short of the school record. His scoring output tied as the second-highest by a freshman, matched only by Coniel Norman against BYU in 1973 and trailing Jerryd Bayless’ 39-point game against ASU in 2008.

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