The UCSB men’s basketball team just defeated the best team in the nation. Now, wait a few seconds and let that sink in. So maybe that wasn’t this year – being that the season hasn’t even started yet – but 14 years ago, something magical happened in the Thunderdome.
“It was the Big Monday telecast on ESPN – it was unbelievable; it was the highest rated telecast of the year,” said current Media Relations Director Bill Mahoney. “UNLV was amazing that year.”
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels were on a tear; they were primed to win a National Championship – that is, of course, until they came into the Thunderdome and got stomped in front of a national audience 78-70.
Former Nexus Sports Editor, current Sports Illustrated writer and regular on ESPN’s “Around The Horn” Josh Elliott said the game was without a doubt his most memorable athletic experience at UCSB.
“My freshman year, UNLV rolls into the Thunderdome, arguably the best team in the nation if not the best college team ever,” said Elliott. “Greg Anthony, Stacey Augmon, Larry Johnson, and the Gauchos took it to them in a packed house.”
Anthony, Augmon and Johnson all ended up first round draft picks, and Johnson was the #1 pick overall. Over on the Gaucho bench, however, our star Carrick DeHart wasn’t even supposed to play.
“DeHart sprained his ankle pretty badly before the game,” said current Santa Barbara News-Press Sports Editor Mark Patton. “They taped up his ankle with duct tape and ended up putting up 24 points.”
Following Santa Barbara’s epic upset, the Jerry Tarkanian-led Rebels didn’t lose another game that season and ended up winning the National Championship. In fact, that particular squad was so good that they didn’t even lose until the following season, when they fell to Duke in the National Semifinals. During their remarkable stretch, they won 61 out of 62 games. The lone blemish on their streak was from that fateful night they entered the Thunderdome.
The win – only fittingly – kicked off a decade of great teams and special athletes to grace UCSB. A couple of the best young talents in baseball these days also cut their teeth playing ball at UCSB during the’90s. Current Texas Rangers shortstop Michael Young played here for three years before being drafted. This year, Young had the burden of trying to fill the shoes of departed mega-star Alex Rodriguez. All he did this year was enjoy his best campaign since joining the professional ranks and nearly lead the annual cellar-dweller Rangers into the post-season.
“Young will finish in the top five in MVP voting this year,” said Patton.
Former Cy Young winner and Oakland Athletics starter Barry Zito had his longest college stint here at UCSB. Zito jumped around several schools hoping to get drafted, but he was here for a year and a quarter – long enough to set the freshman record for strikeouts in a season and strike out ten consecutive batters with his ankle-breaking curveball.
“Zito and Young were both true professionals,” said Patton. “Athletes that come through UCSB have great intelligence; they are articulate, insightful and so well rounded.”
Elliot’s excitement about Gaucho sports came not only from the exceptional teams and athletes that came through, but the excitement that captivated fans during big games.
“There were so many different things to do in Santa Barbara, so the rare times when people got really into sports, it was unbelievable,” said Elliot. “They used to air Big West games at midnight eastern on ESPN, so to be able to run home from games and watch the highlights on TV, it was really exciting – those were the good old days of athletics.”