It was on this day, March 19, 1981, that BYU had one of its most memorable basketball games in its history, the miracle length-of-the-court drive and shot by Danny Ainge to defeat Notre Dame in the Sweet Sixteen. Less than a year later, BYU ended a disappointing season with a loss to the University of Washington at the Marriott Center on March 10, 1982. If you can believe it, that was the last home loss BYU has suffered in the NIT. Since then, the Cougars are 6-0 in the Marriott Center and 0-5 on the road in postseason NIT competition.
Although BYU lost Ainge and Steve Craig off the guard line from the 1981 season and Devin Durrant was still on a mission, the Cougars returned their front line intact with seniors Fred Roberts and Steve Trumbo, and junior Greg Kite.
It looked like a promising season, even with a daunting early season schedule. BYU opened the season with a two-point loss at Virginia, just a few months after the Ralph Sampson-led Cavaliers had snuffed BYU's chances for a Final Four berth. That same day, Jim McMahon led the BYU football team to a 56-28 trouncing of Utah to cap another great regular season.
A few days later, the Cougars defeated the UCLA Bruins, and another great basketball season appeared to be in the offing. It wasn't to be, and the Cougars had to settle for the NIT. In Ainge's last three seasons, coach Frank Arnold had guided the Cougars to a dominating 39-2 record at home, but the 1981-82 year resulted in five home-court losses, including a bizarre stall-and-slow-down game loss to Wyoming.
Even with the mature and solid front line for the Cougars, the Washington Huskies came in and grabbed a win from the favored home team. My buddy, Steve Zollinger, was working in his last year as a student broadcaster for BYU, and he was on the court behind the basket video-taping the game for the next-day sports review, and he, too, was disappointed in the outcome and the quick ending for the season.
The one good thing to take from all of this is that BYU has not lost an NIT postseason game in the Marriott Center since. If we give credence to historical numbers, I like BYU's chances.
Ken Driggs of Mesa, Ariz., is a BYU graduate who served as Cosmo in the ’60s. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org