Ainge, 'underachieving' 1981 Cougs honored

Elite Eight team on hand for BYU's win over Wyoming

Published: Sunday, Feb. 3 2002 12:00 a.m. MST

PROVO — While the 1981 BYU basketball season is regarded as the greatest in school history, Danny Ainge wishes things would have turned out differently.

The former Cougar star never doubted his team would defeat Princeton, UCLA and Notre Dame to advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament 21 years ago. However, what bothers him to this day is how BYU missed out on its chance to reach the Final Four by falling to Virginia, 74-60, in the East Regional final.

"I feel like we underachieved that season," Ainge said Saturday. "We should have beaten Virginia. I'm still mad we didn't beat them. We were a Final Four-quality team."

Ainge and the rest of the '81 squad attended BYU's 85-70 victory over Wyoming and was honored at halftime. During the ceremony, highlights of that remarkable run through the NCAA Tournament were shown on the Marriott Center big screen, including Ainge's famous last-second dash that lifted BYU to a 51-50 win over the Fighting Irish.

Returning to BYU this weekend brought back fond memories for the former Cougars. Aside from their NCAA Tournament success, they also still talk about the regular-season finale — a 95-76 triumph at home over Utah.

"We had a record crowd and we thumped 'em pretty good," recalled Greg Kite, who lives in Orlando, Fla., where he coaches basketball. "They had Tom Chambers and Danny Vranes. They were a good team. The crowd was loud. A long time after the game, our ears were still ringing."

Most of the team got together Friday night for a banquet and to discuss old times. "We haven't seen each other in years," said '81 coach Frank Arnold, who is currently serving a mission in Salt Lake City for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "The stories get a lot better as the years go by."

In 1981, BYU finished in third place in the Western Athletic Conference, behind Utah and Wyoming. The Cougars ended the campaign with a 25-7 record and ranked No. 16 in the final AP Top 20 poll.

"This was more than fun to get together again," said forward Fred Roberts, who lives in Alpine. "We don't get many opportunities like this."

Other members of the 1981 team who attended Saturday's festivities: assistant coach Harry Anderson, forward John Bartholomew, guard Dave Challis, guard Craig Christensen, guard Steve Craig, forward Gary Furniss, forward Timo Saarelainen and guard Richie Webb.


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com

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