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BYU basketball’s history against #1 ranked opponents

A look at the 4 previous games that BYU played against the nation’s top-rated team.

Kansas v North Carolina Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Tonight marks the first time in history that a #1 ranked opponent will play a game in the Marriott Center. In fact, in the four previous matchups against a #1 team, BYU has faced their top ranked foe at a neutral site. The Gonzaga Bulldogs enter tonight’s game as the nation’s top team with a 22-0 record. The Cougars are looking for their first basketball upset over #1.

BYU vs. #1 opponent

December 28, 1951, BYU 64 #1 Kentucky 84

This game was played in the opening round of the neutral site Sugar Bowl classic in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was a matchup of the 1951 NIT tournament champions against the 1951 NCAA tournament champions. However, Kentucky returned 4 of their 5 starters from the previous season — 3 of whom were involved in a bribery scandal to play hoops under Adolph Rupp. The Cougars had graduated all-time greats Roland Minson and Mel Hutchins along with 4 other seniors. Before the contest Y head coach Stan Watts predicted, “I like Kentucky to win.” BYU star forward Joe Richey tried all he could to prove his coach wrong, but in the end the Wildcats were the 20-point victors.

Kentucky would reach the 1952 Elite 8.

March 18, 1971, BYU 73 #1 UCLA 91

This game was played in the Far West NCAA playoff at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. John Wooden’s top ranked UCLA Bruins were led by star guard Henry Bibby and All-American Sidney Wicks under the hoops. UCLA entered the game as a 4-time National Champion in search of their 5th title. On the Cougars sideline were assistant coaches Pete Witbeck and Glenn Potter as legendary coach Stan Watts was under intensive care at the Utah Valley Hospital. Despite his health difficulties, Watts’ doctors allowed him to watch the game on the television.

The pro-BYU crowd saw the Y make a game of it with the mighty Bruins for the first 15 minutes as the game was tied 25-25. However, the final 5 minutes of the 1st half saw UCLA make a run to a 41-32 halftime lead. UCLA never looked back.

John Wooden was upset with his squad’s performance at the free throw line — the Bruins missed 11 of 23 at the stripe. The poor free throw shooting was why his squad allowed the Cougars to stay close. “Otherwise we’d have had that game tucked away much earlier.”

Wooden was clearly expecting to win by more than 18 points on the night. He also indicated after the game that the altitude troubled his players. He claimed that had the game been played at sea level UCLA would have done better. Then Wooden said that NCAA tournament game shouldn’t be played at venues with high altitude.

BYU all-time great Kresimir Cosic was another reason why it stayed close. Kreso absolutely dominated on the board collecting 24 of the Cougars 44 rebounds and added in 18 points. Bernie Fryer also added 18, while Steve Kelly led the Y with 24 points.

However, 3 Cougars couldn’t defeat the 6 Bruins who scored in double figures. Bibby led with 15 points. Wicks had 14 points and 20 rebounds.

UCLA would go on to win their 5th straight National Championship — their 7th title in 8 seasons.

December 23, 1992, BYU 66 #1 Duke 89

This game was played in the Maui Invitational at the Lahaina Civic Center.

The Cougars were on a magical journey in the islands. In the opening round, Kevin Nixon hit a buzzer beater to upset #9 Oklahoma 76-75 — the 3rd most clutch shot in BYU basketball history.

In the semi-final of the Maui Invitational, BYU were able to overcome a 37-point comeback effort by Penny Hardaway to defeat Memphis State — now known as just Memphis — in overtime, 73-67. Again it was Kevin Nixon that saved the Cougars. Nixon hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 63 which led to overtime. Then Nixon’s 3-pointer with 50 seconds left in OT that gave BYU the final lead before victory.

Next up was defending champions #1 Duke in the Maui Invitational finals. You know this Duke team. Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, Thomas Hill — just without Christian Laettner.

Grant Hill had 27 points, Thomas Hill had 24 points, Hurley had 14 points and 11 assists on their way to victory. The Cougars struggled at the free throw line making 11-for-20 with Russell Larson led the way with 16 points. Gary Trost added 13 points and Nick Sanderson had 11.

Duke was upset in the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament by a Jason Kidd’s Cal Bears.

November 24, 2007, BYU 63 #1 North Carolina 73

This contest was played in the Las Vegas Invitational in Nevada.

The night before BYU took on UNC they knocked off #9 Louisville. A victory that was overshadowed by Max Hall’s magic happens pass to Austin Collie on 4th and 18 to set up a Harvey Unga TD run to complete the 4th quarter comeback over rival Utah.

The next day, all the attention was on Dave Rose’s team to see if they could upset mighty North Carolina.

In the only game I can remember Dick Vitale calling that featured BYU, Trent Plaisted outplayed the Tar Heels’ Tyler Hansbrough. Plaisted finished with a monster 24 points and 17 rebounds. Jonathan Tavernari added 6 3-pointers in the game to finish with 18 points on 20 shots.

Hansbrough had 21 points and 8 rebounds.

Ben Murdock was the Cougars starting point guard in this game. Murdock has the claim of being the player that started over freshman Jimmer Fredette. Murdock also was able to shut down Ty Lawson in this game. Lawson finished with 0 points. Murdock scored 2. Lawson was injured, and was limited in his minutes, but still, chalk one up for Murdock.

The difference in the game was North Carolina’s Danny Green off the bench who score 14 points.

North Carolina reached the Final Four this season.