Idaho State’s men’s basketball team may be hosting the University of Idaho Vandals Saturday, but the UCLA Bruins will be on the minds of many Bengal fans at the game. Why? Saturday night at halftime, ISU will honor members of the team that defeated the Bruins in the 1977 NCAA basketball tournament by a 76-75 score, marking the only time a team from the Big Sky Conference has advanced to the NCAA’s “Elite Eight” in the post-season tournament. A reception featuring some of the returning players from the 76-77 Bengals will be open to the public starting at 6 p.m. in the Student Rec Center at Reed Gym, as the game vs. Idaho has been moved to Reed Gym. Thursday’s game against Eastern Washington has also been moved to Reed Gym.
Just how did that Bengal team make it all the way to the Final 8 before losing to UNLV? You have to start with a head coach named Jim Killingsworth who put together an unlikely group of winners, led by 7-ft. center Steve Hayes from little Aberdeen, Idaho and guard Scott Goold who grew up in Pocatello. Then you throw in a bunch of other players like Ed Thompson, Greg Griffin, Paul Wilson, Jeff Cook, Brand Robinson and the rest, and you have a team that was 25-4 after the win over the Bruins. Another factor in ISU’s favor was the game against UCLA was played in BYU’s Marriott Center, which was packed to the rafters with close to 22-thousand fans. With every Bengal basket or turnover or missed shot by UCLA, more and more of those fans at the arena became ISU fans. By the time Bengal freshman Ernie Wheeler hit two free throws with seconds left to play, about the only Bruin fans left in the building were from L-A.
Even though it’s expected that many Bengal fans from “back in the day” will attend the Saturday festivities, ISU students are also encouraged to come out and meet some of the players who were part of ISU’s most notable win in Bengal basketball history. The 40-year celebration all starts Saturday night in the Reed Gym Recreation Center with the 6 p.m. public reception featuring Hayes, Cook, Goold and others, including legendary ISU trainer Phil Luckey and iconic sports information director Glenn Alford. When one gets an opportunity to reach back and touch a part of history, it’s probably a good idea to not let the opportunity slip away. Besides that, the Bengals and Vandals are playing right afterwards at 7:05.