Greg Hansen: Rivalry goes way back

The Arizona Daily Star's sports cover on March 3, 1955, the day after an epic Arizona-ASU basketball game won by the Sun Devils 104-103 in overtime.


The Sun Devils and Wildcats didn't like one another any more in 1955 or 1965 than they do today, perhaps less, if that's possible.

Picture this scene: Three days before they were to complete the '65 basketball season with a game at Bear Down Gym, the Wildcats and Sun Devils were unwittingly booked on the same flight from Salt Lake City to Phoenix.

"That plane got awfully small in a hurry," UA coach Bruce Larson told me. "There wasn't any chitchat."

You might say there was some bad blood: The Sun Devils were working on a 15-game winning streak against Arizona.

The Sun Devils of the early '60s were a glamour program, having gone 23-6, 23-4 and 26-3 in successive seasons. Arizona had managed just one winning season since 1954.

But because it was a rivalry of such depth, the game sold out in advance which enabled TV stations in Phoenix and Tucson to pool $3,800 in rights fees to broadcast the game live.

It would be the first time Arizona was favored to beat ASU since 1957.

Oh, how times have changed.

"I'm fuzzy on a lot of the details, but I'm not fuzzy about what it meant to beat (ASU)," starting UA center Bill Reeves, 1955-57, said Wednesday. "When I was a sophomore we had to play ASU in an old Quonset hut in Mesa that couldn't have seated more than 1,200 people. It seemed like they scored 100 points against us and you could hear every fan in that old building screaming in your ear."

Shockingly, there hasn't been a Game for the Ages in the basketball version of the Territorial Cup, not in 100 years.

Duke-Carolina it ain't.

Lute Olson coached 24 McKale Center games against the Sun Devils and the only one to match ranked teams - No. 12 Arizona vs. No. 18 ASU in 1995 - was diminished when UA stars Ben Davis and Damon Stoudamire were ruled ineligible for the weekend as the NCAA conducted an investigation into an extra-benefits allegation.

The Sun Devils won 103-98 in double overtime, but its historic value was forever stained.

So how ironic is it that three of the most compelling Tucson games of the UA-ASU series didn't include a Lute Olson team?

In the public mind, this rivalry has always been stacked up behind UA-Stanford, UA-UCLA and, more recently, UA-Washington.

Most of the 110 Tucson games, UA-ASU, have been lost in time. Here's three you may wish to bookmark:

• 1955: ASU 104, Arizona 103 (overtime): This game was notable because it was the first time Arizona had ever scored 100 or more points in a game. It was the second time the Sun Devils had scored 100 or more in a game. What were the odds that two bad teams would both surpass the once unthinkable plateau in the same game?

"If you check it out, I'll bet we didn't average more than 60, 65 points in a game that year," said Reeves, who grew up in Ajo and has been a Tucsonan since. And he's right. Arizona averaged 67.6. "Other teams had been scoring more," said Reeves. "We were late to pick it up."

It was the Senior Day of all Senior Days for UA lefty Teddy Lazovich, who broke the school scoring record with 38 points.

The game was made more memorable when Arizona held a moment of silence at Bear Down Gym for a Sun Devil: Ex-ASU forward Charles Christopher died two weeks before the game from complications during surgery to repair a broken wrist.

• 1965: Arizona 97, ASU 87. Not only did the Wildcats end a 15-game losing streak to ASU, they also produced only their second winning season (17-9) since 1954.

"That game did a lot toward getting the plans to build McKale Center pushed forward," former UA athletic director Dick Clausen told me in a 1998 interview. "ASU had been a highly-ranked team and already announced plans to build a new arena. When we finally beat them, we started moving in that direction too."

The rivalry was blazing: UA guard Buddy Doolen and ASU's Dennis Hamilton got in a fistfight in the second half, as benches emptied and fans spilled out of the bleachers, almost creating a brawl.

• 1975: ASU 83, Arizona 81: This was the first time both clubs were ranked - ASU No. 12, Arizona No. 15 - for a game in Tucson. A record crowd of 14,521 jammed into McKale to see the 16-2 Sun Devils beat the 15-3 Wildcats.

"That was as good as it ever got here for the ASU series," Jerry Holmes, top assistant coach to Fred Snowden told me. "Two big-time teams. We were better than anyone in the old Pac-8 except UCLA."

That '75 game was the start of another ASU-dominated run in the series; the Sun Devils would win 16 of 22 against the Wildcats, including a 9-0 streak that ended in perhaps the single most moving game in McKale Center history.

On Jan. 20, 1984, midway through Olson's first Arizona season and four days after freshman guard Steve Kerr's father was assassinated in Lebanon, the crowd gave an emotional tribute to the then-obscure shooting guard.

Kerr swished his first jumper; there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

Arizona won 71-49 and the Wildcats went on to win 22 of the next 23 Tucson games.

The Territorial Cup has never been the same.

A 1955 Throwback

The Star's March 3, 1955, sports front page shown above details what might have been the best UA-ASU basketball game yet. Teddy Lazovich broke the UA school scoring record with 38 points, but the Sun Devils won 104-103 in overtime.

Other top stories from that day:

• Indians coming back. Cleveland general manager Hank Greenberg confirms that the team will return to Tucson for its 10th year of spring training.

• Dr. Ed rolls. Ed Updegraff, "Tucson's perennial golfing champion" and local urologist, fires a 5-under-par 67 in the qualifying round of the TCC Invitational.

• America's game. Horse racing tops 50 million fans for the first time, outdrawing baseball and football.

• "Reds belt U.S." The Soviet Union blasts the U.S. 3-0 in the world ice hockey championship, played in Germany. The game was crisply played, though there was one near-fight.