For the first time in its history, Arizona sold media rights to TV stations KOOL in Phoenix and KOLD in Tucson for its final game of the 1965 basketball season.
KOOL? KOLD? To anyone outside of Tucson, that would’ve been the reception to an Arizona-ASU basketball game on March 3, 1965.
Icy at best.
The TV stations paid Arizona $3,800 for a live statewide broadcast (about $30,000 in today’s money) and, looking back 52 years, you wonder why it even mattered.
Arizona was 16-9. ASU 13-13.
But because the Sun Devils were on a 15-0 streak against the Wildcats, and because Arizona had not played in a postseason tournament for 14 seasons, Arizona athletic director Dick Clausen believed it was Payback Time; he wanted the state to be aware that times were changing.
Clausen wanted the state legislature to understand that there was enough interest in Tucson to support the building of a transformative basketball arena.
Beating the Sun Devils and ending a basketball curse that dated to 1957 would trigger the deal and give Clausen leverage with the legislators. No longer would he hear the “ASU has an old arena and it’s still in the Top 10” brush-off.
Indeed, the Sun Devils soared into the AP’s Top 10 in 1962, 1963 and 1964. Other than John Wooden’s emerging power at UCLA, the Sun Devils were the No. 2 basketball program in the West.
But first Arizona had to break that 0-15 streak.
All 3,900 tickets at Bear Down Gym were sold a few days before the game. But when Clausen announced the TV deal, about 1,000 fans stayed home to watch the live telecast. There went much of the home-court advantage.
“Colleges must control TV or face murder at the gate,” wrote Star columnist Abe Chanin.
It was the Bad Blood Bowl. Referees called 53 fouls — an average of 37 fouls were called in the UA’s 1964-65 games — and after the Wildcats stormed to a 56-39 lead, Arizona’s Buddy Doolen and ASU’s Dennis Hamilton got into a fistfight.
Both benches emptied. Fans rushed onto the floor. Finally, after eight years, the Wildcats beat ASU 97-87. Plans to build McKale Center gathered momentum.
“They’ve got to do something about the crowd down here,” ASU coach Ned Wulk said. “They’re too close to the floor and there’s no security. You never know if one of your players is going to get hurt.”
This was 51 years before the Pac-12 instituted financial punishment for teams whose fans stormed the court.
Whatever, Arizona had finally beaten Wulk and business picked up. The Wildcats went 7-3 against the Sun Devils the next five seasons and construction began on McKale Center.
That ’65 game was surely the most significant game, or close, in the 104-year history of UA-ASU basketball. Sadly, the clubs have never played with a conference championship at stake, and no more than 10 or 15 of the 250 games between the rivals can rightly be termed “classic.”
This isn’t Duke-Carolina.
Outside of Pima County, Thursday’s UA-ASU game at McKale Center won’t attract the nation’s eyes.
That’s the sad history of this series; only three of the 250 UA-ASU games matched Top 25 teams (two in 1975 and one in 1995). That’s disarming because Arizona has played 14 games against UCLA, and 10 against Stanford, when both were in the Top 25.
After all these years, 44 seasons at McKale Center, the first UA-ASU game played there in 1973 might be the most enduring.
ASU won 110-105. It was mayhem.
Arizona rushed to a 50-34 halftime lead. Freshman point guard Eric Money scored 37 points. ASU center Ron Kennedy, who only averaged 9.1 points, scored 33.
But the Sun Devils rallied and Arizona was unable to hang on, partly because the scoreboard malfunctioned and added a 41st minute to the game.
Referees didn’t notice when the clock erroneously went from 9:00 in the second half back to 9:59. The official time was not corrected.
Worse, the refs called an unthinkable 65 fouls, which remains a McKale Center record. Six players fouled out. The Sun Devils were whistled for a record 35 fouls; ironically Duke was also called for 35 fouls when it lost at McKale in 1991; Blue Devils guard Bobby Hurley, now the ASU coach, fouled out of that game.
“It was the case of getting in an ax fight and not having enough axes,” said UA coach Fred Snowden.
This rivalry awaits its next strange twist. For 104 years, even after Lute Olson went 43-6 against the Sun Devils and Wulk 39-14 against the Wildcats, you never know when the ice may break.