|A very young John Thompson celebrates his team's 1975 ECAC tournament victory over West Virginia in Morgantown.
|WVU Sports Communications photo
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - When Orlando “Tubby” Smith brings his Texas Tech Red Raider basketball team to the WVU Coliseum on Wednesday night, Mountaineer fans will be witnessing a rarity – an opposing coach with an NCAA title in his hip pocket.
Smith got his 16 years ago in 1998 while at Kentucky, leading the Wildcats to a 35-4 record that included NCAA tournament victories over South Carolina State, St. Louis, UCLA, Duke, Stanford and then Utah in the big game to give UK fans their seventh NCAA tournament crown.
If you recall, Utah knocked WVU out of the tournament in the round of 16 that year in a hotly contested game that was decided at the horn when Jarrod West’s game-tying 3 fell just short.
What made Smith’s run with Kentucky in 1998 so unique was that it came without a first team All-American or first round NBA draft pick that year, which these days seems to be a prerequisite in order to get a title.
On Wednesday night, Smith will be joining an exclusive list of guys to coach at the Coliseum with at least one NCAA title to their credit – Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp, Ohio State’s Fred Taylor, Georgetown’s John Thompson, Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, Louisville’s Rick Pitino and Kansas’ Bill Self being the others, thanks to Mike Casazza's quick research
UCLA’s John Wooden should also be on this list, but it was said that the Wizard of Westwood stuck the Mountaineers on the return game after WVU took one on the chin out at Pauley Pavilion in 1969.
Rupp’s appearance in Morgantown happened during the Coliseum's inaugural season in 1970-71 and came just two games after the facility’s official christening against Colgate on Dec. 1, 1970, unless you count the Grand Funk Railroad concert that took place earlier that fall.
A near-capacity crowd of 13,323 saw the home team put up a big fight before falling to the third-ranked Wildcats, 106-100, in an exciting and entertaining game. SEC player of the year Tom Parker dropped in 24 points and grabbed 12 boards while 7-foot center Tom Payne scored 19 and pulled down 19 rebounds for the Wildcats.
Wil Robinson was the top point man for West Virginia with 29.
“Talk about a bunch of loud guys, that student body may be louder than ours,” said Rupp afterward.
A year later, in 1971, Ohio State’s Fred Taylor came away with an 83-74 victory in front of 10,807 at the Coliseum. Bellaire, Ohio’s Allan Hornyak scored 28 and Luther White added 24 for the Buckeyes.
Once again, Robinson was the top scorer for West Virginia with 27.
Nineteen eighty four NCAA tournament winner John Thompson showed the Mountaineers in 1995 what the Big East was all about with a down-to-the-wire 86-83 victory. West Virginia actually had the game in the bag before Georgetown’s Victor Page drove the length of the floor and converted a layup with five seconds left to send the game into overtime.
Allen Iverson also played well for the Hoyas, scoring 22 points and handing out 10 assists.
“What can you say but welcome to the Big East,” is how Thompson began his postgame press conference. “I thought it was a great game for the atmosphere. The noise was great, but it was nothing like Syracuse and other large, domed arenas.”
Probably not, but at least he didn’t mention McDonough Arena.
Three years later, in 1998, Damian Owens, Brent Solheim, Jarrod West, Adrian Pledger and Co. got their revenge by topping the Big Guy and his Hoyas, 81-70, on ESPN Big Monday. It was Thompson’s only loss to the Mountaineers during his four appearances at the Coliseum, including a 62-61 triumph over a Bob Huggins-led WVU team in the 1975 ECAC championships that punched Georgetown’s ticket to the NCAA tournament.
That was the first of Thompson’s 19 NCAA tournament berths, including a title in 1984 and a runner-up finish in 1985.
Jim Boeheim’s first trip to the Coliseum came in 1978, and he coached a total of 11 games here through 2010. Boeheim’s teams were 6-5 at the Coliseum, including a 3-2 record after Boeheim got his only NCAA title in 2003.
Like Boeheim, Jim Calhoun coached games at the Coliseum in four different decades, beginning with an NIT win over WVU in 1988 and continuing through 2011 – his next-to-last season as UConn’s coach. Calhoun was 6-3 at the Coliseum and 3-2 after getting his first title in 1999. He also won national championships in 2004 and 2011.
|Kentucky's Tom Payne goes after Sam Oglesby's shot attempt in this game at the Coliseum on Dec. 7, 1970. It was legendary coach Adolph Rupp's only appearance at the Coliseum.
|WVU Sports Communications photo
Rick Pitino won his first national title with Kentucky in 1996 and got his second one last year at Louisville. In between, he coached five games at the Coliseum after once making an appearance here as a player with UMass in 1972 (he failed to score in nine minutes of action).
Pitino was 2-3 at the Coliseum with all five games being decided by four points or less – a 68-64 WVU win in 2006, a 62-59 Louisville win in 2009, a 77-74 West Virginia win in 2010, a 72-70 Mountaineer win in 2011 and a 77-74 Louisville triumph in 2012.
The effervescent coach was also two-for-five in postgame press conference appearances during his five trips to Morgantown, and you can probably figure out which three he decided to sit out. Before one trip to West Virginia, Pitino remarked to Louisville reporters, “See you in Morgantown … for those not afraid to come.”
Bill Self made his first Coliseum appearance last year and came away with a 61-56 victory. Self will get a chance to listen to the WVU students once again on March 8.
“It’s a good home court and it’s neat how they get all of the students down there on the court like Cameron (Indoor Stadium)," admitted Self following last year’s six-point win. “I thought it was a good atmosphere.”
Among the guys who also coached at the Coliseum and later won national titles: Army's Bob Knight, North Carolina's Dean Smith (1972 NCAA East Regionals), Villanova's Rollie Massamino, Louisville's Denny Crum, UNLV's Jerry Tarkanian, Maryland's Gary Williams and UMass' John Calipari (another WVU student favorite).
In 1995, Tarkanian was asked about playing in the Coliseum: “The architecture is somewhat different than other arenas, but there’s not that big of difference. The thing was, the crowd was incredible but they were fired up because of how highly we were ranked.”
Gary Williams was 0-3 at the Coliseum, never enjoyed coming here to play games, and later put a fork in the WVU-Maryland basketball series.
“I don’t know what it is about that place,” Williams told Inside Sports Magazine in 1991. “It’s not a loud crowd nor a particularly hostile one, but sometimes there are just places out there where it’s hard to get comfortable. There’s that guy with the rifle, shooting indoors – that’s really strange. It’s just a funny atmosphere. In a lot of ways it’s the reverse of Cameron; it disturbs you because it’s half-filled. We never get rolling. You get the sensation of rattling around in there.”
Ah, some great coaches, with some great quotes and some great memories.
After Wednesday night’s game, you can add the name Tubby Smith to that very exclusive list of national championship coaches who also punched out their time cards at the Coliseum.