Arizona Basketball

Throwback Thursday: Arizona Wildcats’ 114-109 1976 Sweet 16 OT win over Tark, UNLV

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The front page of the Tucson Citizen on March 19, 1976, showing Arizona’s upset overtime win over No. 3 UNLV 114-109 in the Sweet 16, one of the most classic games in Wildcat history.
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The lede paragraph written by the Tucson Citizen’s Bruce Johnston after Arizona’s 114-109 overtime upset of No. 3 UNLV on March 18, 1976, was poetic:

Herman Harris tapped a finger to the left side of his chest and quietly said, ‘It was just in me tonight. Beat Vegas.'”

Herman Harris, of Chester, Pa., same hometown as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, had a performance like none other against UNLV and Jerry Tarkanian in 1976

Herman Harris, of Chester, Pa., same hometown as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, had a performance like none other against UNLV and Jerry Tarkanian in 1976

No Arizona player — Sean Elliott, Derrick Williams, Damon Stoudamire, you name him — has played a greater game than Harris exhibited in the classic at Pauley Pavilion that day.

The junior guard who hails from Chester, Pa., the same hometown as current forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, scored 17 of Arizona’s last 25 points in regulation. He played all 45 minutes and scored 31 points with nine rebounds and nine assists.

Much has been written and said since yesterday about UNLV coaching legend Jerry Tarkanian and his rivalry with Lute Olson. Before that happened, Tarkanian, who passed away yesterday at 84, had quite a run against Arizona’s Fred “The Fox” Snowden.

Tarkanian, a candidate for the Arizona vacancy before Snowden was hired in 1972, split six games against The Fox. The 1976 Sweet 16 game was the best of them all.

After the grueling loss, in which a total of six players fouled out, including four of his own, Tarkanian sought solitude under the stands at Pauley Pavilion. Reporters eventually found him and he conducted interviews there.

“I don’t know what to say,” Tarkanian was quoted as saying. “Our kids have worked so hard and so long. It’s a shame to see it all end now.

“Really, I don’t know anything about anything right now.”

UNLV, which had Reggie Theus, Eddie Owens, Lewis Brown and Glen Grondrezick as its leaders, entered the game with a 29-1 record. Arizona, behind a gritty crew that included Jim Rappis, Phil Taylor, Al Fleming and Bob Elliott, was 23-9.

While Harris had one of Arizona’s best performances, Rappis showed “guts” like Arizona fans have never seen before or since.

“Guts”, Rappis’ nickname, played on one leg most of the game after bruising his left heel in the first half, yet he made 10 of his 14 shots from the field. He scored 24 points and accounted for 24 more with a game-high 12 assists.

“He’s the epitome of courage,” Snowden told Johnston of Rappis. “I believe in every one of our young men and they justified that belief tonight.”

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Site founder and award-winning sports journalist Javier Morales has published his first e-book, “The Highest Form of Living”, a fiction piece about a young man who overcomes a troubled upbringing without his lost father and wayward mother through basketball and hope. His hope is realized through the sport he loves. Basketball enables him to get past his fears. His experience on the court indirectly brings him closer to his parents in a unique, heartfelt way. Please order it at Amazon (for only $4.99) by clicking on the photo:
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The box score of Arizona’s historic win over UNLV and Jerry Tarkanian in the 1976 Sweet 16:
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Arizona’s fortitude as a team showed in the rebounding numbers. The Wildcats outrebounded UNLV 61-46. Taylor (15 rebounds), Elliott (12) and Fleming (11) had double-digit rebounds. Harris almost made it four players with that amount.

UNLV, living up to his run-and-gun style under Tarkanian, attempted an incredible 96 field goals.

Arizona battled UCLA close in the Elite Eight game for 32 minutes. The Wildcats, with a hobbling Rappis, ran out of gas in the last stages of that game as the Bruins pulled away in front of their home crowd and won 82-66.

Harris was unable to return to his Philadelphia home for the Final Four that year, but he offered a performance for the history books against UNLV and the venerable Tarkanian.

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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He has also written articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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