AllSportsTucson.com is running a series that features the top 10 games of the Fred Snowden era as Arizona’s head basketball coach from 1972-81 leading up to the 50th anniversary of his historic hire March 21. Snowden became the first African-American head coach of a major college basketball program when Arizona athletic director Dave Strack hired him March 21, 1972. “The Fox,” as he was called because of his prowess on the basepaths as a young baseball player, ignited the Arizona fan base with a run-and-gun style of basketball. The success of the program (reaching the Elite Eight in 1976) under Snowden, who was an assistant at Michigan before his hire, was a precursor to what Lute Olson developed with the program.
7. Bob “Big Bird” Elliott nails 35-footer at the buzzer to beat No. 13 Kansas State
You can access the entire series by clicking here.
How is it possible a 6-foot-10 freshman center whose nickname is “Big Bird” even think of taking a 35-foot shot to win a game at the buzzer?
That’s what Bob Elliott did on Dec. 19, 1973, to defeat No. 13 Kansas State 74-72 in front of a sellout crowd of 13,658 at McKale Center.
“It’s a good thing I didn’t realize I was that far away from the basket; I probably would have tried to drive it in closer,” Elliott told Steve Weston of the Tucson Citizen after the game in which he scored a team-high 20 points with seven rebounds.
Elliott’s dramatic shot climaxed No. 14 Arizona coming back from a 13-point deficit in the first half — and that time, a shot clock did not exist.
Elliott’s game-winning shot was set up after Kansas State’s Lon Kruger — who went on to coach at Illinois, Florida, UNLV and Oklahoma — missed a jumper and the Wildcats played for a final shot.
Coniel Norman was fouled with 4 seconds remaining and the game tied at 72 with Kansas State having a foul to give.
Jim Rappis inbounded the ball to Eric Money, who passed it back to Rappis. Elliott was standing between the top of the key and midcourt looking to screen somebody when Rappis passed him the ball because defenders did not surround Elliott.
Knowing time was winding down amid the frenzy of the crowd, Elliott did not think twice about releasing a shot from that distance. The crowd went berzerk with some fans coming on to the floor in celebration.
“I knew they would shadow the veterans and try to make me shoot the ball — no matter where from,” Elliott said. “I couldn’t see the clock. “I heard the crowd hollering for me to shoot it. I could see Al (Fleming) out of the corner of my eye and he was yelling for me to shoot it, too.
“I definitely said an extra prayer after the game.”
Given the magnitude of the game — against an established program under coach Jack Hartman — Fred Snowden told Weston the victory was “one of my most rewarding wins.”
“I’m so pleased, I don’t know what to do,” said Snowden, in his second year as head coach. “The kids showed me tonight that they can play with a lot of heart.”
Snowden said the plan was to get the ball deep inside to Elliott or Fleming, the pressure on Arizona’s guard made Elliott to release to the top of the key to help.
“Elliott had a choice,” Snowden said. “I yelled, ‘Shoot it!’ He was thinking about shooting it. I knew it was good when he let it go.”
Hartman, who reportedly was offered the Arizona job in 1982 after Snowden resigned, was disappointed in how his team played down the stretch against the Wildcats.
“It was a tough game to lose,” he said in an Associated Press report. “I thought we played well, but we turned the ball over a couple of times late in the game unnecessarily.”
Hartman turned down Arizona’s offer from Dave Strack, who hired Snowden in 1972, and stayed at Kansas State through 1986.
It all worked out for the Wildcats — after a woeful 4-24 season under Ben Lindsey in 1982-83, Lindsey was fired and Lute Olson was hired and … well, you know the rest.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.