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.
You can access the entire series by clicking here.
1A and 1B. Sweeping nationally-ranked UCLA & USC in same weekend at McKale Center in first year in Pac-10
Larry Demic in August 2020, when he earned his Interglobal Communications Studies degree in the College of Science at Arizona, enjoyed his best weekend in Tucson since the stretch between Jan. 18-22 in 1979 when he was a senior.
In Arizona’s first season in the Pac-10 after leaving the WAC, the Wildcats swept No. 6 UCLA and USC at McKale Center in one of the most magical developments in Arizona history.
In this person’s estimation, the two wins together was Snowden’s finest moment as head coach of the Wildcats.
Arizona defeated UCLA 70-69 on Jan. 18, 1979, in front of 14,606 fans, many of whom stormed the court after John Smith made a go-ahead free throw with six seconds left. David Greenwood’s attempt on the other end was off the mark as time expired.
It was Arizona’s first win over UCLA in 56 years.
“It was our first year in the Pac-10 and the expectations were high,” recalled Demic, a 6-foot-9 and 225-pound forward who had a game-high 20 points with eight rebounds. “We didn’t know what to expect. These guys (UCLA) had national exposure all of the time.
“We were just ready to play that weekend. Coach (Snowden) had us ready to play … Russell Brown, John Smith, John Belobraydic … We were just ready to play, man.”
The late Snowden made sure to tell reporters about what the win over the Bruins meant to Demic.
“I wanted this win so badly for Larry Demic because he has worked so hard for four years,” Snowden said. “And the way the team played, it was an incredible tribute to them. They beat a great basketball team.”
Arizona held on to upset USC, which was atop the Pac-10 standings at the time, four days later on a Monday night with a 74-72 win in front of an estimated crowd of 14,500. Demic finished with 15 points. Arizona’s Joe Nehls led all players with 31 points.
“The Tucson fans were just incredible at McKale; I don’t think you could have got another body in there,” Demic said. “You would have thought we won a national title or something with all the fans on the court. We just won a game. But that was UCLA and USC.”
The significance of the weekend for Demic went beyond beating those teams.
“My mom had never been able to see me play and she was able to get there for the (USC) game. That was kind of a special thing,” said Demic of his late mom Johnnie Mae, who came to Tucson from their home in Gary, Ind.
“I enjoyed my senior year overall. I enjoyed playing the game. I was happy for the program and being part of it. I just knew Arizona basketball was going to be good. I just knew it. I had no idea they were going to bring in the legend Lute Olson. He recruited and it took off. It was a matter of time.”
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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.