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.
10. Arizona’s first game at McKale Center on Feb. 1, 1973
“It looks like we brought that Bear Down enthusiasm over here with us. … we came alive when the cheering started.” — Arizona athletic director Dave Strack after Arizona’s 87-69 win over Wyoming in the christening of McKale Center on Feb. 1, 1973, in which a capacity crowd of 13,652 attended — a state record for an indoor crowd.
Arizona’s first game at McKale Center was a complete success and that’s not including the victory over the Cowboys in a crucial Western Athletic Conference matchup.
The evening went off without a hitch. All things were fluid like a fast break engineered by freshman point guard Eric Money.
The $8 million project that took three years to construct became a solid foundation for a burgeoning program after the Wildcats played in ancient Bear Down Gym for almost 50 years.
“I think I’m gonna like this place,” Snowden told reporters with that familiar smile of his.
Arizona turned a 53-53 tie with 14:25 left into a rout behind the deafening noise from the sellout crowd.
The Wildcats earned a share of the WAC lead with a 4-2 record after the victory. They were 11-7 overall at that point, including a 7-0 record at Bear Down Gym in Snowden’s first season as head coach.
Another freshman guard, Coniel Norman, scored 37 points against Wyoming, immediately making the McKale scoring record a difficult one to top.
Norman broke the record for most times scoring more than 30 points in a season. That was his fourth 30-plus scoring game. He made an incredible 17 of 22 shots from the field (without a 3-point line and shot clock at the time).
Money, a teammate of Norman’s at Detroit’s Kettering High School the previous year, finished with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field.
Arizona shot 63 percent from the field, adapting to the new surroundings of McKale quite quickly and impressively.
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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.