My Top Griz Memories

Recently the MakeItMissoula.com editorial team was talking about some of our all-time favorite UM Basketball (both Griz and Lady Griz) memories.  We asked Grizzly Bill Schwanke to give us his top picks.  Here’s what he related:

By BILL SCHWANKE

When asked to list my top memories of Griz and Lady Griz basketball I have to confess that most of the list will come from Griz basketball because of the years I watched the men play, starting in the 1950s, and the 21-plus years I spent broadcasting Griz basketball on the radio. But there are a couple of Lady Griz memories that really stand out, and some definite honorable mentions, as well.

So, without further ado, here are my favorite memories from Griz and Lady Griz basketball:

  1. Without question my top memory from UM basketball is the 1975 NCAA Tournament game against UCLA in Portland, Ore. Despite a 32-point scoring binge by undersized forward Eric Hays and a gargantuan effort by the entire Grizzly squad the Bruins beat Montana 67-64. UCLA went on to win its final John Wooden-coached national title that year.

Just being there was a tremendous thrill, but to come away realizing that the Grizzlies very easily could have won that game was a tough deal.

The rest of the memories I’ve dredged up will come in no particular order.

  1. Growing up in the 50s I remember players like Eddie Anderson, recently inducted into the Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame with that 74-75 team, along with the first Ray Howard, Bob and Jim Powell, and, in particular, Rudolph “Zip” Rhoades, a Baltimore, Md., native who wound up playing high school ball in Kalispell before starring for the Grizzlies.
  2. The Grizzlies were upsetting Utah in one of the early years in the Field House. As time wound down in the final minute Zip dribbled into front court and then calmly turned and rolled the ball toward the Utah basket. It was hilarious watching a Utah player try to catch up to the ball as it rolled out of bound exactly when the final buzzer sounded. I thought UM coach Frosty Cox would have a coronary.
  3. There was Derrick Pope’s backboard-destroying thunder dunk – one of several flushes he had that night – in a 65-58 Griz win over Idaho at Moscow in 1983. The game was delayed for nearly an hour while a crew replaced the backboard and cleaned up the mess.
  4. What a thrill it was to have Shannon Cate become UM’s first basketball All-America first team selection at the end of her senior season. The school’s all-time leading scorer for both men and women had earned honorable mention as a sophomore and junior.
  5. Another biggie I was on hand for came in Manhattan, Kans., when Craig Henkel’s tip-in at the buzzer game the Grizzlies, coached by Jim Brandenburg, a 61-60 upset win over Kansas State in 1978. Kansas State had won something over 90 straight home games against nonconference opponents. The win led an ecstatic Brandenburg to end our post-game radio show with the words, “Let’s blow this pop stand!”
  6. Another standout moment came in 1982, the year the Idaho Vandals, coached by Don Monson and led by guards Matt Haskins and Brian Kellerman, posted a 27-3 record and made it to the Sweet 16. One of their losses came at Montana, to the tune of 53-51. I’ll never forget the excitement in Dahlberg Arena that night.
  7. NCAA wins are rare at Montana. The first came against Utah State when the men downed the Aggies in Pullman, Wash. in the game that led to the meeting with UCLA in 1975. Most impressive for the Lady Griz was their 85-74 road win at No. 6 Wisconsin in the first round of the 1992 NCAA women’s championships. Most recent was the men’s 87-79 win over a ranked Nevada squad in the men’s tournament at Salt Lake City with Larry Krystkowiak at the helm.

Let’s face it. Any appearance in an NCAA playoff game, be it in basketball or football or whatever, is a big deal.

  1. One of the more emotional memories I have is the tears streaming down coach Stew Morrill’s face when the men finally got a monkey off their backs, beating Idaho 76-68 to win the school’s first Big Sky Conference title since 1975 to wind up the 1990-91 season. Morrill left for Colorado State, and the Grizzlies repeated in 1991-92, also in Missoula, with Blaine Taylor in charge.
  2. Kind of lost in the shuffle but a big deal at the time was a 1977 win over BYU in Provo on the first night of the Cougar Classic. The star player for the Cougars that season was freshman guard Danny Ainge, who went on to a stellar career in the NBA. Unfortunately the giddy Grizzlies stumbled the next night, losing the tournament championship game by 12 points to William and Mary.
  3. Basketball wins for the Griz are rare at Ogden, Utah, and I was there to see guard Ron Moore, a junior college transfer, score in the high 30s as the Grizzlies stunned the Wildcats 74-67 in 1968. The sportswriter that covered the game for the Ogden paper had one of the all-time lines when he wrote that Moore “had more moves than a double-jointed go-go dancer.” One of those you wish you had thought of yourself!
  4. And I’ll never forget the infamous pop can incident at Montana State. An obviously intoxicated MSU student, frustrated with the officiating I would guess, tossed a nearly-full can of Squirt on the floor, almost hitting Griz guard Scott Zanon. A technical was assessed, the student was cold-cocked by a fellow MSU student before being hauled off by the gendarmes, and Zanon coolly sank two free throws. If I remember correctly, the second one provided the margin of victory for the Grizzlies. A couple of weeks later, when the Cats played the return game in Missoula, a clever UM student arrived dressed in a costume made entirely of – you guessed it – empty Squirt cans. Truly hilarious.
  5. Even though I wasn’t there to see it in person, but like many of you witnessed it on television, Anthony Johnson’s remarkable performance in lifting the Griz from a 20-point halftime deficit to a 66-65 win over Weber State in the championship game of the 2010 Big Sky Conference tournament in Ogden is on my list. Johnson’s 42 points set all kind of records, earned the team and himself tremendous nationwide coverage, and left a memory forever etched on my mind and I’m sure the minds of thousands of others, Griz fans or not.

In the honorable mention category: Any win over Montana State; any road win over Boise State, particularly for the men; and finally, the pleasure of watching so many great UM basketball players and teams over the past several decades.

It almost seems a shame to single any memories out, but hey, they asked me to!

What about you? Got some UM basketball favorite memories of your own? Want to win a GREAT PRIZE?  Enter our Griz/Lady Griz Contest HERE.

Happy New Year!

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“Grizzly Bill” Schwanke is a UM journalism grad and Missoula native.  He spent 21 years doing play-by-play for Griz football and men’s basketball winning sportscaster of the year six times and working in Grizzly athletics for 15 years total. He’s enjoying retirement, especially the chance to spend time with his three grandsons. His wife Lynn and he have been married for 42years.