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Historically Speaking, It Has Been A Wild West

Regional Has Had Its Share of Unforgettable Moments, With Dominating UCLA a Generous Contributor


What defines a good regional?

Is it the best collection of talent and tradition, such as the grouping of UCLA, Kentucky, Duke and Syracuse in this year's NCAA South Regional?

Is it one with the best story lines, such as Rhode Island and Valparaiso and the Harrick and Drew families in the Midwest?

Is it any regional without bombastic Indiana Coach Bob Knight?

Throughout the years, the West has usually found a way to qualify in every department--although Knight's Hoosiers did win the region in 1992.

From the dominance of UCLA to upstart Loyola Marymount's touching run of victories after the death of Hank Gathers, the West has seen just about everything.

The foursome gathered for this year's West Regional at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, which ranges from defending champion Arizona to 10th-seeded West Virginia, managed to bring together a little bit of all.

"It goes in cycles," said UC Santa Barbara Athletic Director Gary Cunningham, who has experienced the West Regional from just about every angle, from John Wooden's side during the UCLA dynasty, as a Bruin coach in 1978-79, and as Wyoming's athletic director in the 1980s.

Time to spin backward.

In the mid-1960s and early 1970s, playing in the West meant playing UCLA, which meant the Final Four was a fantasy.

"You want to play the best team," said Dick Garibaldi, who coached Santa Clara in losses to UCLA in 1968 and '69. "Unfortunately, you had to play them in the West Regional all the time."

UCLA won 10 national championships from 1964-1975 and also won the West Regional in 1962, '74 and '76.

Back then teams stayed in their home region, regardless of the way the talent was distributed.

"It would have been nice not to have to play UCLA every year," Garibaldi said.

Also the NCAA didn't have its current rules that prohibit teams from playing on their home courts until the Final Four. When Santa Clara played UCLA in the regional final in 1969, it was in Pauley Pavilion.

"They tromped us [90-52] at UCLA," Garibaldi said. "If we were playing at our place, I would like to play them again with our team. But that's my thinking."

In 1974, Dayton became the first team east of the Mississippi to play in the West since the four-region setup began in 1956. In what might have been an indication of the trouble that was to come from Eastern teams, the Flyers took UCLA to triple overtime before losing.

Cunningham, a UCLA assistant coach from 1967 to '75 and the Bruins' head coach from 1977 to '79, thought the UCLA glory days made the West stronger.

"A lot of young people identified with the Bruins," Cunningham said. "I think it stimulated basketball in the West."

But Western schools did not get to reap all the benefits, and somehow the West Regional became a referendum on the state of Western basketball.

In 1975 the tournament field was expanded to 32 and teams other than conference champions were allowed in. The seeding process was adopted in 1978 and within three years (and with 16 more teams joining the party), the principles for maintaining competitive balance in each region were established.

That led to the days when the best in the West often came from the East. From 1979 to 1986, seven of the eight Western regional winners came from east of the Mississippi.

In 1984, Georgetown held the No. 1 seeding in the West and advanced to the championship game. Another Big East Conference school, St. John's, had the No. 1 seeding in 1985 (when the field was expanded to 64 teams) and 1986. "Where they were ahead was, the Big East was able to get the national TV package," Cunningham said. "They were able to garner a lot of national publicity. Some of the players that were West went East."

That led to situations such as the top three seeded teams in the West going to Eastern schools in 1985 and '86, and sights such as Crenshaw star Stephen Thompson playing for Syracuse in the 1987 Final Four.

"People did talk about it," Cunningham said. "'How do we get stronger in the West?' People were hurt by the fact that we were losing."

Said Arizona Coach Lute Olson: "When our coaches were saying we should have more respect, I was saying people don't give you respect, you earn respect."

Nevada Las Vegas and Arizona emerged in the late 1980s to carry the flag for the West.

UNLV, with Coach Jerry Tarkanian managing to stay one step ahead of the NCAA's investigators, was top seeded in the West three times from 1987 to '91, advanced to the Final Four three times and won the championship in 1991.

Arizona held the West's top seeding and made the Final Four in 1988, and came back with a No. 1 seeding again in 1989.

Midwest schools were seeded first in 1993 (Michigan) and 1994 (Missouri), and Olson complained the NCAA men's basketball committee was sending too many strong teams out to the West.

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