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On This Date in Sports March 18, 1993: Santa Clara Super 15

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Santa Clara upsets Arizona 64-61 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City. This was just the second time in NCAA history that a #15 seed beat a #2. The Broncos, who held a 33-21 lead late in the first half, appeared to run out of gas as Arizona went on a 25-0 run. However, when Arizona star Chris Mills got in foul trouble, Santa Clara was able to get back in the game for the win.

Coached by Lute Olsen, Arizona was one of the best programs in the NCAA. In 1993, the Wildcats dominated the Pac-10, posting an overall record of 24-4 as they finished the season ranked fifth in the nation. Placed in West Regional as the #2 seed behind Michigan, the Wildcats came into the tournament looking to erase the sour taste of their 1992 tournament letdown when as a #3 seed, they lost to #14 Eastern Tennessee State 87-80.

Santa Clara, coached by Dick Davey, had a record of 19-12 and made the tournament after winning the West Coast Conference Tournament. The Broncos were one of the youngest teams in the field, with a roster made up mostly of freshmen. Among them was Steve Nash, a point guard from Canada who had several big games in the WCC Tournament.

Arizona struggled early in the game, allowing Santa Clara to take control of the game in the first half at the Jon M. Huntsman Events Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. The Broncos eventually built a 33-21 lead just over 15 minutes into the game. However, Arizona found their range and dominated the rest of the half and the start of the second half, going on a 25-0 run and appeared to be on their way to an easy win, leading 46-33 with 15:26 left in the game. However, Chris Mills, the Wildcats leading scorer, was forced to sit after being called for his fourth foul. As they did when Mills was in early foul trouble, the Broncos took full advantage and got back in the game with a 21-7 run. Helping to guide Santa Clara back in the game was one of the lone seniors on the team Pete Eisenrich, whose 15-foot jumper gave them a 54-53 lead with 2:17 left. Over the next two minutes, Steve Nash hit six clutch free throws extending the lead to 64-58. While Nash missed two late free throws, Arizona could not take advantage, as Damon Stoudamire’s potential game-tying three-pointer hit the back of the rim at the buzzer, as Santa Clara won 64-61.

A big key to Santa Clara’s upset win was rebounding as the Broncos, led by their seven-foot center Pete Eisenrich controlled the glass outrebounding Arizona 43-34. Eisenrich was Santa Clara’s leading scorer with 19 points and eight boards. The Broncos also got seven rebounds by both DeWayne Lewis and Steve Nash. Nash, the freshman who was the heart of and soul of the team, scored ten points off the bench. Arizona meanwhile goes 19 points from Chris Mills, who missed a critical ten-minute stretch with four fouls that allowed Santa Clara to rally for their upset win.

The victory by Santa Clara was just the second time that a #15 seed won an NCAA Tournament game. Richmond beat Syracuse 73-69 in College Park, Maryland, two years earlier. Like Richmond, Santa Clara’s joy lasted just one game as they were beaten in the second round by Temple 68-57.