Oakland’s Oracle Arena has hosted three NCAA Regional tournaments: 1990, 1995 and 2006. Each year holds a unique place in the legend that is March Madness. These are their stories.
Entering the 1990 NCAA Tournament, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels were the top ranked team in the nation. Led by coach Jerry Tarkanian and forward Larry Johnson, they came to Oakland owning a 31-5 record.
Loyola Marymount had enjoyed a blissful season up until they lost Hank Gathers. On March 4, 1990, Gathers collapsed during a West Coat Conference tournament game against Gonzaga. He was pronounced dead two hours later at the hospital from cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle disorder. The NCAA canceled the rest of the conference tournament and gave the top seeded Lions the conference championship. They had the best offense in college basketball that year but without Hank Gathers there were some serious questions as to how far this team could go.
UNLV began the NCAA Tournament by trouncing Arkansas-Little Rock 102-72 and vanquishing Ohio State 76-65 in Salt Lake City, Utah. They opened their stay in Oakland by squeezing past Ball State 69-67 in the Sweet Sixteen with Stacey Augmon and Larry Johnson leading the team, each scoring 20 points. With victory in hand, the Runnin’ Rebels were headed to the Elite Eight.
Loyola Marymount began their part of the NCAA Tournament by defeating New Mexico State 111-92 and obliterating Michigan 149-115 in Long Beach, California. They began their stay in Oakland by squeezing past Alabama 62-60 in the Sweet Sixteen. Bo Kimble and Terrell Lowery led the Lions, scoring 19 and 16 points respectively. With victory in hand, the Lions were headed to the Elite Eight and a clash with the top team in the nation, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.
In a battle between college basketball’s premier offenses, UNLV prevailed 131-101. Four Runnin’ Rebels scored 20 points or more: Stacey Augmon (33), Anderson Hunt (30), Greg Anthony (21) and Larry Johnson (20). The Lions were led by Bo Kimble’s 42 points, Jeff Fryer’s 21 and Terrell Lowery’s 18. UNLV went on to win the national championship over Duke in Denver, Colorado. After the 1990 NCAA Tournament, Loyola Marymount’s best days were behind them and their great program quickly dissipated.
After winning 10 national championships with John Wooden in the 1960’s and 1970’s, UCLA’s great dynasty crumbled when the legendary coach retired following the 1975 season. By the 1994-1995 season, they were ready for another championship run and entered Oakland with a 27-2 record.
Connecticut had enjoyed a season led by future NBA Hall of Famer Ray Allen and additionally had three other future NBA players in Donny Marshall, Kevin Ollie and Travis Knight. They entered Oakland with a 27-4 record.
UCLA began the NCAA Tournament by defeating Florida International 92-56 and Missouri 75-74 to earn their spot in Oakland, California for the West Regional. In their first game at Oracle Arena, UCLA defeated Missouri in the Sweet Sixteen 86-67. Ed O’Bannon led the Bruins with 21 points and four other UCLA players scored double figures as the Bruins cruised to an easy victory.
Connecticut began the NCAA Tournament by defeating Chattanooga 100-71 and Cincinnati 96-91. The Huskies defeated Maryland 99-89 in the Sweet Sixteen at Oracle Arena to earn a place at the Elite Eight against UCLA. Donny Marshall led the Huskies with 27 points and Ray Allen contributed with 18 of his own.
The Elite Eight was a tight contest with neither team willing to go down quietly. UCLA ultimately prevailed 102-96. Toby Bailey led the Bruins with 26 points while Tyus Edney and Ed O’Bannon contributed with 22 and 15 respectively. Ray Allen put up a heroic effort for the losers with 36 points while Doron Sheffer contributed with 22 of his own. The Bruins won the national championship over Arkansas the next week 89-78.
After winning the 1995 national championship, the UCLA Bruins struggled to repeat that great season until 2006. Led by Arron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar (13.5 ppg, 5.1 apg), UCLA featured six future NBA players and boasted a 29-6 record heading into Oracle Arena for the Oakland Regional.
The University of Memphis featured six players of their own who would eventually claim an NBA roster spot: Rodney Carney, Shawne Williams, Darius Washington, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Antonio Anderson and Joey Dorsey. Led by coach John Calipari, the Tigers boasted a 32-3 record going into Oakland and had defeated UCLA 88-80 earlier in the year at Madison Square Garden.
UCLA began the tournament by defeating Belmont 78-44 and Alabama 62-59 to punch their ticket to Oakland. They began their time in Oracle Arena by defeating Gonzaga 73-71 in the Sweet Sixteen.
Memphis began the NCAA Tournament by defeating Oral Roberts 94-78 and Bucknell 72-56 to clinch a spot in the Oakland Regional. The Tigers began their time in Oakland by defeating Bradley 80-64 in the Sweet Sixteen. Standing in their way from the Final Four were the UCLA Bruins.
UCLA started off fast and took a 28-21 halftime lead. They held on for the second half and came away with a 50-45 victory. Arron Afflalo led the Bruins with 15 points while Ryan Hollins contributed with 14 of his own. Darius Washington led the Tigers with 13 points while Shawne Williams contributed with eight points and eight rebounds. UCLA would end the year in the national championship game where they would lose to the Florida Gators 73-57.