March Madness: San Jose Arena/HP Pavilion/SAP Center
The SAP Center in San Jose, California has hosted numerous NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament games over the years. It has hosted first rounds in 2010, 2013 and 2019 and regionals in 1997, 2002, 2007 and 2017. Currently, it is scheduled to host the 2026 regional. Despite the venue's many name changes over the years, each year holds a special place in the lore that is March Madness. These are their stories.
The 1997 Kentucky Wildcats featured a litany of talent. Six members of that squad would one day have a spot on an NBA roster: Ron Mercer, Derek Anderson, Nazr Mohammed, Scott Padgett, Wayne Turner and Jamaal Magloire. Led by coach Rick Pitino, Kentucky stormed through their schedule and only lost three games going into the NCAA Tournament. After disposing Montana 92-54 in the first round and defeating Iowa 75-69 in the second, the Wildcats were on their way to San Jose, California and the Sweet Sixteen.
The 1997 Utah Ute’s were no slouches either, losing just three games in the regular season and featuring four future NBA players. Keith Van Horn, Michael Doleac, Andre Miller and Hanno Mottola would all one day occupy an NBA roster spot. After defeating Navy 75-61 in the first round and Charlotte 77-58 in the second, the Utes were headed to San Jose and the Sweet Sixteen.
Kentucky got off to a fast start against Saint Joseph’s and held a 39-27 lead going into halftime. The Wildcats finished off the Hawks with an 83-68 victory and suddenly found themselves one game away from the Final Four. The Utes got off to a fast start against Stanford and were up 35-21 going into the halftime. However, the Cardinal players were not going to go down easy and fought harder in the second half, scoring 46 points to Utah’s 32 and tying the game at 67. In overtime, Utah scored just enough to win 82-77 and punched their ticket to the Elite Eight and a showdown with Kentucky.
The underdog Utes were in for a fight and they delivered with Van Horn (15 pts), Miller (11) and Michael Doleac (13) all scoring in double figures. Despite their best efforts, Utah couldn’t stave off the ferocious Wildcat attack for long and eventually succumbed to a 72-59 defeat in San Jose Arena. Four members of Kentucky’s team scored ten or more points: Mercer (21), Anthony Epps (15), Wayne Turner (12) and Scott Padgett (11). Kentucky would lose the national championship game in overtime two rounds later against Arizona 84-79.
The 2002 Oklahoma Sooners men’s basketball team did not feature a single player who would play in the NBA but they played well together and won the Big 12 Conference Tournament over Kansas 64-55. They entered the NCAA Tournament with a 27-4 record and defeated Illinois-Chicago 71-63 in the first round. After defeating Xavier 78-65 in the second round, the Sooners were on their way to San Jose for the Sweet Sixteen.
The Missouri Tigers had a more up and down year, owning a 21-11 record going into the NCAA Tournament. Kareem Rush led this squad, averaging 19.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game with Clarence Gilbert contributing 17 points and Arthur Johnson providing 7.9 rebounds per game. After defeating Miami 93-80 in the first round and Ohio State 83-67 in the second, the Tigers were on their way to San Jose for the Sweet Sixteen.
After Oklahoma made mincemeat of Arizona 88-67 and Missouri took care of UCLA 82-73, they were set for an Elite Eight matchup in HP Pavilion. The Tigers fought hard throughout the game with Rickey Paulding (22 pts) and Kareem Rush (17) leading the charge. However, the Sooners played better as a team and led for much of the way, winning the game 81-75 and punching their ticket to Atlanta. Oklahoma would lose to Indiana 73-64 in the Final Four.
Kansas and UCLA are two of the most storied programs in college basketball history. Numerous Hall of Famers have graced their halls as they have won championship after championship. The 2007 season was no different. In total, 11 players between the two teams would eventually have a place on an NBA roster. Mario Chalmers and freshman Russell Westbrook were just two of the many talented players on two very deep rosters. While Kansas won their conference tournament, UCLA lost theirs but both teams entered the NCAA Tournament with high hopes.
Kansas began the tournament by defeating Niagara 107-67 and Kentucky 88-76. They began their stay in San Jose by defeating Southern Illinois 61-58. UCAL began the tournament by defeating Weber State 70-42 and Indiana 54-49. The Bruins began their stay in San Jose by defeating Pittsburgh 64-55, punching their ticket to the Elite Eight and a huge matchup with Kansas.
The game between the two powerhouses was close from the start with the Bruins taking a 35-31 lead into halftime. UCLA pulled away in the second half and won the game 68-55, clinching a spot in the Final Four in Atlanta. Arron Afflalo led the Bruins with 24 points while Russell Westbrook scored just four points. It was not quite Westbrook’s time to shine as a Bruin nor was it Mario Chalmers’ as a Jayhawk; their time would come in future years. UCLA ended their great run in the 2007 NCAA Tournament in the next round against the eventual national champion Florida Gators.
The 2010 Butler Bulldogs had had an excellent year. Led by Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack, the Bulldogs entered the NCAA Tournament with a 28-4 record. They began the tournament in San Jose by defeating Texas-El Paso 77-59 and moved on to the Round of 32.
The Murray State Racers were led by Isaiah Canaan and entered the NCAA Tournament with a 30-4 record. After defeating Vanderbilt to start their time in San Jose, the Racers faced off against Butler in the Round of 32 at the HP Pavilion. Though the Racers held a 26-22 halftime advantage, Butler proved to be the better team and escaped with a 54-52 victory. Four Bulldogs scored ten or more points: Ronald Nored (15), Gordon Hayward (12), Shelvin Mack (11) and Willie Veasley (10). Butler would go on an incredible run which would end in a heartbreaking loss to Duke in the national championship game.
The 2013 Oregon Ducks started off strong, posting an 18-2 record, but dropped several games and ended the regular season 23-8. Despite finishing the regular season on a two game losing streak, they swept the competition in the Pac 12 Tournament and came into the NCAA Tournament strong. They began their time in San Jose by defeating Oklahoma State 68-55, earning them a spot in the Round of 32 in the SAP Center.
The Saint Louis Billikens were a good, quality team in the Atlantic 10 and won their conference tournament at the end of the year. They had a 26-7 record going into the NCAA Tournament. They began their time in the SAP Center by defeating New Mexico State 64-44, earning them a matchup with Oregon. The Ducks won that matchup 74-57 but would lose in Indianapolis to eventual national champion Louisville 77-69 in the Sweet Sixteen.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs had been good for years but 2017 was particularly a turning point in the program’s history. Led by Nigel Williams-Goss, Jonathan Williams and Zach Collins, the Bulldogs boasted a 32-1 record going into the NCAA Tournament. After defeating South Dakota State 66-46 and Northwestern 79-73, Gonzaga was headed to San Jose and the Sweet Sixteen. West Virginia put up a fight but ultimately lost 61-58, bringing the Bulldogs to the Elite Eight.
Xavier had had an up and down year and owned a 21-13 record going into the NCAA Tournament. After defeating Maryland 76-65 and Florida State 91-66, the Musketeers were headed to San Jose for the Sweet Sixteen. They pulled off an upset win over perennial powerhouse Arizona 73-71 and were headed to the Elite Eight.
The game was never close with Gonzaga taking a ten point lead into halftime. The Bulldogs beat the Musketeers 83-59, earning their spot in the Final Four. Gonzaga would go on to lose to North Carolina in the national championship game two rounds later in Glendale, Arizona.
The 2019 Virginia Tech Hokies were not the most spectacular team but did feature two future NBA players in Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Justin Robinson. Going into the NCAA Tournament, the Hokies were 24-8. In their first matchup in the SAP Center, they defeated Saint Louis 66-52, advancing them to the Round of 32 also held in the SAP Center.
The Liberty Flames were the clear underdog from the very beginning, having played in the weak Atlantic Sun Conference. Having won their conference tournament, the Flames headed to San Jose to face off against Mississippi State. They defeated the Bulldogs 80-76, earning them a shot at Virginia Tech. The Hokies defeated the Flames 67-58 and went to Washington DC where they would lose in the next round to Duke.