LAS VEGAS — The 2015 WCC basketball tournament added yet another page to an already long list memorable BYU moments in Las Vegas. The unlikely marriage of Cougar sports to Sin City may appear awkward on on the surface— one that you might see performed in the corner of cheap casino — but the relationship has proven to thrive over the years.
So in honor of both BYU basketball teams making the 2015 championship games (with the women winning it), the following is a look at BYU’s seven greatest moments in what has become their home away from home.
Honorable Mentions: 2009 Las Vegas Bowl (BYU 44 Oregon State 20); 2012 WCC Women’s Basketball Final (BYU 78 Gonzaga 66); 2005 (BYU 82 UNLV 72 (OT); 2000 (BYU 77 UNLV 75); (BYU 27 UNLV 20 (OT); that one time when Jordan Pendleton did this against UNLV in 2009
7. March 6, 2004: BYU 89 UNLV 88
A nationally televised ABC audience watched as the game came down to the final seconds. Down 88-87, Cougar guard Luiz Lemes drove left and found Rafael Araujo open at the basket, who scored the game-winning basket with just 0.5 seconds left. The last-second win marked the first of two-straight victories over UNLV in Vegas.
6. Dec. 21, 2006: BYU 38 Oregon 8
BYU football’s most tumultuous era since pre-LaVell finally came to an end in 2006, when the team exploded to 11 wins en route to its best season since 2001.
After beating the Utes in the infamous “Beck to Harline” game on Nov. 25, the No. 19 Cougars were looking for their first bowl win since 1996 in the Las Vegas Bowl against Oregon. Ducks head coach Mike Bellotti furthered the game’s intrigue by telling media members that the Cougars wouldn’t be able to compete week-in and week-out against PAC-10 teams.
But once the game actually started, the combination of John Beck, Curtis Brown and Johnny Harline overwhelmed the Ducks, who for some reason showed up to Sam Boyd Stadium in helmets that looked as if they had been colored in by department store highlighters.
ESPN commentator Brent Musburger summed the game up best after a John Beck touchdown run put the Cougars up 31-0: “This is becoming an old-fashioned butt-kicking!”
5. Sept. 29, 2001: BYU 35 UNLV 31
The Rebels were threatening to hand BYU its first loss of the season, leading 31-28 with under three minutes left in the game.
But Cougar quarterback Brandon Doman was nicknamed “the Domanator” for a reason.
Doman led the Cougars on a 91-yard touchdown drive, scampering the final 21 himself for the game-winning score. Doman would go on to lead the team to a 12-2 season and Liberty Bowl berth.
4. Jan. 5, 2011: BYU 89, UNLV 77
The Cougar basketball team came into this game having lost eight straight to UNLV in the Thomas and Mack Center, including two that occurred in the Mountain West Conference championship game. The best efforts of star BYU players Keena Young, Trent Plaisted and Lee Cummard were never sufficient to beat the Rebels on their home floor.
It was expected that the 2010–11 BYU squad would see the familiar story in Vegas until the buzz saw that was Jimmermania ripped that script to shreds.
Fredette torched the Rebels for 39 points, hitting shots everywhere from the basket to the “V” of the center court logo. Demolishing UNLV at the place that had given Cougar fans nightmares was especially cathartic.
3. Dec. 22, 2007: BYU 17, UCLA 16
For the second year in a row, a middling PAC-10 team was all that stood in the way of an 11-2 Cougar season. This time, however, it wouldn’t come so easily.
Max Hall and the BYU offense were unable to find much rhythm against the Bruin defense, who already had shut them down in the Rose Bowl earlier that season. Some Austin Collie heroics helped the Cougars cling to a one-point lead, but UCLA had managed to drive 88 yards to set up a 28-yard field goal attempt from kicker Kai Forbath.
Forbath had already made three earlier field goals from 22, 52 and 50 yards out. For the predominately blue crowd in Sam Boyd Stadium, the game was pretty much over.
And then Cougar defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna channeled some magical force that enabled him to leap up and get a hand on Forbath’s kick, absorbing most of the ball’s energy as it fluttered forward to the goal posts.
The kick fell short. Barely. Bruin defensive lineman Bruce Davis didn’t take the loss very well.
2. March 10, 2001: BYU 65, New Mexico 61
Handling Wyoming and Air Force in the earlier round, the Cougars beat out New Mexico 65-61 to become MWC Tournament champions. Senior forward Mekeli Wesley had one of BYU basketball’s clutchest performances ever, scoring 30 points on 11-of-12 shooting on his way to earning tournament MVP honors.
The win granted the Cougars a 12-seed in the NCAA Tournament, their first trip to the Big Dance in six years. The 2001 title still stands as the last time the BYU men’s team won a tournament conference championship.
1. Dec. 7, 1996: BYU 28, Wyoming 25 OT
The 1996 team is remembered as one of BYU football’s greatest ever, but things would have looked vastly different had they not come back to beat No. 20 Wyoming in the inaugural WAC football championship game.
Ethan Pochman drilled the walk-off 32-yard field goal in overtime to beat the Pokes, paving the way for the Cougars to be selected to their first-ever New Year’s Day bowl game. It was then in the Cotton Bowl that Cougar cornerback Omarr Morgan made his iconic interception of Kansas State near the goal line to win the game. The 14-1 overall record in 1996 still stands as the NCAA record for most victories in a single season.