Monday, 21-Apr-2014

Ute National Hoop Championships


The 1915-16 Ute hoop squad started out as a team not sure of itself, but after a victory over BYU in Provo and two close wins over Utah State the team knew it was pretty good. Utah had not considered sending a team to Chicago for the AAU National Championships, but after the Utes beat the defending national champion Olympic Club of San Francisco, 46-25, a groundswell of support raised enough money to send the team to Chicago in search of a national title.

After drawing a first-night bye, the Utes faced a rematch with the Olympic Club. Again the results were the same as Utah took a 52-40 victory to move into the championship game against the Illinois Athletic Club. The game was close throughout and, with just seconds to go Illinois, had a one-point lead and the ball out of bounds under the Ute basket. Utah coach Nelson H. Norgren had set up a tight defense and on the inbounds pass, Ute forward Clyde Packer knocked the ball to the ground. Packer picked up the ball and with just a "second or two left" threw the ball in the basket to give Utah a 28-27 win and its first national championship.


The Utes were invited to both the NIT and the NCAA Tournament at the end of the 1944 season, but chose the former because it was a much better tournament financially and the chance to play in New York's Madison Square Garden was something the Ute players, and especially coach Vadal Peterson, wanted to experience. Kentucky was Utah's first opponent in the NIT and even though the young Utes played well, they couldn't overcome the experience of the Wildcats and fell 46-36. While the Utes were still seeing the sights of New York before heading home, Peterson received a phone call from the NCAA asking them to participate in that tournament as a late fill-in for Arkansas, which involved in an unfortunate automobile accident making the team unable to play in the tournament.

The Utes quickly accepted and headed to Kansas City, where they beat Missouri, 45-35, in the first round and Iowa State, 40-31, to advance to the championship game, back in Madison Square Garden, against Dartmouth. The game was close throughout, with the lead changing hands six times in the last two minutes. At the end of regulation the two teams were tied at 36 and the game headed into overtime.

Freshman Arnie Ferrin, who scored 22 points that night and was later named the tournament MVP, netted four points in the extra period but with the score tied at 40 with just three seconds left Herb Wilkinson hit a one-hander from behind the free throw circle to give the Utes the win and the NCAA Championship. A few days later Utah faced NIT winner St.John's in a Red Cross Benefit game in the Garden. Helped by a nine-point run in the second half the Utes came away with a 43-36 victory.


Three years after accepting an NIT invitation that turned into an NCAA Championship, the Utes were again invited to the prestigious New York tournament. This time, the Utes helped the state celebrate its centennial by coming away with the 1947 NIT Championship. The Utes won the three games in the tournament by a total of seven points beating Duquesne, 45-44, West Virginia, 64-62, and sneaking by Kentucky, 49-45, in the championship game.

Arnie Ferrin, Wat Misaka and Dick Smuin, veterans of the '44 NCAA Championship team, were mainstays of this team, but center, Vern Gardner garnered tournament MVP honors. Fred Weidner also played a major part in the championship. The NIT crown was the last of the three major basketball championships that had alluded the Utes, making the University of Utah the only school in history to win the NCAA, NIT and AAU National Championships.

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