Believe in Us

When Steve Nash ’96 arrived on the Mission Campus in 1992, he was just an unknown backup from Victoria, British Columbia.

Believe in Us
Victory! Guard Mark Schmitz ’92, MBA ’95, who had seven points and six rebounds, and free-throwing freshman Nash. View full image. Photography by Robert Borea / Ap Images
An oral history of the 1993 NCAA tournament game that became an upset for the ages.

Steve Nash ’96 retired earlier this year as one of the most famous point guards in the world. But when he arrived on the Mission Campus in 1992, he was just an unknown backup from Victoria, British Columbia—not exactly a basketball hotbed.

Nash quickly introduced himself to a wider audience. In his first year at Santa Clara, he helped engineer one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history. On March 18, 1993, the Broncos, seeded 15th out of 16 teams in the West Region, defeated national power and No. 2 seed Arizona 64–61 in Salt Lake City in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Arizona featured four future NBA players and was a popular pick to win the championship. The Broncos became just the second No. 15 seed to win a game in the college basketball’s most prestigious event.

We asked a few people who were there, in person and in spirit, to tell the big story.

I seriously don’t recall anyone having any kind of feeling that we would win. There was excitement that we were in the tournament, would be on TV, and that people across the country would watch. Honestly, I think most of us knew the Arizona players better than our own. 
Student OJ Solander 93

They forced us to check out of our hotel before the game. They book your rooms on how long you’re supposed to last … Some stuff was said about that.
Assistant Coach Steve Seandel

We had been picked to finish at the bottom of the conference, so all year we were fighting that prediction and saying, “Look, we’re better than people think we are.” And everyone on the team had that confidence going into every game, not just the NCAA tournament.
Forward Kevin Dunne 96

Because the Broncos were a significant underdog and because the game took place between winter final exams and spring recess, the SCU band did not travel to Salt Lake City. But Vanderbilt’s band was in the arena, having played during the Commodores’ win over Boise State earlier in the day.

We sold the tickets to the band seats that we had, paid the Vanderbilt band to play for us, and went out to buy some red and white T-shirts for them to wear. The NCAA found out, and the next year they changed the rule. It’s kind of called the Santa Clara rule that now you have to bring your own band.
Athletic Director Carroll Williams

The Broncos started strong, taking an early 33–21 lead. Arizona responded with 25 straight points over the next 10 minutes.

There was a feeling of, “Well, of course, that’s what we thought we were going to see the whole time.” 
Student OJ Solander 93

I’m pretty smart, so I called a time-out, which lasts 2 minutes and 15 seconds. I spent 2 minutes looking at my five guys who were on the floor, and they were looking at me. I never said a word to them; nobody said a word to me. And then it came to me. I said, “Hey guys, we have to score.” That’s all I said.
Coach Dick Davey

I remember feeling amazed that I was on a stage that big, playing against a team that good. And I remember the excitement of being able to hang around, the noise level in the building, and the crowd believing in us.
Steve Nash ’96 to the Salt Lake Tribune

SCU bounced back with its own dominant run. Arizona went 15 minutes without a field goal. Then the Wildcats sunk a 3-pointer with 8.1 seconds left. That cut the Broncos’ lead to 64–61. Nash did not start the game (the freshman made only five starts all season), and he would make only one field goal in the game. But he was instrumental in keeping SCU in front, hitting six straight free throws down the stretch.

Because he was a freshman, I’m sure after a time-out they told them, “If we get in trouble, foul him.” And he showed them the type of thing he would have the rest of his career, the ability to make those free throws. 
Athletic Director Carroll Williams

We saw it every day, so we knew. For him to be on a national stage and for him to step up at the end with all that confidence and make free throws … I can tell you from experience—I missed two [at the end of the game]—that’s not easy to do. 
Forward Kevin Dunne 96

Even Nash wasn’t infallible, though. He missed two free throws with 7.3 seconds left, giving Arizona one last chance to tie the game. But Arizona’s Damon Stoudamire—future NBA Rookie of the Year—missed a 23-footer at the buzzer to complete the shocking upset. Nash finished with 10 points on 1 for 7 shooting from the field but went 8 for 10 at the line with seven rebounds and four assists. Forward Pete Eisenrich ’94 led the Broncos with 19 points.

We thought it was possible to beat Arizona. But we didn’t really know it, really didn’t believe it, until the last shot went off the rim.
Steve Nash ’96 to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

I heard [SCU guard] John Woolery ’94 say to [Arizona star] Chris Mills, “Don’t be depressed, you’re going to be making a hell of a lot more money than I am next year.”
Coach Dick Davey

It was absolute pandemonium in the locker room. Guys were hugging each other, throwing each other around.
Assistant Coach Steve Seandel

The hotel where we were staying had already made arrangements with other people, anticipating we would lose. That was one of the things we had to get squared away right away.
Athletic Director Carroll Williams

There were maybe a couple hundred Santa Clara fans out of 12,000, but once we got close to getting the lead back, the whole place was behind us.
Assistant Coach Steve Seandel

As it started, I remember watching the game on TV alone or nearly so in the second-floor lounge of Campisi Hall. Most people assumed it’d be a slaughter. But the crowd quickly gathered as it stayed close. I really can’t remember much else, other than the swelling of excitement when they won. I jumped in the Graham pool with my clothes on to celebrate, the only time I ever went in that thing.
Student Sam Scott ’96

Alas, two days later the Broncos’ Cinderella run ended with a 68–57 loss to Temple. In NCAA Tournament history, only a handful of No. 15 seeds have advanced so far.

I still have people come up to me today and say, “You guys messed up my bracket.” At my son’s elementary school, some parents went to Arizona around that same time. They tell me, “We had a great team. We thought we were going all the way.” 

Forward Kevin Dunne ’96

When we got back to campus, everybody seemed like they had been in it together. Our basketball team didn’t just win for the team, they won for the University. 
Head Athletic Trainer Mike Cembellin 

I know lots of friends who played pickup basketball with Steve Nash. People don’t believe it. They don’t understand the size of the student body and campus at SCU. In the 20 years since, my best friend and I went to a lot of Sacramento Kings games against whatever team Steve Nash was on just to hear “from Santa Clara University!” during the intros.
Student OJ Solander ’93

JEFF GIRE and HAROLD GUTMANN are writers at SCU and have covered sports coast to coast.

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