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The City Journals

The ‘96 and ‘99 Wildcats

Mar 10, 2016 01:22PM ● By Bryan Scott

By Branigan Faurschou

Ogden - One of the things that makes March Madness so awesome is the upset; without them the NCAA tournament would lack any substance. They are rare, but they are sweet. Seeing a relatively unknown school shock a perennial NCAA powerhouse is the stuff of dreams and legends.

Most smaller schools only get into the Big Dance by winning their conferences’ automatic bid and lack the strength of schedule depth to get in otherwise. Also, most schools in this range lack the roster depth that the bigger schools have and thus are unable to win on the national stage. Yet it happens, and fans will eat it up every time it does happen.

Since expanding to 64 teams in 1985, no No. 16 seed has ever defeated a No. 1 seed, though a few have come close. Seven No. 15 seeds have upset a No. 2; 20 No. 14 seeds have upset a No. 3 seed; and 25 No. 13 seeds have upset a No. 4 seed. The upsets are as varied as the teams who have pulled them off. Only three of the upsetters are from a Power 5 conference, and all of those were No. 13 seeds. Only three schools have had the ability to pull off an upset twice, one of those schools being the Weber State Wildcats.

The Wildcats have pulled off upsets twice as a No. 14 seed, first defeating the Michigan State Spartans in 1996 and then the North Carolina Tar Heels in 1999. Both teams were coached by Ron Abegglen, who coached the Wildcats from 1991 until 1999, and both teams had talent which would be able to make it to the NBA.  

The 1996 team came into the tournament with a 20-8 record and was lead by Ruben Nembhart. The Wildcats got out to a quick lead on the Spartans and won the game 79-72. The Wildcats almost made the sweet-sixteen but fell in overtime to Georgetown 53-51.   

The Spartans team that the Wildcats defeated had three players who would go on to play in the NBA, most notably Eric Snow, who had a 14-year NBA career. The Georgetown team that the Wildcats nearly upset was loaded with NBA talent with five players making the league and one guy named Allen Iverson would go on to make the Hall-of-Fame. For Weber State, it had only Nembhart who would make the NBA, playing a few games with the Utah Jazz.

The 1999 upset of the North Carolina Tar Heels was probably a bigger one than the upset over Michigan State. The Tar Heels were just a year removed from a Final Four run. Though they had lost both Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter to the NBA, the Tar Heels were still a dark horse to make another Final Four run.

The Tar Heels and Wildcats battled early, but Harold Arceneaux would put on one of the most spectacular performances in Weber State history by scoring 20 second-half points en route to 36 for the game, as the Wildcats would win 76-74. The score was closer than it appeared, as the Wildcats had a double-digit lead for much of the second half.

In the second round the Wildcats fell in overtime again, this time to Florida by a score of 82-74. The 1999 tournament games were not dominated by guys who would go on to the NBA. Weber had one guy who would make the league in Eddie Gill, while the Tar Heels had Brenden Haywood, who played 14 years in the NBA, and the Gators of Florida had two bench players in Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller, who are still in the NBA.

Now 20 years removed from their first upset, the Wildcats are poised to once again make the tournament. All they have got to do is win the Big Sky Tournament and they will make the NCAA Tournament with another chance to make an upset.  The Wildcats have a solid team with NBA talent this season just like they did in both 1996 and 1999, so it is possible.