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BYU Basketball Recognizes 1981 Elite Eight Team

Jan 22, 2022, 8:38 PM
BYU Basketball - 1981 Team...
The 1981 BYU Basketball was honored during halftime of Saturday's game against Portland on January 22, 2022. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
(Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

PROVO, Utah – The BYU basketball team that made the deepest run in March Madness was honored Saturday night. BYU’s 1981 Elite Eight was recognized during halftime of the Cougars home game against the Portland Pilots.

It’s been 41 years since that team led by BYU legend Danny Ainge made their magical run through March.

They would have been honored last season, but due to limited attendance amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it wasn’t possible to celebrate the squad that created one of the best moments in NCAA Tournament history.

Ainge’s coast-to-coast layup over the outstretched hand of Notre Dame’s Orlando Woolridge forever put him in the pantheon of memorable March Madness moments.

BYU took down Digger Phelps’ Irish squad with that layup, 51-50. Then, they advanced to their first-ever Elite Eight by taking on Ralph Sampson and the Virginia Cavaliers, where they eventually fell to the Hoos, 74-60.

BYU basketball held a halftime ceremony for the 1981 team

Ainge, Greg Kite, Steve Trumbo were on hand to celebrate that great team in BYU basketball history. Along with the players, former coaches on the staff Frank Arnold and Roger Reid were at the Marriott Center as part of the halftime ceremony to honor the squad that took down Princeton, UCLA, and Notre Dame on their NCAA run.

Each player was honored during halftime of BYU’s game against Portland, with the loudest cheers coming in for Ainge, who’s jersey hangs proudly in the rafters. Ainge is one of four players in BYU history to have his jersey retired in BYU men’s basketball history.

Fans received paper cutouts of jerseys for members of that 1981 team along. Members of BYU’s student section, The ROC, and fans sitting in courtside seats also received free t-shirts that said Brigham Young in the same font as the 1981 jerseys.

The 1980-81 BYU team featured star power led by Ainge, who went on to win the Naismith Award Trophy, given to college basketball’s top player. Ainge became a fixture for successful NBA franchises, including the great Boston Celtics teams of the 80s, for 14 seasons. Greg Kite and Fred Roberts also had run in the NBA.

BYU has never reached the Elite Eight since their run in 1981. The Cougars have only reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament once since that season, it took place in 2011.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper. 

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