It was a rather inauspicious beginning for the Nebraska men's basketball team when they opened the doors of the NU Sports Complex on Nov. 27, 1976. The Iowa Hawkeyes defeated the Huskers 71-47 on that day and a week and a half later, when they played their next game in their new home, the Minnesota Golden Gophers also left the victors. It's only appropriate, then, that the Huskers close out their time in the building they've called home these past 37 seasons vs. the Hawkeyes and Gophers. Whether it was arranged or just an interesting little coincidence after joining the Big Ten conference, the Huskers have the opportunity to avenge the losses that have haunted the program for all these years. Okay, that might be a little strong.
The Bob Devaney Sports Center will never be confused with some of the great basketball venues like Cameron Indoor Stadium or Allen FieldHouse. It won't even be mistaken for places like Bramledge Coliseum or Hilton Coliseum of many Husker road trips past. But for those that have watched the Huskers there over the years have seen the glory years of Nebraska basketball and had a glimpse of what Husker hoops could be.
The Devaney Center has hosted its share of big events and entertainers as well. Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springstein have played there. President Gerald Ford made a commencement speech in the first year it was held there. But the main tenant was basketball. It even hosted first and second round (back when it was the actual first and second round) NCAA games three times in the 80's and was the first stop for Danny Manning and the Miracles as they went on to win the 1988 NCAA tournament.
The Devaney Center, though, was the home of University of Nebraska basketball, and though the past 13 years might not have brought the success that many fans would have liked to have seen on the hardwood, there has been an extraordinary amount of history that played out in the buliding. 11 of the top 12 scorers in school history played their entire careers at the Devaney Center. The Husker men have appeared in the NCAA tournament six times, all of which played at the Devaney Center.
Stories have been popping up left and right the past week or so, each with a few new stories about the biggest moments to take place there. Each with a slightly different twist and vantage point. The Huskers have played some highly ranked teams there. They even won some of those games. The Huskers have hosted a team ranked #1 in the AP poll only three times at the Devaney Center losing each. All three times the top ranked opponent was the Kansas Jayhawks. The closest they came to winning was in 2002, falling 88-87. The highest ranked opponent they defeated at home was in 1992 when the Huskers knocked off #2 Oklahoma St. 85-69.
The Husker men aren't the only team to have played on that floor. The women's basketball team has played nearly every season of their existence in that building. The successful program that Connie Yori has built was on the foundations of the likes of Karen Jennings and Maurtice Ivy who are the all time leading scorers. The womeh have had their fair share of wonderful moments as well. Records of ranked opponents only go back to 2000 for the women's basketball team on Huskers.com. However, perhaps the greatest win in women's basketball history came on January 12, 2005 vs. #2 Baylor, who would go on to win the National Title. The triple overtime thriller was the signature win in the cap of Coach Yori. That was until 2009, when the women also played what can only be considered the greatest season in program history, going undefeated in the regular season at 29-0. Led by All-American Kelsey Griffin, they advanced to the Sweet 16 and achieved their highest rating in school history at #3. The Huskers clinched their conference title at the Devaney Center before the first sold out crowd in women's basketball history in a victory over Mizzou.
The Nebraska state basketball tournament has also been hosted at the Devaney Center as long as it has been open, as well. The boys and girls tournaments rarely are short of storylines. Many of the all time greatest teams and players have finished their careers at the state tournament. The great Omaha Central teams of the past decade, Wahoo and their remarkable run of 114 consecutive wins and four straight titles was snapped there. The remarkable girls teams from South Sioux City moved into the Devaney Center in the 90's and 00's, winning 11 titles in 15 years under the leadership of head coach Kelly Flynn.
Many consder the greatest game ever played at the Devaney Center to be one played for the state crown between Lincoln Pius X and Wahoo who was in the first year of that previously mentioned 114 game winning streak. Both teams were undefeated and the Devaney Center was filled to capacity. Pius X built a 16 point third quarter lead and from there, history began to unfold. Wahoo was able to chip away at the lead for much of the quarter, but still trailed by six with :11 left in the game. A three pointer, steal and another three pointer that bounced on the rim, off the back board and the rim again before falling to send the arena into delirium and the game into overtime. Wahoo would go onto win in the extra session after ripping the guts out of Pius X at the end of regulation. Unless you're a Thunderbolts fan, it was as good as it ever got in that building. (A much more detailed description and highlights of the wild finish can be found here)
But the memories of those moments are not the only ones held by people as they reflect back on time spent at the Bob. Here at Corn Nation, we've spent many days going to games and expeiencing the highs and lows of cheering on our teams to victory and supporting them in defeat. We've collected a small sampling of those memories for you now:
Brian Towle: "I always thought the gold times for the Devaney Center for me was the early 90's. Not only was that the beginning of the Nee glory years, Lincoln Pius had good times in that building... for the most part.
Who can forget the '89 debacle in the final minute versus Wahoo that destroyed the Bolts' perfect season? Then again, sweeping both the boys and girls titles in 1992 (fairly sure that's the year). Then again, Pius was the reason the lower bleachers turned from wood to plastic, the debauchery!!"
Jon Johnston: "I can only remember attending maybe two games at Devaney. I don't recall a lot of students going. The place was a morgue. It was so incredibly quiet, and under "Slow" Moe Iba the basketball was boring as hell.
I went to a game mostly to see Bill Jackman play. He was from Grant, and my hometown Curtis played Grant every year, so I knew him from that. Besides, Jackman was a really nice guy, real down to earth. (Don't get the idea that I played basketball. I didn't play basketball. I have zero coordination. I never hurt myself because of it but I have poked out 342 eyes in my lifetime.) Nebraska is playing Wyoming. This had to be in 1986, and one of the players from Wyoming is doing well, but he's got four fouls on him, and I stand up and yell "DRIVE ON HIM JACKMAN, HE'S GOT FOUR, GET HIM OUT OF THERE!".
If you don't know me personally, well, let's just say I can be very loud, possibly the loudest person you've ever heard in your life. And when I yelled, the entire population of Devaney Center turned and stared at me. It was like I was the last human alive in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and they hadn't yet started screaming. I sat back down, and the place went back to being a library.
If they had something like the student body Red Zone they have now, I'd have gone to a lot more games. I hope they keep the students in mind when they open the new arena. "
Husker Mike: "I probably attended a dozen or so Husker games in the early/mid 90's in the Piatkowski era. You'd have to order tickets in November and December to get seats for some of those weekend games, especially when Kansas came to town. Dick Vitale came to Lincoln to call one game for ABC, and before the game, took out a portable microphone and talked to the crowd about this kid who had just signed to play quarterback. You might have heard of him... name was Tommie Frazier.
Oh, and in those years, Nebraska usually won at home. Whether it was against Kansas (Roy Williams), Oklahoma (Billy Tubbs), or Missouri (Sit Down Norm!), the Huskers gave everybody fits at the Devaney Center.
But it all fell apart when the players walked out on Danny Nee back in 1996. They somehow made an NCAA tournament in 1998, but the magic was gone. Barry Collier may have been a better teacher of fundamentals, but struggled to find players to field a competitive Big XII team. Doc Sadler kept trying to find a quick fix in the juco ranks, and missed more often than hit. (Shang Peng? Really?) And the jury is still out on Tim Miles.
But back in the mid 90's, you had a sense something special was happening with Nebrasketball...those were the days."
David McGee: " My most vivid memories of the Devaney Center come from my days as a student, both in high school and then in college.
In 2000, my senior year of high school, my school, Omaha Burke, had a spectacular season. They went back and forth all year with Bellevue West for the top spot in the ratings and were the only team to beat them all year. It was a collision course for the state finals, and fortunately it worked out that way. The game didn't end so well for my Bulldogs, but watching my class mates march all the way to the finals was pretty special. There's nothing like a great high school basketball game and that season was full of them. It was as much fun as I've ever had following any team I've ever had the pleasure of watching.
Then, when I came to UNL, as a freshman, it was the first season under Barry Collier and my friends and I would get to the arena extra early so we could get front row seats. To every game. It was a lot of fun. We'd have conversations with the players and to be sit on the floor for a sporting event of that caliber is difficult to compare anything to it. The season ended up being somewhat of a disappointment, but we had fun.
Finally, covering the team both here at CN and in my days at the Daily Nebraskan afforded me opportunities that few ever get. To be close enough to Bob Knight, Roy Williams and so many others that I could reach out and touch them has been pretty special."
The Devaney Center isn't being torn down. In fact, it's being renovated. In the fall, the volleyball team will call it home and a whole new set of memories and legacies will be built there. The men's and women's baketball teams will move down into the Haymarket and Pinnacle Bank Arena. The men hoping to begin a new era of success in search of that elusive NCAA tournament victory and the women to continue a run of success that has taken them to heights no hoops that had donned the scarlet and cream has attained before. As chapters are beginning and ending all over the Nebraska athletics landscape, the Bob Devaney Sports Center will always be and in many ways remain a part of what Nebraska athletics is about.