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Phoenix Pheature: 20 Years Later, Past and Present Phoenix Discuss Memorable 1994 Team

It was a special Alumni Weekend for the Green Bay Men's Basketball team as the program honored the only squad to win a game in the NCAA Tournament.
(WFRV-TV)The year was 1994. The place: Ogden, Utah. The matchup? Underdog #12 seed UW-Green Bay led by head coach Dick Bennett vs. Jason Kidd and heavily favored Bears from California-Berekley in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
 
The teams squared off on St. Patrick's Day and the squad in green had upset on their minds.
 
"It was a weird game because we go off to this crazy lead and next thing you know, it's like we're up 20," recalled '94 guard John Martinez at an alumni weekend banquet Friday night.
 
"Cal did not respect us," added Dick Bennett.  "Their coaches did, but their players just simply refused to respect these guys until they got down 21-5 or something like that."
 
Bennett's "pack-line" defense held Kidd and fellow NBA lottery pick Lamond Murray to a combined 10-for-38 shooting.
 
Current St. Norbert Men's Basketball coach Gary Grzesk was a sophomore on that Phoenix team and still gets asked about guarding and keeping the future hall of famer Kidd in check that day.
 
"It's very flattering," said Grzesk. "It never gets old. It's a great memory.  It's something I can tell my son about even though he might not believe me. But it's a great story I'll carry with me forever."
 
But that story almost didn't have a happy ending.
 
"Then the next thing you know, they took the lead," Martinez recalled about UWGB blowing a 19-point second half lead.
 
Then three plays that live in Phoenix lure carried the team to the biggest win in program history.  First, Phoenix Hall of Famer Jeff Nordgaard drilled a go-ahead baseline jumper with less than 40 seconds left, then Martinez made two clinching free throws, and the next thing you knew Eric Leduc was launching the ball into the stands marking the end of a shocking upset and the only NCAA Tournament win in program history.
 
"One of the lasting memories for me in beating Cal was that Jason Kidd cried after the game," said Jeff Zavada. "There's very few times when you can make a perennial NBA-All Star cry so that was definitely one of the best moments for me."

Nordgaard had another story that stuck with him.
 
"We were staying at the Flying J motel truck stop in Ogden, Utah so there wasn't a whole lot of traditional celebration," recalls Nordgaard. "They asked us if we wanted be moved into a better hotel from the team that lost. I guess it was from Cal's (hotel). Coach Bennett said we're fine here at the Flying J.  He said he liked the banana cream pie or something."
 
Two days later UWGB's run have come to an end after a close 64-59 loss to Syracuse, but that '94 team won the respect of everyone around college basketball.
 
They are a very, very good basketball team," said Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim that day.   "There's nobody in this Tournament that would have an easy game with them."
 
Current Phoenix players and coaches understand the importance of alumni weekend, especially this one celebrating the 20th anniversary of that 1994 team. 

"I think it's important for them to understand what they accomplished," said Green Bay head coach Brian Wardle. "Why we're playing in the Resch Center, why we're here. People sacrificing for the greater good of the program and these guys did."
 
"They had a great team back then, and we have a good team now," said senior center Alec Brown.  Hopefully we can break some of their records and do some of the stuff they did."
 
"I'm hoping that this year's team can actually outdo us," said Zavada.  "I'd like to see those guys win two tournament games, win the conference championship, the conference tournament, and send a guy or two to the NBA. This team's even bigger than we were, so they've got all the tools. I really hope for their sake they can do it."
 
Coach Bennett liked what he saw out of GB when they played hosted and beat a Virginia team coach by his son and GB's all-time leading scorer Tony Bennett.  

Dick Bennett said while that 1994 team had a lot of physical talent, it was the close-knit nature and intangibles that separated them from others.
 
"Their total unselfishness," said Bennett.  "I've said it and I'll say it again this is the team that I wish every coacch could work with. They were a pleasure in practice, they were always ready to play, no matter who the opponent was. They were just solid on and off the court. And what they did on the court was nothing short of amazing."
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