BYU Basketball Recognizes 1981 Elite Eight Team

PROVO, Utah – The BYU basketball team that ran the deepest in March Madness was honored Saturday night. BYU’s 1981 Elite Eight was recognized at 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 journey through March.

They would have been honored last season, but due to limited attendance during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was not possible to celebrate the squad that created one of the greatest moments in NCAA tournament history.

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

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

BYU basketball held a resting ceremony for the 1981 team

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

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

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

The 1980-81 BYU team had star power led by Ainge, who went on to win the Naismith Award Trophy, awarded to the best player in college basketball. Ainge became a fixture for successful NBA franchises for 14 seasons, including the great Boston Celtics of the 1980s. Greg Kite and Fred Roberts had also 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, taking place in 2011.

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


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