Being a sports journalist on a beat in 2019 requires some social media diving. That can often mean seeing who is tweeting about the term “Weber State.”
During certain parts of the year, it brings about sympathy for WSU’s social media manager who is hit with complaints about snow removal or parking.
But, 20 years removed from the moment, the school’s name also pops up in conversations coming from others, some possibly 2,000 miles away: Duke basketball fans reminding North Carolina fans about the Wildcats from Ogden, Utah.
Indeed, 20 years ago today, No. 14 seed Weber State defeated No. 3 seed North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Seattle’s Key Arena, and point guard Eddie Gill’s 2014 quip about the game may be true for another 20 years yet.
“Carolina will always have to live with losing to Weber State,” Gill said during ceremonies to induct him into the WSU athletics Hall of Fame five years ago. “All those Cinderella stories, that’s what March Madness is all about.”
The upset still holds its place in time because Weber State — though a program of such merit to hold a spot in college basketball’s top 25 in all-time win percentage — was and is no North Carolina.
The Tar Heels were three-time national champions to that point and have won three more since. The year before, Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison took UNC to the Final Four where they lost to Utah — an odd piece of trivia that North Carolina took consecutive losses to Utah schools in the NCAA Tournament.
Despite the departures of those two elite talents, North Carolina still had Brendan Haywood, who became a 13-year NBA veteran, and Ronald Curry, the first athlete of the recruiting-ratings era to be both the No. 1 recruit nationally for both basketball and football.
But most of all, there was the unlikely hero: A Louisiana native who went to Weber State by way of the College of Eastern Utah, a veritable unknown basketball player.
Sure, Harold Arceneaux was the Big Sky player of the year in 1999, but that didn’t prepare the masses for “The Show.”
In his scintillating performance, perhaps no play encapsulates that long-ago March 11 night like one that came with just more than four minutes left.
Weber State leads 61-54. A healthy contingent of WSU fans have made themselves heard in Key Arena throughout the night and, as the game wears on, anyone not wearing Carolina blue has been pulled onto the purple bandwagon by Arceneaux’s gravity.
It’s also one of the final games of the night and, unlike the current four-channel broadcast format, the NCAA Tournament is being shown only on CBS — and the quality of the game and its upset potential has likely brought in most, if not every, region across the country to this telecast from Seattle.
It’s at this moment that Gill grabs a rebound near the free-throw line and races the other way for Weber State, then pulls the ball back toward halfcourt.
“Good decision. Understand the game,” color commentator Jon Sundvold says. “Who should touch the ball? Arceneaux.”
With 15 seconds on the shot clock, the ball eventually makes its way to Arceneaux on the wing as he meanders in front of his own bench.
His defender is Ademola Okulaja — sports-reference.com says Arceneaux gave up 2 inches to the UNC forward, though Okulaja’s length seems even more advantageous than that. And to this point, Arceneaux has toasted the Tar Heels with tough drives, baseline jumpers and more.
Arceneaux, practically standing out of bounds, makes small movements with his non-pivot foot as he sizes up his defender for nearly four seconds without dribbling — just long enough for Okulaja to make a fateful mistake: backing up just enough to give Arceneaux some airspace.
Arceneaux rises, fires and swishes a long 3 to put Weber State up 64-54.
Key Arena bursts as Kevin Harlan — now a top-flight play-by-play man for NBA and NFL broadcasts — yells, “He’s unconscious! This kid is terrific!” The arena’s buzz lasts for 20 seconds and into the approaching timeout.
Arceneaux finished with 36 points — on an unheard-of 5-of-7 shooting night from 3 — and Weber State held on to win 76-74 when he turned into a football safety to pick off a long inbound pass as time expired.
“Nothing can erase Arceneaux from the NCAA tournament fabric,” ESPN’s Dana O’Neil wrote in 2009. “He is the quintessential moment in time — The Show who came from nowhere to steal the show.”
There are a few more memories from that team, however.
Gill, who went on to play 187 games over seven NBA seasons, played all 40 minutes. He scored 16 points and constantly put UNC’s defense on its heels. He and guard Noel Jackson, who dished five assists, were two of the big reasons Sundvold spent the entire game broadcast complimenting Weber State’s speed — yes, in a contest against North Carolina, it was Weber State getting the analyst’s attention for its athleticism.
There was Eric Ketcham, the WSU big man whose only points came on 3-pointers — a back-up center in 1999 casting up 3s in the NCAA Tournament! — and his accompanying wry smile as he went back down the floor after cashing in his deep shots.
The 3-pointer became the equalizer. Damien Baskerville hit one, Marc Lawson added two and the Wildcats shot 14 of 26 from deep — an excellent clip even by 2019 standards.
While WSU may have been speedy, it was undersized. So while Andy Jensen — the 6-foot-7 senior and Bountiful native who found his way to Weber State after a season at Southern Utah, a mission, and a season at Utah — recorded zero points, his impact had positive value.
“It is a war inside, Haywood and Jensen,” Harlan proclaims with 17 minutes left — just before Haywood is whistled for an offensive foul.
“Andy Jensen is doing a solid job for this smaller Weber State team,” Sundvold added.
Also lost in the dust of time: Arceneaux came back two days later and scored 32 points in an 82-74 overtime loss to Florida — the second time in five years Weber State came one play away from the Sweet Sixteen.
“I’ve got to tell you, that Harold Arceneaux is one of the best, if not the best, players I’ve seen this year,” then-Florida and now-Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said. “He is flat-out ridiculous. We double-teamed him, we triple-teamed him, we based our whole defense on stopping him. And, finally, I think we tired him out. Thank goodness.”
That weekend in March was historic. After all, No. 14 seeds are still only 21-115 (.154) all-time in the tournament.
March 11, 1999, is still the only time North Carolina has lost in the first round of what is now 49 Big Dance appearances, and it is the last time Weber State claimed a win in the national tournament.
No matter how long the latter remains true, Weber State over North Carolina will always be one of the tournament’s best upsets, in Ogden or elsewhere.