FARGO — Dec. 9, 2006, was the most entertaining day of men's college basketball ever played on the campus of North Dakota State University.
That was the day volatile coach Bob Huggins and his Kansas State Wildcats played the Bison of Ben Woodside, Brett Winkelman, Mike Nelson and Lucas Moorman at the old Bison Sports Arena. That was the day a sellout of 6,110 fans jammed the building and screamed their lungs out. That was the day Woodside scored 31 points and the Bison nearly knocked off a Division I major-conference opponent.
That was also the day Huggins verbally disemboweled a couple of his players, one of them numerous times, right there in front of everybody.
It didn't get any better than that. And it hasn't since.
This season's edition of the NDSU men's basketball team opens its regular season Tuesday night at Kansas State. Coach Dave Richman's team is the Summit League favorite and carries the expectation of getting to the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in program history and the second year in a row. The Bison have won a couple of NCAA tourney games, including an upset of Oklahoma in 2014.
(A couple of pages from the sports section of the Dec. 9, 2006, edition of The Forum:)
But back in 2006, this Division I thing was still kind of new. The Bison under coach Tim Miles had upset highly ranked Wisconsin and Marquette in their young D-I history, but both of those games were on the road. And NDSU wasn't yet eligible to qualify for the NCAA tournament since it was still a D-I newbie.
Also, the Bison's home games since moving to Division I a couple of years prior were a mixture of mostly lower-level teams and, other than fellow risk-taker South Dakota State, Division I schools unfamiliar to many fans. That the Bison could get a Big 12 team to come to Fargo seemed like nothing less than a sports miracle. NDSU had signed a two-for-one contract years before, playing two games in Manhattan, Kan., in exchange for one game in Fargo.
That is one indication the Bison-Wildcats matchup of 2006 was an occurrence from a long-gone era of college athletics.
The other was this: Huggins, a major and controversial name in college sports, did a lengthy one-on-one phone interview with me the Thursday before the game. He was as cordial as could be and answered each question thoughtfully and without offense, even those that I asked about his controversial exit from Cincinnati two years before when he was given an ultimatum to resign because of the university president's unhappiness with the academic progress of his team and a DUI he received.
In today's media world of Twitter, blogs, rumor-fueled web sites and the like it's almost unthinkable that a major-college basketball coach who was embroiled in a major national scandal two years prior would grant an interview with a small-market newspaper. And give unlimited time. And answer whatever questions that were thrown his way.
I wrote a column and a straight story off the interview, which you can read in the embedded files on this page.
Sigh. The good old days.
(WDAY's interview of then Kansas State head coach Bob Huggins:)
Huggins and the Wildcats arrived Friday, Dec. 8. Usually the day before games is used for light workouts and walk-through practices. But Huggins didn't like this particular K-State team and he put them through a full two-hour practice at the BSA — and then had them run stairs in the old building. Bison coach Tim Miles saw this and was astounded.
The game Saturday night was a classic. The BSA was packed, hot, raucous and just plain fun. I covered the game as the columnist with Jeff Kolpack handling game-story duties. NDSU led 38-31 at halftime and stretched the lead to 10 points in the second half. But the Wildcats rallied and took the lead. In the final two minutes, Woodside hit a 3-pointer only to have K-State's Clent Stewart answer with one of his own. Wildcat Lance Harris drilled another to seemingly bury the Bison, only to have Woodside hit another to give his team one last chance.
(A couple of pages from the sports section of the Dec. 10, 2006, edition of The Forum:)
The game was decided at the buzzer when, with the Bison trailing by 2, Woodside head-faked and got his defender in the air before getting bumped attempting a shot. There was no whistle. There were, however, boos and trash thrown on the BSA court as the fans showed their disgust with the non-call.
Kansas State escaped 83-81.
Just great stuff.
(WDAY highlights of Kansas State-NDSU:)
"Normally when you get your guy in the air,it’s a good sign for the offensive player," Miles said.
Said Woodside: "The refs call it like it is. If they think they made the right call, that’s fine."
The star attraction of the night was Huggins, an intense type who spent most of the night screaming at his own players. One of his players stopped to do an on-court interview at halftime before running into the locker room. Huggins saw this, didn't like it, and absolutely obliterated the player on the court when the interview was finished. The coach also routinely verbally destroyed 7-foot-3 freshman center Jason Bennett. It got to the point you had to feel sorry for the young player.
"On a night when Huggy Bear taught anybody within earshot (and those who could read lips) seven or eight new words that will not be finding their way into this newspaper anytime soon, his team defeated the upstart Bison 83-81," I wrote.
But after the game, Huggins was calm and welcoming while answering questions from the Fargo media. It was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personified in a basketball coach.
"It was a great atmosphere," Huggins said. "We’ve been in places where there’s 20,000 people and it’s not any different, it’s just bigger. It’s not any louder, it’s just bigger."
It made for a tremendous night of entertainment in little old Fargo, the likes of which we haven't seen since when it comes to college basketball.