How UNLV almost ended NC State’s memorable 1983 run to national title

Wolfpack great Thurl Bailey recalls game against Sidney Green, Rebels; we’ll be at Westgate on Thursday

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Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press

Members of the 1983 NC State national championship basketball team — from left, Dereck Whittenburg, Thurl Bailey, and Sidney Lowe — talk with media outside the White House on Monday, May 9, 2016. They met with President Barack Obama 33 years after their championship.

It’s one of the signature moments in NCAA Tournament history. It’s one of the reasons why we affectionately call the next three weeks of college basketball “March Madness.”

It seems like it was just yesterday, not more than 30 years ago: NC State’s Lorenzo Charles hit a game-winning shot at the buzzer of the 1983 national championship game against heavily favored Houston, and coach Jim Valvano proceeds to run uncontrollably around the court in celebration looking for someone to hug. The play will surely be shown repeatedly over the next three weeks.

But what if NC State’s postseason run ended a few games earlier against UNLV in the round of 32? The Rebels led by six points at halftime. Had they not made just 14-of-23 free throws, it would have been a different story.

Thurl Bailey, one of the NC State team’s stars, will be at Westgate’s “Hoops Central” viewing party on Thursday. Fans will ask about his team’s improbable run, which includes Bailey getting the best of UNLV’s Sidney Green.

“I always held Sidney Green to the highest esteem, even when I competed against him in high school,” Bailey said. “I thought physically and basketball knowledge-wise he was way ahead of most players. He had some skills players at that time wished they had, especially with that size. I knew that about him and respected him.”

A newspaper published a quote from Green ahead of the game saying he didn’t expect much of a challenge in the post from Bailey. Bailey wound up scoring a team-high 25 points, including a tip-in over Green in the final seconds of a 71-70 NC State win.

“My teammates made more about (the quote) than I did. I played it cool because I knew how good Sidney Green was and that he could light you up,” Bailey said. “But I knew deep inside that I had to prove myself. (The tip-in) was poetic justice.”

Click to enlarge photo

Sidney Green, the UNLV Rebels second all-time leading scoring, during his time with UNLV.

Green, one of UNLV’s all-time best players who has his No. 21 jersey retired , led all scorers against NC State with 27 points. He also went 9-of-9 from the free throw line, meaning his UNLV teammates were 5-of-14. Larry Anderson scored 16 points for the Rebels, who finished with a 28-3 record.

Bailey went on to have a lengthy professional career, including being part of one of the great all-time moments in Thomas & Mack Center history. Bailey was on the floor for the Utah Jazz in 1984 when the Lakers’ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar broke the NBA scoring record.

“I don’t know how Mark feels about it,” Bailey jokingly said of Utah’s center Mark Eaton, who was guarding Abdul-Jabbar. “It was awesome to be part of that history. Historically, it was nice to say I was part of it.”

The Jazz played 11 games here in 1984 when it was exploring relocating to another market. Las Vegas was much smaller than Salt Lake City and not ready to support a major league franchise.

It’s now a different story. The Vegas Golden Knights will start play this fall in the NHL, and many feel the NBA will eventually find its way here.

“Vegas is a great sports city,” said Bailey, who still lives in Salt Lake.

Westgate’s International Theater will host its “Hoops Central” featuring a smoke-free environment, betting stations, giveaways, and food and drink specials. Doors open at 8 a.m. daily. Reserved seating is $25 and includes one beer. In addition to Bailey, former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman will make an appearance.

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