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Top 10 moments in Bearcats sports history

A trip through UC's athletics museum reveals unforgettable achievements and impressive accomplishments.

by John Bach

Choosing the University of Cincinnati’s 10 most thrilling athletic achievements is a nearly impossible task considering that, throughout UC’s sports history, dozens could make such a highlight reel. For help, we visited UC’s George and Helen Smith Athletics Museum on the first floor of the Richard Lindner Athletics Center. A popular stop for campus tours, the space is a must-see for anyone interested in Bearcats history.

While our best-ever list may vary somewhat from yours, we think these memorable moments represent Bearcats performances that any UC fan would love to have witnessed in person.

Surprised we overlooked a moment? Submit your idea (at the bottom of this page), and we'll add your memory to those sent in by our readers.

Former UC tennis great Tony Trabert swings his racket at a tennis ball.

No. 10

Tony Trabert national tennis champ

Tony Trabert, A&S ’52, HonDoc ’07, never lost a tennis match during his college career, but none of his UC wins compared to the NCAA singles championship in 1951.Trabert would go on to become the highest-ranked singles player in the world and capture three of the four Grand Slam titles in 1955 — the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

The Trabert-Talbert Tennis Center in UC’s Varsity Village is named in honor of Trabert and his childhood mentor and championship doubles partner, Bill Talbert, att. ’39. Trabert, a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, retired in 2004 after a successful career as a CBS broadcaster.

Tennis lessons from a hall-of-famer


Action shot shows Cheryl Cook just as she is about to release a shot in basketball.

No. 9        

Cheryl Cook dominates the floor

Known as the “Cookie Monster,” Cheryl Cook, Ed ’85, was the Oscar Robertson of the women’s basketball program. A two-time All-American, Cook’s early ’80s career saw her score 2,367 points, a mark that’s never been topped.

A true complete-game player, Cheryl is also among UC’s all-time leaders in assists, rebounds and steals.

Cook twice scored 41 points in a game, a record that stood nearly two decades until Valerie King, A&S ’04, scored 46 in Fifth Third Arena in 2003.

Check out Cook's take on Title IX at UC



Black and white image captures Sandy Koufax at the University of Cincinnati as he pitches.

No. 8         

Sandy Koufax fans 18 batters

One of the little-known facts about the great Sandy Koufax’s career is that the legendary pitcher came to Cincinnati from Brooklyn in 1953 as a walk-on basketball player who earned a partial scholarship. It didn’t take the left-hander long, however, to find his true calling. At the end of his freshman basketball season, Koufax convinced Ed Jucker, Ed ’40, (who coached both freshman basketball and varsity baseball) to watch him pitch.

Jucker added Koufax to his rotation in 1954, and Sandy turned in a 3-1 season, including a then-school-record 18 strikeouts in a game against Louisville. The following year, Koufax signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. During his career, he pitched a National League record four no-hitters, including a perfect game in 1965. Twice he equaled his college high by fanning 18 batters in a game and led the National League in strikeouts four times.

Koufax retired on top of his game in 1966 with 27 wins, his third Cy Young award and a chronically arthritic pitching elbow. In 1972 at age 36, he became the youngest player to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Read about Koufax return to campus in 2000



Becky Ruehl begin to flip mid-dive in an image that shows the board and blue water beneath.

No. 7      

Becky Ruehl national champ 4 times

Becky Ruehl, DAAP ’00, became UC’s first female national champion, winning the 10-meter platform-diving competition at the 1996 NCAA meet as a freshman. That performance, plus her second-place finish in the 3-meter competition, earned her NCAA Diver of the Year.

She would go on to finish fourth in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and earn four national championships before retiring from the sport in 2000.

Ruehl’s national championship came 50 years after UC’s first-ever national title, which also came in the pool, when Charles Keating Jr., JD ’48, won the 200-yard butterfly title.

Video: Ruehl returned to campus with Olympians in '08



Kenyon Martin stretches out high into the air to block a player's shot.

No. 6       

Kenyon Martin shoulders UC to victory

As painful as the 2000 season was for Bearcats basketball fans who watched UC’s title hopes fade when Kenyon Martin broke his leg during the Conference USA Tournament, the year remains nearly as unforgettable for his season-long performance that earned No. 4 a sweep of National Player of the Year honors.

If there was any doubt he was America’s premier player, the 6-9 power forward dispelled those on March 3, 2000, when he led UC — then No. 2 in the nation — on a dramatic comeback over DePaul. The Blue Demons were leading 60-50 with less than four minutes to go when Martin, Ed ’00, took over on both ends of the court — scoring 10 of his 33 points and blocking shot after shot in the closing moments to help UC to a 64-62 dramatic win.

The performance prompted this declaration from ESPN commentator Dick Vitale during the broadcast: “Who could ever vote for anyone else but Kenyon Martin for National Player of the Year? It has been a show! He has done everything humanly possible to carry his team to the locker room with a ‘W.’ He’s been marvelous, magnificent and magical!” Despite his injury, Martin was the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft in 2000 and has spent the last 14 years in the pros.



UC football players hold up the newspaper headline that reads 'Big East Champs!'

No. 5         

Pitt stunner caps perfect ’09 season

It was 2009, and the football Bearcats had already turned in the best year in school history. At 11-0 going into the final game at Pittsburgh and ranked fifth in the nation, the Bearcats needed a perfect regular season to seal up their second-straight Big East title and back-to-back Bowl Championship Series games (the 2008 team made it to the Orange Bowl).

The Bearcats had fought back from a 21-point deficit at Heinz Field to eventually tie it up, only to fall behind Pitt again. Down 6 points with less than 40 seconds on the clock, UC’s Tony Pike, A&S ’09, dropped back from the Panthers’ 29-yard-line and threw a laser to a streaking Armon Binns, Ed ’12, who made a diving catch in the end zone to tie the game. UC would win it, 45-44, after the extra point. The comeback completed the perfect regular season and vaulted the Bearcats to No. 3 in the nation before they lost to the Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl.

Sugar Bowl photo galleries



Herb Jones hangs from the rim after dunking the basketball.

No. 4         

Bearcats return to the Final Four

At the end of the regular season in 1992, UC fans were elated to cheer on a 23-4 basketball team that had climbed back into the Top 25 for the first time in 14 years. It was the team’s first NCAA bid since 1977. The Bearcats — paced by Herb Jones, att. ’92 (dunking at left); Nick Van Exel, att. ’92; Anthony Buford, A&S ’92; and Corie Blount, Ed ’08 — were best known for their defense. Once in the tournament, Bob Huggins’ third-year UC squad won easily over Delaware and Michigan State to advance to the Sweet 16, where they took care of business in a 2-point win over Texas-El Paso, then hammered Memphis by 31 points to complete an improbable run to the Final Four.

Paired with Michigan in the national semifinals in Minneapolis, the Bearcats led by 7 points with 15 minutes left in the game, but were eventually outscored by Michigan’s “Fab Five” of freshman starters and lost 76-72. That season was the beginning of a return to national power for UC basketball, which saw its teams advance to the Elite Eight in both ’93 and ’96 and make 14 straight NCAA tournament appearances.



No. 3          

Oscar Robertson scores 56 at MSG


The accolades that follow the most prolific athlete in UC’s history have filled many books, but when it comes to moments in time, perhaps no game defines Oscar Robertson’s dominance over the college game quite like his 56-point performance versus Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 9, 1958. The Big O, a sophomore, outscored the entire Pirates team in the 118-54 pounding.

Considering it took place in front of the national media on the biggest basketball stage that existed, it is no surprise that the 19-year-old’s national profile skyrocketed that night. Robertson, Bus ’60, HonDoc ’07, was National Player of the Year for three straight seasons and averaged 33.8 points, 15.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists during his varsity career.

In Oscar’s days, freshmen did not play varsity, yet he still amassed 2,974 points, which remains UC’s most ever. The next closest is Sean Kilpatrick, Ed ’14, who finished his four-year varsity career with 2,145 points. Robertson led UC to its first of five straight Final Four appearances in ’59 and ’60, went on to become a 12-time NBA All-Star over 14 years in the pros and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in ’80.

Video tributes to Oscar Robertson

Visit thebigo.com



Team photo shows the 1961 UC bearcats basketball team with their coaches.

No. 2        

Bearcats national champs in 1961

Nobody gave Cincinnati a chance against the defending champion Ohio State Buckeyes. Going into the 1961 national title basketball game, UC was without Oscar Robertson, the nation’s most prolific player, who graduated the previous year. Yet UC’s group of relative no-names would face an unbeaten Buckeyes team led by future Hall of Famers Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek.

Still, it was the Bearcats — coached by first-year head coach Ed Jucker — who cut down the nets that night in Kansas City more than 53 years ago after UC stunned OSU in a 70-65 overtime win. Cincy was led by senior big man Bob Wiesenhahn, Ed ’61, who finished with 17 points and, perhaps more important, held Havlicek to just 4 points. UC senior guard Carl Bouldin, Ed ’61, contributed 16.

The Bearcats returned to campus to a frenzied crowd inside the packed Armory Fieldhouse, where they hoisted both the title trophy and “Juck” high over their heads.

Watch a video of their triumphant return and read about the 50th reunion of the title team.



Team photograph shows the 1962 UC Bearcats with their coaches.

No. 1        

UC defends title in 1962

If one was sweet, a second was even sweeter. UC and Ohio State once again squared off in the championship tilt in 1962, but this time inside Louisville’s Freedom Hall. From the ’61 team, UC returned starters Tom Thacker, Ed ’63, M (DAAP) ’73; Tony Yates, Ed ’63; and Paul Hogue, Ed ’62. A pair of former high school All-Americans — George Wilson, Ed ’64, and Ron Bonham, Ed ’64 — also joined in.

The Bearcats, who were 29-2 on the season, left little question as to which school brought the best team, as they beat the Buckeyes 71-59. Hogue, a 6-9, 235-pound center, scored 22 points and pulled down 19 rebounds.

UC would go on to a third straight national championship game in 1963, but fell to Loyola in a 2-point loss after leading by 15. The golden age of Bearcats basketball saw UC advance to a then-record five straight Final Fours from 1959 to 1963.

UC basketball's golden age



Readers share their favorite memories

Reliving trophy No. 2 in '62

I had the distinct pleasure of witnessing in person UC's winning the NCAA championship at Freedom Hall in Louisville with a 71-59 win over the big school up north. I attended with two other UC buddies. I shall never forget the experience — without a doubt one of the two top moments in Bearcats sports history.

Dick Gose, Bus '65
St. James Plantation, North Carolina

Glaring omission from 1946

There is a glaring and totally baffling omission in the listing of the Top 10 UC sports moments. It should certainly be included among the top five.

If there was a single history-making breakthrough moment that vaulted UC thereafter into the top tier of college football, it occurred on September 15, 1946. On that day, in their season opener, the unheralded Bearcats took on Indiana, the then-reigning undefeated 1945 Big Nine champion. Under coach Ray Nolting, they accomplished a monumental upset, defeating the Hoosiers in Bloomington, 15-6. That headline-making game, and the remainder of the season that followed it, led to UC’s first bowl game in the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Day, where they defeated Virginia Tech, 18-6.

The Go Bearcats website says it all: “The 1946 season remains as one of the most magical in Cincinnati history.”

Read more about this season

Stan Cohen, A&S '50
Newport Beach, Californ

Mid-'60s memories

It was the annual Thanksgiving football rivalry between UC and Miami. Both teams had great quarterbacks: Brig Owens for UC and Ernie Kellerman for Miami.

They fought back and forth the entire game until Miami led by only one or two points with only a few seconds to go in the game. Jimmy O'Brien (he was later the star place kicker for Baltimore Colts) not only had a strong game receiving passes from Owens, but he kicked a very long field goal to win the game for UC.

Interestingly, both quarterbacks were drafted into the NFL and became all-pro defensive backs, Owens for the Redskins and Kellerman for the Browns. It was the most exciting game and finish I ever witnessed at the Thanksgiving classics.

Tom Fulks, Eng '58
Lakewood Ranch, Flori

A family favorite

I always appreciate my editions of the UC Magazine. The Top 10 moments in Bearcats sports history was phenomenal. I couldn't have come up with a better list. Most people remember the Sugar Bowl as Tim Tebow's last college game. I remember it more fondly since I was there with my wife, son (incoming freshman to UC this year) and daughter (UC Class of '21). The players, coaches and UC staff were great with my family and the other alumni that were there that week.

Matthew Miller, Ed '93, M (Ed) '99
Mentor, Ohio

Inspired by Oscar

Four years with the Big O — all his home games in the Armory Fieldhouse — I was a Bear Kitten with the UC Band. What an inspiration Oscar is — from the shy freshman in 1956 to the national hero in 2014. We share a great friendship! I knew in those days I was watching history in the making.

Haldane Dosher Higgins, Ed '60
Milford, Ohio

A thrilling note

I played French horn in the Bearcat Band. We didn't play at basketball games very often, but we played at least once in '61. As we ended the Cincinnati Fight Song, in my enthusiasm, I concluded the song with a trill. The band director, Robert Hornyak, gave me a look as if to say, "What the $#& are you doing?"

Daniel Driscoll, Eng '61
Knox, New York

Witness to greatness

I was there for No. 1 and No. 2 as an undergraduate electrical engineer co-op student from September 1959 through June 1964. These were great unexpected years. I also remember competing against Tom Thacker (at a rival high school), while I attended CCH. Also great years.

Larry Emark, Eng '64

Pitt in person and an 'instant classic'

While I was present in Pitt for No. 5, an argument can be made that the 1999 victory over Wisconsin put UC Football back on the map. It ended up being Wisconsin's only loss and cost them a shot at the national championship.

Similarly, the 2002 game against Ohio State was an instant classic. In hindsight, seeing that OSU ended up being national champions, UC almost duplicated crushing a Big Ten team's title hopes.

Charles Albertone, Eng '02
Cleveland, Oh

Sanders' buzzer beater at the Shoe

Nov. 25, 1989, was the school's first game under Bob Huggins in their new arena [Shoemaker]. Steve Sanders, a walk-on football player, hit the buzzer-beating 3-pointer to defeat the No. 20 Minnesota Gophers.

Dennis Back, UC fan

Looking back at the early '60s

I was a student during the reign of UC basketball. In 1961, nobody, especially the Cincy police, expected us to win. So they were not prepared for the post-championship celebration, which was very mild compared to what happened at Maryland, about 20 miles from my home, whenever it  is lucky enough to beat Duke.
In the week prior to the '62 Final Four, Sports Illustrated  wrote, “Ohio State all the Way.” One of our classmate's father was a top executive at a local hospitality worker's union, and the father gave Friday night’s tickets to his son, so we had three tickets behind the UCLA Bench [for the semi-final game]. The hotels in Louisville, Kentucky were pretty bad and jammed, so my friends and I stayed at a flop house along with others who could not find better accommodations. I think it was $1.10, plus tax and a real eye-opener for me.
Anyway, on Friday we had about an 18-point lead (remember that was 50 plus years ago) and before the UCLA domination of the later years. In the second half, UCLA started firing like machine guns from all over the court, and I think we won by 2 or so. As for tickets for the championship game, this was the age of innocence when tickets were reasonably priced, so we bought three tickets scattered around Freedom Hall. In most cases, the seller simply had tickets he/she wanted to dump and could be bought below cost. Think of That, BELOW COST! As for  the game itself, the great Jerry Lucas had hurt his knee in Friday's game, and so we had an easy time. A couple of side notes: The NIT was the tournament! The NCAA was not even televised nationally until 1963. I watched the rerun on Sunday afternoon when arriving back at my rooming house.
It was a great disappointment in 1963 when UC lost to Loyola of Chicago. We had a big lead and then to lose by playing stall ball. President Langsam said if we won he would close the school on Monday, so  I drove back home to Youngstown to watch the game. But Sunday Morning the car was headed back to Cincinnati.

David Diser, Bus '65
Catonsville, Marylan



Let the debate begin…

Now it’s your turn. Did you have the distinct pleasure of seeing one of these historic Bearcats moments in person?  Use the below form to send us your memory or tell us what moment from the annals of UC’s sports history makes your “best-of” list. We’ll share your responses on this page and perhaps in the next print issue. In the meantime, be sure to walk through the first floor of the Richard Lindner Athletics Center to absorb tons more fascinating Bearcats history in the George (Ed ’35, MEd ’51) and Helen Smith Athletics Museum.