Led by consensus All-American Andre Miller, Utah went 28-5 in 1998-99, won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament in its final season as a league member, captured the WAC Pacific Division regular-season championship with a 14-0 record and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
With its 28 wins, the Utes tied for the fourth-most wins in school history. Utah also joined an elite group in college basketball history by posting its fifth consecutive 25-win season. Only 13 times has an NCAA Division I program won at least 25 games in five consecutive seasons. The 1998-99 campaign also produced the 27th season of 20 wins or more in school history. Utah has hit for 20 wins in eight of its 10 seasons--including the last five--under Rick Majerus.
In the process of winning its fifth consecutive WAC championship and its seventh overall during the Majerus era, Utah became the first team in the history of the Western Athletic Conference to go undefeated in league play. The U. went 14-0 during the conference regular season to win the Pacific Division title by five games over Fresno State and New Mexico. Utah then went 3-0 in the conference tournament to capture its third WAC Tournament title all-time.
As a result of Utah's dominance in the WAC, Majerus was named Coach of the Year and point guard Andre Miller was honored as the Player of the Year in the Pacific Division. Joining Miller on the all-conference first team were forwards Alex Jensen and Hanno Möttölä. Jensen and Miller were also selected to the all-defensive team. Forward Tony Harvey and guard Jeremy Killion were named to the all-newcomer team. Majerus was also named the NABCA District 13 Coach of the Year.
True to form under Majerus, Utah was one of the stingiest teams in the nation on the defensive end of the floor last season. The Runnin' Utes ranked fourth in the NCAA in scoring defense (55.4 ppg), fifth in scoring margin (15.9 ppg), ninth in rebound margin (8.2 rpg) and 29th in field goal percentage defense (.395). Utah was also 13th in field goal percentage (.477).
The Runnin' Utes finished the 1998-99 season ranked in both of the major national polls. Utah was sixth in the final Associated Press poll released on March 8, before the start of the NCAA Tournament. The Utes were also ranked 10th in the final USA Today/ESPN poll released on March 31. It was the third consecutive year in which Utah finished the season ranked among the top 10 teams in the nation.
After falling out of the rankings for the first time since the start of the 1994-95 season on Dec. 14, the Utes returned to the national polls after a seven week absence on Feb. 1. Utah maintained its position among the nation's Top 25 teams for the final seven polls of the season. Utah also ended the 1998-99 season ranked in the top 20 of both of the major national power ratings. The College Basketball News ranked Utah 18th, while the Sagarin Ratings placed the Utes 14th.
One of the all-time greats in Utah basketball history, Miller ended his career in fine fashion by earning consensus first team All-American honors and National Player of the Year recognition by Basketball Weekly. Miller was also a finalist for the Wooden, Naismith and Oscar Robertson Player of the Year awards. Statistically, Miller ranked 26th in the nation in assists with an average of 5.6 per game. He also averaged 15.8 points and 2.5 steals per game, leading the Utes in all three categories.
Miller left the U. ranked 10th in career scoring with 1,618 points, first in steals (254) and second in assists (721). Miller became the winningest player in both Utah and Western Athletic Conference history, leading the Utes to a 114-20 record in four seasons. He also played in the 1998 Final Four and four NCAA tournaments--advancing beyond the first round each time--and was a part of four WAC regular-season championships and two WAC Tournament titles. Miller was also one of the first athletes to take advantage of the new NCAA rule allowing an extra year of eligibility for non-qualifiers who graduate in four years. He earned his bachelor's degree from Utah in the spring of 1998. Miller was taken as the No. 8 pick overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Draft.
Following its national runner-up finish in 1997-98, Utah opened the 1998-99 season with high expectations and a new look. The Runnin' Utes were ranked 10th by the Associated Press and 12th by USA Today/ESPN in the preseason, but went through some early-season growing pains while replacing two starters and blending in seven newcomers.
While orientating the rookies, Utah got off to a 5-4 start over the first month of the season. After opening the season with a 76-47 win over Azusa Pacific at the Huntsman Center on Nov. 14, Utah lost on the road to in-state rival Utah State, 62-54. What followed was Utah's longest road trip of the season. The Runnin' Utes found the islands of Hawaii to their liking the week leading up to Thanksgiving, winning two of their three games at the Maui Invitational. Following a 65-48 win over Arizona State, the Utes dropped a hard-fought three-point game to No. 13 Indiana and posted a convincing 71-54 win over Michigan.
Making its second trip to Chicago in as many years for the prestigious Great Eight, Utah lost to Rhode Island, 70-63, on Dec. 2 despite a 28-point performance from Miller. The senior guard lit-up Long Beach State three nights later for a career-high 29 points in a 61-54 win. The Utes then got a split against two eventual NCAA Tournament teams, turning away Weber State (87-74) and falling to 1999 Big 12 Conference champion Texas (73-68) in Austin despite a career-high 28 points from Möttölä.
Drive to the Title
As unpredictable as they were at the start, the Utes became equally consistent as the conference season approached. Utah also gained a valuable piece to the puzzle in Harvey, a junior college transfer forced to sit out the first nine games for disciplinary reasons.
With a maturing team and the versatile Harvey in the regular rotation, Utah went on to win a school-record 23 consecutive games. The streak started on Dec. 19 with an 89-55 win over Loyola Marymount at the Huntsman Center and continued into the postseason. Utah won its 14 regular-season conference games by an average of 20 points.
Utah's waltz through the WAC was highlighted by numerous individual performances. During a return trip to his hometown of San Diego on Jan. 16, Killion had a career-high 23 points against the Aztecs in a 79-53 thrashing. In that same game, Miller narrowly missed the second triple-double of his career with 16 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Jensen did manage to post the second triple-double in school history on Jan. 25 with 16 points, 11 boards and 10 assists against Fresno State. Miller tied the school single-game record for field goal percentage by going 9-for-9 from the floor in a 20-point effort against San Jose State on Jan. 23.
The Runnin' Utes posted two of their most impressive wins of the season over New Mexico on national television. Utah put on a defensive clinic in holding the Lobos to 31 percent field goal shooting in a 57-39 win at The Pit on Feb. 1 in an ESPN "Big Monday" feature. CBS televised the regular-season finale from the Huntsman Center on Feb. 27 with Utah holding UNM to 16 first-half points in a 77-47 win.
Only two of Utah's league wins were decided by single-digit margins. The Utes overcame a 37-point effort by Courtney Alexander to defeat Fresno State, 88-82, Feb. 20 on ABC and a held off a late rally for a 75-70 win at UTEP on Feb. 25.
A Championship Finish
Utah won the 1999 WAC Tournament, defeating Brigham Young (81-62) in quarterfinals, Tulsa (64-61 in overtime) in the semifinals and New Mexico (60-45) in the championship game. After those three wins, Utah climbed to a season-best No. 6 ranking in both of the major polls.
Utah placed two players on the WAC All-Tournament Team as selected by the media. Jensen, who was named the tournament MVP, was joined by Miller on the five-player squad. Jensen averaged 16.0 points and 6.3 rebounds in three games. He also recorded a double-double in the championship game against New Mexico with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Utes Advance to NCAA Second Round
Utah made its 31st overall appearance in postseason play and its 21st trip to the NCAA Tournament in 1998-99. The Utes earned a No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region--equaling the best in school history--and played their first and second round games March 12 and 14 at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. Utah defeated Arkansas State, 80-58, in the first round before losing to Miami (Ohio), 66-58, in the second round.
The Career of Andre Miller
All-time Ute leader in steals with 254 ... 721 career assists is second all-time at Utah ... 10th on Utah career scoring list with 1,618 points ... became Utah's fifth consensus All-American all-time in 1999 and the second since 1962 ... Basketball Weekly National Player of the Year ... finalist for the Wooden, Naismith and Oscar Robertson Player of the Year awards ... named third team All-America in 1998, leading Utah to a national runner-up finish ... made the Final Four All-Tournament Team ... one of 10 finalists for the USBWA Player of the Year ... first team all-WAC as a junior and senior ... ranked 26th in the nation in assists (5.6) in 1998-99 and 25th in 1996-97 (6.1) ... led Utah to a 114-20 overall record and a 56-6 mark in conference play in four years ... played in 15 NCAA Tournament games, tying for the most in Ute history ... member of the 1997 USA Men's 22 and Under Team ... was Utah's sixth-highest NBA Draft pick all-time, going eighth overall to the Cleveland Cavaliers.