Pavelka’s All-Time Favorite Game Will Surprise You

By NU Athletic Communications
Kent Pavelka will be honored by the Nebraska Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend.
Kent Pavelka will be honored by the Nebraska Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Randy York's N-Sider

Somehow, it’s only fitting that Kent Pavelka will be honored publicly by the Nebraska Basketball Hall of Fame on the same night that he will be announcing a Husker game against Kansas State. Here’s what makes the timing so perfect: Pavelka, Nebraska’s basketball play-by-play announcer, has called hundreds of meaningful wins for the Huskers, but his all-time favorite game with a headset on is  . . . we’re not kidding here  . . . a 66-64 Nebraska double overtime loss to Kansas State in Manhattan 29 years ago this month.

“I bet no one in captivity would mention this game but me, and that includes the players who played in it and the coaches who coached in it. But I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and I honestly believe that was the best coached and best played game I ever announced,” Pavelka said. “It was Joe Cipriano, Moe Iba and Jack Hartman at their best. Both teams played hellacious defense, and each possession was its own war, right down to the last second.”

By the Second Overtime, No One Could Hear Anybody

Pavelka can still hear the crowd and smell the popcorn inside Ahearn Field House. “It was the loudest game I ever announced even before it got into the first overtime,” he said. “By the second overtime, no one could hear anybody, even when they were right next to you. I know most people wouldn’t think of that game in a million years, but it represents why I got into this business in the first place – to meet the challenge of creating a picture, via the spoken word, of great sports drama.”

K-State had Rolando Blackman on that Jan. 26th night in 1980. A conference player-of-the-year, future Olympian and member of the all-time, All-Big Eight team, Blackman played 12 years in the NBA.

“Our best player was Andre Smith, who was a first-team all-conference player that year,” Pavelka said. “Jack Moore was a second-team all-conference player for us, but in that particular game, I remember Tim West, a junior college transfer, playing his greatest game ever, and I remember Mike Naderer playing very well for us, too.”

Cipriano, Iba Guided Nebraska Together in 1979-80

It’s funny what Pavelka remembers in a 22-year career broadcasting Husker basketball. That 1980 team was special for a lot of reasons. It was Joe Cipriano’s last season as head coach, and Moe Iba had to step in to help because of Cip’s deteriorating health in his battle with cancer. The Huskers were picked to finish sixth in the Big Eight, but tied for second because they won 14 of 16 games at home.

One win was 92-84 over Alabama-Birmingham in four overtimes – the longest game in Nebraska basketball history. In 1980, the Huskers also beat Kansas twice (64-57 and 61-56) and K-State (70-58) in the rematch in Lincoln.  K-State won the rubber match (60-59) in the Big Eight Tournament semifinals, forcing the Huskers to play Michigan and All-American Mike McGee, a Nebraska native, in the first round of the NIT in Ann Arbor.

Cip and Mo: Big Eight's Co-Coaches of the Year

“I remember all those games very clearly,” Pavelka said. “Maybe it was because it was such an emotional season. I thought it was really classy when UPI named Cip and Moe Big Eight Co-Coaches of the Year that season.”

In his third season back doing Nebraska basketball play-by-play after a 10-year absence, Pavelka is like a guy still sitting in his favorite chair. He’s comfortable.

The Nebraska Basketball Hall of Fame Committee is honoring him at a banquet Friday night as the Bud Cuca Special Merit Award winner. He also will be honored at Saturday night’s K-State-Nebraska game, along with former NU Head Coach Danny Nee, ex-Husker player Erick Strickland and Rex Ekwall, another former player (1955-57) who will receive the Hall of Fame’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

Nebraska Coach Doc Sadler embraces Pavelka’s style, knowledge and enthusiasm. “I heard a lot about Kent when they made the decision to bring him back into the basketball booth,” Sadler said. “I get an opportunity to listen to him on playbacks and on video, and he brings the standards that our program appreciates and deserves.”

Hooked on Husker Hoops before High School Graduation

A Lincoln Northeast and Nebraska graduate, Pavelka grew up living and loving Nebraska basketball and football. “I was in high school and in the Coliseum that night when Fred Hare flipped the ball over his head and Nebraska beat No. 1 Michigan and Cazzie Russell in a miracle finish,” he recalled. “It was unbelievable. The place was pure pandemonium.”

Because Pavelka was so passionate about Husker hoops, colleagues and fans often suspected that he preferred announcing basketball over football. “That’s not true,” he said. “It only seemed that way because I didn’t know football like I knew basketball until later in my career.”

Lyell Bremser, the most famous voice in the history of Nebraska football, hand-picked Pavelka at KFAB. Imagine being 24 years old and being asked to sit next to Bremser in the broadcast booth. What red-blooded Nebraskan wouldn’t enjoy that?

Wondering How Working Lifetime Goes By So Fast

“When I first got the job, I remember wondering what it might be like to be around a guy who had been around for 40 years,” Pavelka said. “Now, here I am, 35 years later, and I wonder how my working lifetime has gone by so fast. That’s why this honor means more to me than any other I’ve ever received.”

The voice of Nebraska’s back-to-back national championship football teams in 1994 and 1995 and a six-time Nebraska Sportscaster of the Year, Pavelka lost his position as Nebraska’s play-by-play announcer when the owner of the radio rights changed hands, and the new company decided to go in another direction.

“It’s no secret. I had a little resentment when I was excommunicated,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important for me to have an old friend (Nebraska basketball) back in my life. When you think about all the great people who have come and gone, you just don’t expect to be recognized like this. It’s really hard to explain why this honor is so meaningful. It’s just that there are so many others who have made important contributions and are so deserving themselves.”

A Friend of Bud Cuca’s, Pavelka is Properly Humbled

Pavelka spent a lot of time with the late Cuca and with Bill Bennett, who was Nebraska’s basketball sports information director at the time. “Bud and Bill were consumed by Nebraska basketball, and they gave this program everything they had,” Pavelka said. “The same was true for Gary Mouden, who would do anything humanly possible to help this program succeed.”

The award Pavelka is receiving was renamed in honor of Cuca in 2003 after he died of cancer. Bennett left Nebraska in 1981 and has worked for UCLA’s athletic department for nearly a quarter century. Mouden and longtime Husker basketball supporter Dick Hudson co-founded the Nebraska Basketball Development Association in 1981. They took the first Nebraska all-star high school basketball team to play in the Las Vegas Invitational Tournament – a tradition that continues today.

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