For a school that had Al McGuire as a head coach and later as announcer, Marquette is one of those schools with a colorful history of basketball. Especially on the court, and the 2000s were no exception for the Golden Eagles who came into the new millennium with limited success at the end of the 1990s. It would be a decade of transition and growth, as they would find greater success with each passing year on the court and would move from Conference USA to the Big East Conference beginning in 2005.
But what was that golden game for the Golden Eagles during the 2000s?
Well there are a lot of great moments from the 2000's for Marquette. From their run in 2002-03 as a talented upstart team made a run for their money, their first home game in the Big East giving a second ranked Connecticut a baptism by fire at the Bradley Center, to closing out the decade in style with a run in 2009 to the Sweet 16 in what was also Buzz Williams' first season. While they are all memorable in their own right, the best game though for the Golden Eagles was during their run in 2002-03.
That game was on March 29, 2003 in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament. That tournament, Marquette was the No. 3 seed in the Midwest regional. Their road to the Elite 8 began was one that was fought tooth and nail. In the first round, they beat Holy Cross by two points. In the second round the Golden Eagles knocked off Missouri in an overtime finish, and in the Sweet 16 beat second seeded Pittsburgh setting up an Elite 8 match up against No. 1 seeded Kentucky. Any of the first three games that Marquette played could make an argument for their best game of the tournament, let alone the decade, and they probably would be had it not been for what was to unfold on the court against Kentucky.
That night, the No. 1 seeded Wildcats of Kentucky could not run with the Golden Eagles of Marquette that night as the team would play is best game of the tournament and one the most memorable performance of the decade. The game was over from the start as Marquette jumped to an early 14-10 lead and then took off going on a 28-7 run. During the nine minute stretch, Kentucky had only one field goal, a three-pointer by Keith Bogans. By the end of the first half, Marquette led 45-26, effectively demolishing the Wildcats' vaunted defense early one, but it was not over. The onslaught continued in the second half, albeit with a slight foot off the gas as Kentucky would outscore Marquette in the second half 43-38. Though it was a moot point as the final score was 83-69, with the Golden Eagles moving on the Final Four for the first time since 1977.
While it was not a gritty comeback performance, it was the game that relaunched Marquette basketball back into the spotlight as it was their transcending moment for the program. They would shoot the second best shooting percentage against Kentucky that season at 56 percent and on top of that were 10-for-19 from three point range, as freshman Steve Novak alone scored all 16 of his points from three point range. The marquee performance though for Marquette was by Sophomore Dwyane Wade, who had the fifth triple-double in NCAA Tournament history and the first one since 1998. Through the course of the game, he would post 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. Robert Jackson rounded out the three, with a double-double performance of 24 points and 15 rebounds. In total, Jackson, Novak, and Wade scored 69 of Marquette's 83 points. It was the game that lives on in the memories of Marquette fans and the nightmares of Kentucky fans.
Following their rout in the Elite 8, the magic would eventually run out for the Golden Eagles as they themselves would get trounced by a Roy Williams coached and Nick Collison led Kansas Jayhawks team in the Final Four. It was their first trip to the Final Four since 1977 when Al McGuire coached the then Marquette Warriors to their first and only NCAA Title so far in their history.
While it did end in defeat, their run in 2003 NCAA Tournament and subsequent trouncing of Kentucky will always live on in the colorful history that is Marquette basketball.