McKale Memorial Center, the home of Wildcat basketball, is just one of the showcase athletic facilities on the campus and one of the finest arenas in the country. It's situated off the UA Mall on the extreme eastern edge of the campus adjacent to Arizona Stadium, Sancet Field (Baseball), Hillenbrand Aquatic Center and campus research, parking and library facilities.
McKale Center opened in February of 1973 with a seating capacity of 13,658. The building literally filled up overnight as Arizona Basketball entered a new era. After
numerous games before crowds of several thousand in Bear Down Gym opening the 1972-73 season, the team and opponents moved a block east on campus to McKale, and Wildcat basketball went upscale before consistent crowds of more than 11,000 right from the start.
Capacity fluctuated from 14,431 after seats were added in the mid-90's to a 1984 installation of chair-back seating that reduced capacity to 13,316. Elimination of all bleacher seating dropped the level to 13,124 in 1986; additional seats added in 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994,
1996 and 1997 pushed the capacity to it's current figure of 14,489.
The facility is named in memory of the late J.F. "Pop" McKale who was UA athletic director and coach from 1914 to 1957. McKale died in 1967 at the age of 97.
Before McKale center was completed, the home court of the Wildcats for nearly half a century was Bear Down Gym, which opened as University Gymnasium in 1927 but took it's eventual name from the legendary words of John Button Salmon, who asked J.F. McKale to "Tell them... Tell the team to bear down," from his deathbed after a 1926 automobile accident fatally injured the football quarterback.
In 45 seasons in Bear Down Gym (it was not used during the war years of 1942-43 & 1943-44), Arizona won 405 games and lost 111, a winning percentage of .773. This record included a remarkable 81-game home winning streak which began in 1945 and ended in 1951. That streak is tied with Marquette for the fifth-longest winning streak in NCAA history.
Construction of McKale Center was underway in the fall of 1970, and the first varsity event was held Feb. 1, 1973 as Arizona defeated WAC rival Wyoming, 87-69. The official dedication program took place on Nov. 30, 1973 when UA beat Illinois, 101-80. The Wildcats took the home court to heart and went on to win 67 of the first 70 games in McKale. In fact, Arizona also has the NCAA's 10th best home-court winning streak by putting together a run of 71 consecutive wins in McKale Center from 1987 to 1992. To date, Arizona has an overall record in
McKale Center of 322 victories and 64 losses, for a winning percentage of .834.
In recent years, facelifts have put sophisticated computerized message boards spanning the upper deck on both sides of the court, and installed padded press row and official's tables complete with computer driven scoreboards. The 1992 season brought a new electronic age to McKale with four huge video replay screens in each upper corner.
The latest addition to the arena is the new floor that was installed at the conclusion of the 1997-98 campaign, a state-of-the-art surface that replaces the floor that had been in place since 1983. The entire 22,000 square-foot floor was replaced by a floor that is actually floating on channels raised up off the solid concrete subsurface, which gives that athletes more cushioning when they jump and land on the floor. The cost
of the floor was covered by Shamrock Contracting in exchange to give them the right to sell various types of floor memorabilia, splitting the revenues 50-50 with the UA athletic department.
McKale has been the scene of several major national sports events such as the NCAA West Regionals in March 1974 and in March 1980 and the NCAA Wrestling Championships in March 1976 and NCAA first and second round basketball action in 1979, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, and 1997. in the year 2000 the arena will again host the NCAA West Region first and second round action. In addition, the USA Basketball Team trained in McKale Center prior to winning the 1986 World Championships and Arizona played host to the second Pacific-10 Conference Tournament in 1988.
The facility, which cost some $8.1 million to build in 1970-72, is 428 feet long, 339 feet wide and 77 feet from the floor to the parapet.
McKale Center houses the entire off-field operations of the University's athletic department as well as an exercise sciences lab and a suite of 20-plue office labs for Optical Sciences department. The three levels include equipment rooms, training and rehabilitation center, locker rooms, storage areas, ticket operations, academic services, computer lab facilities and administrative offices.