We’ve done some mourning. Now it’s time to do some reflection and to truly appreciate what a great accomplishment the past 25 years have been for coach Lute Olson and the Arizona Wildcats basketball program.
Here is the entire NCAA tournament streak in all its glory:
|Year||Seed||# of Wins||Lost To||1985||#10||0||#7 Alabama||1986||#9||0||#8 Auburn||1987||#10||0||#7 UTEP||1988||#1||4||#1 Oklahoma||1989||#1||2||#4 UNLV||1990||#2||1||#7 Alabama||1991||#2||2||#3 Seton Hall||1992||#3||0||#14 E. Tenn. St.||1993||#2||0||#15 Santa Clara||1994||#2||4||#1 Arkansas||1995||#5||0||#12 Miami (Ohio)||1996||#3||2||#2 Kansas||1997||#4||6||NOBODY||1998||#1||3||#3 Utah||1999||#4||0||#13 Oklahoma||2000||#1||1||#8 Wisconsin||2001||#2||5||#1 Duke||2002||#3||2||#2 Oklahoma||2003||#1||3||#2 Kansas||2004||#9||0||#8 Seton Hall||2005||#3||3||#1 Illinois||2006||#8||1||#1 Villanova||2007||#8||0||#9 Purdue||2008||#10||0||#7 West Virginia||2009||#12||2||#1 Louisville|
The Cats were eliminated by the Big-12 five different times (twice by Kansas and thrice by Oklahoma) and the teams currently making up the Big East got Arizona another five times (including three of the last four). The SEC got us four times (Alabama twice) and three different Big Ten teams sent the UA packing once each.
Lute Olson was at the helm for the first 23 years of the streak and the stigma that followed him around was losing in the first round. It’s true he started 5-6 in first round games at Arizona and no one will ever forget the three high-profile upsets in the early ‘90s. But Lute learned to dodge the opening-round pitfalls and closed his career going 9-3 in such games, including an 8-1 record when seeded higher than 8.
It was the back end of the weekend where Lute excelled. Coach Olson was 11-3 (.786) in the second round at Arizona and he won four of his first five regional finals. You could beat him when you had a week to prepare but you were in big trouble when you only had two days.
During Lute’s absolute peak, from 1988-2001, he went 30-13 (.698) in the tournament and claimed all four of his Final Fours and the national championship. That 14-year run saw Coach O’s Wildcats go a remarkable 6-3 against #1 seeds.
The UA’s streak ended up two years shy of North Carolina’s all-time record but it’s in the individual tallies where Lute stands tallest. Behold:
Most NCAA Tournament Appearances by a Coach
28 – Lute Olson, Iowa/Arizona
28 – Bobby Knight, Indiana/Texas Tech
27 – Dean Smith, North Carolina
27 – Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
26 – Eddie Sutton, Creighton/Arkansas/Kentucky/Oklahoma State
26 – Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
While it appears Lute is just keeping that record warm for the two active guys below him, here’s one he might hold onto for a while:
Most Consecutive NCAA Tournament Appearances by a Coach
23 – Lute Olson, Arizona (1985-2007)
23 – Dean Smith, North Carolina (1975-1997)
15 – Bobby Knight, Indiana (1986-2000)
15 – Mike Krzyzewski, Duke (1996-2010)
There’s your bonus reason for rooting against Duke the next seven years.
As time goes by nostalgia makes past accomplishments seem greater but we don’t have to wait to appreciate just what an incredible quarter-century this has been for Arizona hoops. Even if Sean Miller goes on to hang his own banners at McKale the Lute Olson years will always be “the good old days.” We are all honored to have been a part of it.
Lute and Arizona’s silver streak was pure gold.