TucsonCitizen.com Arizona Elite Eight Event: 1975-1976 versus 2000-2001by Javier Morales on Jan. 05, 2012, under Sports
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1975-76 Arizona Wildcats (24-9)
–Lost to UCLA 82-66 in the West Regional Final. To note: The NCAA tournament only had 32 teams in 1976 and the regional final was played on UCLA’s campus at Pauley Pavilion.
2000-01 Arizona Wildcats (28-8)
–Beat Illinois 87-81 in the Midwest Regional Final; beat Michigan State 80-61 in the Final Four; and lost to Duke 82-72 in the national title game. To note: The Wildcats advanced through the tournament playing in honor of Lute Olson’s wife Bobbi, who died of ovarian cancer on Jan. 1, 2001.
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Jim Rappis (1972-76) vs. Jason Gardner (1999-2003)
Both of these leaders exemplified fortitude.
The media coined Rappis, a senior, as Arizona’s “Six Million Dollar Man” before the Cats lost to UCLA in the West Regional Final at Pauley Pavilion.
He fractured an ankle as a freshman and still managed to play nine games. He suffered a ruptured appendix at the beginning of his sophomore year and had a series of ankle injuries but still played in 24 of 26 games. Another ankle injury when he was a junior forced him to use a cane off the court throughout the season. He underwent surgery to correct a spinal disc before the 1975-76 season and was in grave danger of losing his life when he contracted peritonitis.
In the 1976 West Regional Semifinal — one of the most thrilling games in UA history when the Wildcats beat coach Jerry Tarkanian and UNLV 114-109 in overtime — Rappis injured his left heel with 5:57 left in the first half but continued to play despite being hobbled throughout. He finished with 24 points and 12 assists against the Running Rebels.
“Jimmy is the epitome of courage,” Snowden said after the game. “He was in great pain but he went out there anyway.”
The heel injury slowed Rappis considerably against UCLA in the regional title game and he managed only four points. He was still chosen to the Western Regional all-tournament team along with teammates Herman Harris and Al Fleming.
Gardner, a sophomore in 2001, is the Iron Man of the Arizona program. He holds the record for career average minutes played — 35.5 per game — and is third on the all-time scoring list with 1,984 points. Nobody has played more games (136) or started more (135) in the history of the program.
After Gardner led the Wildcats to the national title game in 2001 as a sophomore, it was speculated that he would forego his last two seasons and head to the NBA.
“He certainly will be one of our captains and will be a guy looked to for even more leadership than he what provided this year and I think that is a growing process anyway,” Olson told the media after Arizona lost to Duke 82-72 in the national title game.
Herman Harris (1974-1977) vs. Gilbert Arenas (1999-2001)
While the backcourt of Gardner and Arenas is arguably one of the best in the history of the program, the combination of Rappis and Harris has to rank high.
Harris was not a shy shooter — he holds the UA record for most field-goal attempts in a game with 29 (making nine) against San Diego State in 1977 — and he was set up many times by Rappis.
Harris, a junior in 1975-76, led the Wildcats with 18 points against UCLA in the 1976 Elite Eight game. He averaged 12.7 points in his career, highlighted by a team-high 20 points a game as a senior in 1976-77.
Arenas averaged 15.8 points in his two seasons with the Wildcats, as he left after his sophomore season for the NBA. He emerged from relative obscurity during the recruiting process to becoming one of the more flamboyant NBA players.
Olson believed after the 2000-01 season that Arenas, who led the 2000-01 team in scoring with 16.5 points a game, was mature enough to make the jump from college to pros. He is a 10-year NBA veteran and three-time All-Star selection.
“He is somebody that is going to be an outstanding pro,” Olson said. “I do think he grew a lot from a maturation standpoint. I think he would gain a lot from an additional year but I certainly understand his position. To me, it is not surprising.”
He is currently trying to find a team to join as a free agent.
Phil Taylor vs. Richard Jefferson
Although Taylor occupied the small forward position as a sophomore in 1976, there was nothing small about him. He actually played at center after Bob Elliott ended his illustrious career with Arizona in 1977. Taylor, who had 14 points in the loss to UCLA in 1976, helped comprise one of the best frontcourts in Wildcat history with Fleming and Elliott when the UA advanced to the Elite Eight in 1976.
Taylor’s 10.8 rebounds per game in 1976-77 ranks as the eighth best in UA history. He scored 36 points in a victory over UNLV as a senior in 1978.
Jefferson and power forward Michael Wright were the elder statesmen of the 2000-01 as juniors. Both did not return for their senior seasons after the Cats reached the title game in 20001.
Jefferson averaged 11.3 points and 5.4 rebounds that season. He was second in assists with 2.7 a game. He had 19 points and eight rebounds in the loss to the Blue Devils.
“You know, if we were playing them again tomorrow, who knows what could happen,” Jefferson said after the game. “That’s never going to happen. But we’re not going to take it as, `Hey, this was good enough.’ Of course we’re never going to be satisfied. This is going to stay with us the rest of our lives.”
Al Fleming (1973-1976) vs. Michael Wright (1998-2001)
Despite all the prolific scorers that Snowden and Olson recruited to Arizona, Fleming — a power forward known more for his rebounding — holds the McKale Center scoring record for Wildcat players with 41 against Detroit (coached by Dick Vitale) on Jan. 10, 1976.
Fleming, who passed away from kidney cancer in 2003, is also the only UA player to have a perfect field-goal percentage with at least 10 attempts, when he went 10-for-10 against Midwestern earlier in the 1975-76 season. He also holds the school record for field-goal percentage with 66.7 percent in 1973-74. He and Channing Frye are the only UA players to lead the Wildcats in field-goal percentage throughout the four years of their career.
Fleming also holds the career rebounding record with 1,190. He had 23 rebounds in a game as a freshman (against San Diego State in 1972) and 23 as a senior (against Old Dominion in 1975).
A matchup between Fleming and Wright at their prime would be something to behold. Both played with tenacity around the basket. Wright led the UA in field-goal percentage in his three-year career and he topped the team in rebounding in 1999-2000 and 2000-2001.
If Wright would have stayed for his senior season and not tried to play professionally prematurely, he could have challenged Fleming’s career rebounding mark. Wright finished with 832. He most certainly would have been the third to eclipse the 1,000-rebound plateau joining Fleming and Bob Elliott.
Bob Elliott (1973-1977) vs. Loren Woods (1999-2001)
Elliott, nicknamed “Big Bird” during his time at the UA, is among a select few in NCAA history who accomplished at least 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in his career.
Woods, 7-foot-2 compared to Elliott at 6-10, was known for his defense with his 186 blocked shots in his two-year Arizona career after transferring from Wake Forest. Woods, however, was solid on the offensive end as well, averaging 14.3 points at Arizona and making 79.3 percent of his free-throw attempts.
He was the reason why Arizona advanced to the Elite Eight in 2001 when the Wildcats beat Mississippi 66-56 in the Sweet Sixteen. He outplayed Ole Miss center Rahim Lockhart. Woods led the Cats with 16 points and had three blocks, compared to Rahim’s 11 points and one blocked shot.
Elliott may not have blocked as many shots but he was an effective defender. The UA did not start tabulating blocked shots effectively until after Elliott exhausted his eligibility.
He arguably was as active around the hoop as anybody in UA history. In the 114-109 overtime win over UNLV to reach the Elite Eight, Elliott scored 20 points, and he and Harris each made all four of their free-throw attempts in the overtime session.
“When our team come over this week, I felt slighted,” the late Snowden said of the regional at Pauley Pavilion. “Everybody just kind of ignored us.
“But maybe that was good because our team showed a lot of character.”
1975-1976 key reserves: Jerome Gladney, Leonard Gordy, Gilbert Myles and Sylvester Maxey
2000-2001 key reserves: Luke Walton, Eugene Edgerson and Justin Wessel
Edgerson and Wessel, co-captains of the 2000-01 team, were holdovers from Arizona’s only championship team of 1996-97. Walton was the sixth man of the 2000-01 team, playng plenty of minutes.
Walton is by far the most talented of both groups. He led the UA in rebounding and assists in 2001-02 and was selected in the second round of the NBA draft by the Lakers.
Gladney was the best reserve for Snowden’s group. The burly forward, who started earlier in his UA career, was selected in the eighth round by San Antonio a year after the Wildcats advanced to the Elite Eight. Gordy emerged as a senior captain in 1977 and was one of Arizona’s best free-throw shooters. Myles was a very capable assist man later in his UA career.