Arizona Elite Eight Event: A look back at 1975-76 team vs. Lute Olson and Iowaby Javier Morales on Jan. 11, 2012, under Sports
Javier Morales took first place in the 2010 Arizona Press Club’s Metro Sports Reporting category
Don’t forget: For all the links, Twitter feeds and news feeds related to Arizona and its opponents, go to Morales’ site WILDABOUTAZCATS.NET. No other Arizona sports Web site is like it!
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.
Note: Please vote on which team you believe should advance in the bracket at WILDABOUTAZCATS.net. Thank you!
The 2000-01 team currently pitted against the 1975-76 edition in the TucsonCitizen.com Arizona Elite Eight Event features squads coached by Lute Olson and the late Fred Snowden, respectively.
Few Arizona fans remember that Snowden actually coached Arizona against Olson and Iowa during that successful 1975-76 season.
The Hawkeyes defeated Arizona 82-80 in a controversial second-round game of the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu on Dec. 29, 1975, five years before many of the 2000-01 Wildcats, including standout point guard Jason Gardner, were even born.
“I probably played something like 114 games in my career at Arizona , and a lot of wins did not stick out like that loss,” former center Bob Elliott, laughing, told me in 1996 when I first wrote about the encounter for The Arizona Daily Star. “We fought hard to get back into the game, and for it to be decided on a (referee) call like that . . .”
Iowa took a 35-7 lead 12 minutes into the game, and the Wildcats trailed 51-33 at halftime. It appeared that the UA would rather be on the beach, while the Hawkeyes took the game seriously.
“ Arizona was frankly a better basketball team than we were,” Olson told me in the Arizona Daily Star interview. “With a program like ours at Iowa, at the time, we didn’t have a lot of room for error, so we got over there and everything was focused on playing.
“We didn’t allow them on the beach. We didn’t allow them out. We had curfews, that kind of thing.”
Arizona slowly chipped away at the deficit in the second half, and with 14 seconds remaining, the Wildcats tied the game at 80 on a basket by Elliott. No records have been kept, but that is arguably the greatest comeback (trailing by 28 points at one point) in Wildcat history.
“I remember trying to hang on just a couple of more seconds, and thinking there is no way we should lose that game,” said Scott Thompson, a guard with Iowa who was later an assistant to Olson with the Hawkeyes and Wildcats, in the Arizona Daily Star story.
Iowa raced downcourt after Elliott’s basket, choosing not to call a timeout, and the Hawkeyes missed a jumper. But Iowa center Dan Frost grabbed the rebound, and he was fouled as he attempted a shot at the buzzer.
Frost went to the line to try the game-winning free throws after Arizona departed for its locker room. Snowden argued the foul was called after the buzzer and he was so incensed that he ordered his team off the court. Of course, video replay nowadays would confirm or correct the call. That technology was not around back then.
“When the shot went up, all of us were shoving and biting each other to get that ball, and the ref called the foul on (guard) Gilbert Myles,” Elliott told me in the Arizona Daily Star interview. “Anybody would tell you Gilbert never went into the lane to grab a rebound. He was not close to the play.
“We walked off the court in anger, and the only way we knew (Frost) made the free throws was by listening to the Iowa crowd.”
Olson remembers “holding on to the bitter end.” What impressed him most was the way Arizona, as a program, presented itself under Snowden. The Wildcats that year came one game away from the 1976 Final Four, losing to UCLA at Pauley Pavilion in the West Regional finals.
“At the conclusion of the game (in Hawaii), Freddie Snowden did his post-game show out in the middle of the court,” Olson told me in the Arizona Daily Star story. “It was certainly an indication of good fans and a big-time program. There were a lot of Arizona fans there.”