TucsonCitizen.com Arizona Elite Eight Event: 1996-97 versus 2002-03by Javier Morales on Jan. 13, 2012, under Sports
Javier Morales took first place in the 2010 Arizona Press Club’s Metro Sports Reporting category
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1996-97 Arizona Wildcats (25-9)
–Beat Providence 96-92 in overtime in the Southeast Regional Final; beat North Carolina 66-58 in the Final Four; and defeated Kentucky 84-79 in overtime to win its first NCAA championship. To note: The Wildcats became the first team to beat three No. 1 seeds (Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky) en route to the title.
2002-03 Arizona Wildcats (28-4)
–Lost to Kansas 78-75 in the West Regional Final. To note: The Wildcats beat Gonzaga 96-95 in double-overtime in a West second-round matchup that is one of the classic games in NCAA tournament history.
Mike Bibby (1996-1998) vs. Jason Gardner (1999-2003)
Mike Bibby goes against another storied Arizona point guard, Jason Gardner, in this one. Both have their numbers retired and hanging from the rafters at McKale Center. They are the only point guards to lead the Wildcats to a national title game.
Bibby is arguably the best point guard in the esteemed history of Point Guard U. He was the total package — student of the game (his father, Henry, experienced success at UCLA and the NBA), capable leader, solid playmaker, accurate perimeter shooter, clutch performer … and decent rebounder?
One of the most forgotten stats of Arizona’s magical national championship run was Bibby’s nine rebounds against Kentucky in the title game. This occurred a game after he yanked seven against North Carolina in the Final Four game. That showed more than anything Bibby’s nose for the ball and ability to always make something happen.
His second half against the Tar Heels has to rate among the best halves for a UA player in the program’s history. He drilled five 3-point shots, committed no turnovers, and scored 17 points to finish with 20 in the UA’s 66-58 victory. No Wildcat played more minutes than Bibby’s 38.
“I believe in fate and that there is little you can do about it,” Bibby said after the game. “So, I go out and just play basketball, doing everything I can to help fate turn my way. I play the games over in my mind at night. I dream about the game. I try to envision how the game will go, how it should go, and what I should do. And then I just try to go out and have fun and make it happen.”
Gardner, the Iron Man of the Arizona program, finished his accomplished UA career in 2003. The school’s career record-holder for average minutes played — 35.5 — Gardner also was versatile at point guard. He is third on the UA’s all-time scoring list with 1,984 points, and he also ranks among the top 10 in 13 statistical categories.
One of Gardner’s most impressive feats: He had 10 games in his career in which he played 30 minutes or more and did not commit a turnover. He and backcourt mate Gilbert Arenas established one of the best UA backcourts in history starting in their first game together against Kansas State in the 1999-2000 season-opener. They combined for 28 points, 15 assists and eight steals in the 88-69 win at McKale Center.
Gardner, selected Mr. Indiana after his senior season in high school in Indianapolis, nearly had a double-double in his first collegiate game, recording 14 points and nine assists.
“He is a freshman and he isn’t,” Olson told reporters after the game. “I’m not sure if we have ever had a freshman point guard come in and play like he did tonight.”
Miles Simon (1994-1998) vs. Salim Stoudamire (2002-2005)
No sweeter words have been spoken for Wildcat fans than Billy Packer’s line: “Simon says … championship” after the UA beat Kentucky for the national title in 1997. That line also carries with it the image of Miles Simon’s wide grin as he is hugging the basketball.
Arizona’s only Final Four MVP helped carry the UA to a title because of his heroics. One of the more memorable performances was Simon’s second-half awakening against South Alabama in the NCAA tournament first-round game. If it was not for nine of Simon’s 11 points in the last seven minutes against South Alabama, the Wildcats would still be without a national championship.
Spurred by Simon’s production, the UA outscored South Alabama 22-4 over those last seven minutes and turned a 10-point deficit into a 65-57 victory. Simon was not all smiles in the locker room afterward, which showed how much he was bent on winning the right way.
“I’m glad we won, but I wouldn’t call it sweet,” Simon told reporters. “I know what I have to do now to make us a better team.”
Salim Stoudamire also emerged out of a funk in another early-round game — the second-round classic against Gonzaga in 2003 — to lead the Wildcats to a 96-95 win in double-overtime. Stoudmamire scored five of his 15 points in the second overtime. Two years later, Stoudamire’s off-balance jumper with 2.8 seconds left gave the UA a 79-78 win over Oklahoma State and propelled the Cats to another Elite Eight appearance against Illinois.
Stoudamire also made memorable game-winning shots against UCLA and Arizona State. Those heroics were indicative of how much Stoudamire matured during his UA career. He resided often in Olson’s dog house earlier in his career. As often was the case, Olson was seen openly frustrated with Stoudamire when the guard sat by him on the bench.
“If my hair would have been black four years ago, Salim would have turned it white,” Olson joked with reporters when Stoudamire was a senior in 2005. “But honestly, from the middle of March last year to the middle of March this year, I’ve never in 49 years of coaching dealt with a kid who changed as much in one year as Salim has.”
Michael Dickerson (1994-1998) vs. Luke Walton (1999-2003)
This is how deadly a shooter Michael Dickerson was in his career at Arizona: In the second half against Washington on Feb. 5, 1998, Dickerson was perfect from the field, 11 of 11, in a 112-81 victory for Arizona at McKale Center.
The misnomer about Dickerson, quiet in his demeanor, is that he was shy on the court. Not so. He was one of Olson’s best defenders in the 1997 title run and he was not afraid to shoot despite bouts with his confidence. He is fourth on the UA career list with 1,460 field-goal attempts, so he took advantage of the green light to shoot. He made 668 of those, sixth on the UA career list, for a very respectable 45.8 percent from the field for a wing player who drew gimmick defenses from opponents.
“I feel like I can do a lot of damage,” Dickerson told reporters after scoring 30 points against Texas in an 83-78 win at McKale Center on Dec. 9, 1996. Texas coach Rick Barnes went to a straight man-to-man against Dickerson, which was obviously a wrong move.
“I love that,” Dickerson added. “Going against a box-and-one (zone) or a double-team is a lot harder.”
While Dickerson ebbed and flowed with his confidence, Luke Walton always had an air of confidence about him. He is one of six former Wildcats who achieved a triple-double, accomplishing the feat with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in a 97-80 win over USC on Jan. 17, 2002.
He also had four steals and a career-best four blocked shots. Defensively, he played at the point-guard position in that game and through some of his career because of his size (6-8, 235) and instincts. He is the son of Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton.
“He does things you don’t teach,” Olson told reporters after Walton achieved the triple-double. “It’s in the genes. He has a great feel for the game. He also has a great feel for leadership, and it’s always a positive thing. He really helps the young guys a lot with the approach that he takes to things.”
Bennett Davison (1996-98) vs. Rick Anderson (1999-20003)
Bennett Davison might be best known for messing Olson’s gray mane seconds after the Wildcats won the 1997 title, but former Providence All-American Austin Croshere most likely remembers Davison for a much less amusing reason.
Croshere, who went on to play 12 years in the NBA, was held to an NCAA tournament-low 12 points before fouling out midway through the second half of the Elite Eight matchup against Arizona in 1997. The Friars lost in overtime 96-92 thanks in part to Davison’s lock-down defense and somewhat surprising offensive performance. Davison finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Davison, who holds the UA record with nine steals against Stanford in 1998, limited Croshere to 14 points under his scoring average. Teammate A.J. Bramlett marveled at Davison’s record-setting defensive performance against the Cardinal the season after the win over Providence, saying, “Nine steals for a No. 4 man (power forward) is unbelievable.”
“Bennett was all over the place, and when we can run, nobody can stay with us,” Bramlett told reporters.
Rick Anderson has the dubious distinction of being whistled for the most fouls in a season in UA history with 119 in 2001-02. But in a positive light, that shows how scrappy Anderson was for the Wildcats as a player who was hardly in the spotlight.
Mostly due to his elder statesman status, Anderson was a co-captain his last two seasons, sharing the honors with Gardner and Walton. He was an important cog in UA’s lineup in its Elite Eight season of 2002-03 as the second-leading rebounder with 6.7 rebounds per game. He was also one of four players who averaged double figures in scoring (10.7 points per game) that year.
A.J. Bramlett (1996-1999) vs. Channing Frye (2002-2005)
What made Arizona’s run to the title in 1997 special was a case could be made for each player helping the Wildcats get that far. Bramlett’s time to shine was his 12-point, 15-rebound performance in a second-round victory over the College of Charleston. He also had 10 rebounds and four blocked shots when the Cats beat North Carolina in the Final Four.
After the win over the Tar Heels, teammate Donnell Harris told reporters, “A.J. is always near the ball. I look up all the time, and there’s Bramlett and there’s the ball. It’s like he has magnets.”
An interesting note about Bramlett, other than him breaking a backboard in practice in February 1997, is that he achieved a school-record 19 rebounds against Stanford in 1998 — the same game Davison set the UA record for steals.
Channing Frye, a four-year starter, is one of the most productive post players in UA history when it comes to career totals. He is No. 9 on the scoring list with 1,789 points, No. 2 in blocked shots with 258, No. 3 in rebounds with 975, and No. 9 in field-goal percentage (56.2).
Olson could count on Frye to rough it up inside or extend to the perimeter and stick the mid-range jumper. One thing that irked Frye the most was when he was called “soft”, sometimes even by his own coach.
“Everyone always says Channing Frye is soft, that he can’t establish himself with his back to the basket,” Frye said in the third person, shaking his head to reporters, after he had 14 points and 12 rebounds in a victory over Notre Dame in the 2003 Sweet Sixteen.
1996-97 key reserves: Jason Terry, Donnell Harris and Eugene Edgerson
2002-03 key reserves: Andre Iguodala, Hassan Adams and Isaiah Fox
Jason Terry is arguably the best sixth man in the program’s history, putting his ego aside when Bibby was made a starter although Terry had already been in the program for a year. Former UA assistant coach Jim Rosborough told me last May — when Terry and the Dallas Mavericks faced Bibby and the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals — that Terry’s acceptance to be the sixth man was a significant reason why the Wildcats won the NCAA title.
“I can’t say enough about what Jason did for us that season,” Rosborough told me. “A lot of people don’t know this, but he approached Coach Olson and basically told him, ‘I’m OK with being the Sixth Man. I’ll be the Sixth Man because we have Mike Bibby, Miles Simon and Michael Dickerson already out there.’
“He never pouted and was always upbeat. He came off the bench his first three years and then in his senior year, he became a national player of the year. That goes to show you that if you pay your dues something good will come out of it.”
Donnell Harris and Eugene Edgerson had varied roles in Arizona’s title run. Harris came up big in the title game against Kentucky, scoring eight points with seven rebounds. Edgerson was a UA crowd favorite for his all-out hustle.
Andre Iguodala and Hassan Adams provided athleticism off the bench for the 2002-03 team. They combined for 15.5 points, 8.3 rebounds per game and 2.8 steals per game. Iguodala also chipped in 2.1 assists per game.
Isaiah Fox started five games and was most effectve on the glass, averaging 3 rebounds a game. Will Bynum started twice that season and played in eight games before transferring to Georgia Tech.