TucsonCitizen.com Arizona Elite Eight Event: 1987-88 versus 2010-11by Javier Morales on Feb. 07, 2012, under Sports
Javier Morales took first place in the 2010 Arizona Press Club’s Metro Sports Reporting category
1987-88 Arizona Wildcats (35-3)
–Beat North Carolina 70-52 in the West Regional Final; lost to Oklahoma 86-78 in the Final Four. To note: The Wildcats of 1987-88 continue to hold school records for victories (35), points in a season (3,234), average margin of victory (22.9 points), field goals made (1,147), field-goal percentage (54.5 percent), three-point field-goal percentage (48.3), fewest foul-outs (only six), and fewest blocked shots by opponents (only 1.4 a game).
2010-11 Arizona Wildcats (30-8)
–Lost to Connecticut 65-63 in the West Regional Final. To note: The 2010-11 Wildcats set school records for three-point field goals made (296) and opponent three-point field-goal percentage (only 29.3 percent).
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Steve Kerr (1984-1988) vs. Lamont “MoMo” Jones (2009-2011)
A Kerr vs. Jones matchup at the starting point guard spot is as contrasting as this Elite Eight event can muster. Kerr is the cool, calm and collected player from the serene beach town of Pacific Palisades, Calif., while Jones is the rough and tumble, get-in-your-face player from Brooklyn.
Their polar-opposite characteristics is indicative of the different capabilities each team had to offer. The teams had one thing in common: They share the record for playing the most games in a season (38) in the program’s history. But more contrasts exists than similarities.
The 1987-88 Wildcats, led by the deft outside shooting of Kerr, shot a school-record 48.3 percent from three-point range. The 2010-11 edition, captained by the defensively active Jones on the perimeter, held opponents to a school-record low of 29.3 percent from three-point range.
Who would win the battle? The 1987-88 team with its offensive perfection or the 2010-11 team with its defensive prowess?
Kerr set UA records shooting 57.3 percent from three-point range and posting an assist-to-turnover ratio of almost 5-to-1 (150 assists compared to only 36 turnovers). Jones was not as good of a shooter making only 31.6 percent of his three-pointers last season. But he converted 82.8 percent of his free-throw attempts and was clutch in memorable victories over California, scoring a career-high 27 points in a three-overtime game in Berkeley, and Duke, with 16 points, six assists and no turnovers in the Sweet 16 game.
Kerr was the model of reliability and consistency. Little-known fact: Kerr played all 50 minutes (a school record) in a double-overtime 79-72 victory over Cal at McKale Center on Jan. 12, 1986.
Jones is the only starter on an Arizona Elite Eight team who transferred to another school. He switched to Iona this season to be closer to home so he can be near his ailing grandmother. The NCAA granted Jones, a junior, a hardship waiver and allowed him to play this year for Iona.
Craig McMillan (1985-1988) vs. Kyle Fogg (2009-2012)
McMillan, a Parade magazine and McDonald’s All-American, was the first blue-chip recruit signed by Lute Olson. Fogg was a late relatively obscure addition to the Class of 2008, noticed by former assistants Russ Pennell and Mike Dunlap at the 2008 Cactus Classic on Arizona’s campus.
Both matured into decent college players, serving as functional complementary players to standouts such as Sean Elliott and Derrick Williams. UA fans should be forever grateful to Fogg, who served as the host on Williams’ recruiting trip to Arizona’s campus before the 2009 season.
McMillan and Fogg also came up big late in memorable games at McKale Center.
McMillan converted the “McMiracle” or “McClutch” last-second shot against Oregon State in 1986 after picking up a loose ball from a deflected inbounds pass from Kerr that was almost the length of the floor. That victory unseated the Beavers as the dominant team in the Pac-10. The Cats won their first conference title that season.
Arizona beat USC and former coach Kevin O’Neill 86-84 in double-overtime on March 6, 2010, after Fogg sank three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point shot with 0.02 seconds left in regulation. The pressure-packed free throws tied the score at 69 and forced the first overtime.
“I wish I could tell you that I’ve got ice water going through my veins, but, man, I was shaking,” Fogg told reporters after the game.
McMillan and Kerr comprise the only UA backcourt with each player ranked in the top 10 on UA’s career three-point field-goal percentage list. Kerr is tops with his 57.3 percentage and McMillan is sixth at 41.1 percent.
Sean Elliott (1986-1989) vs. Solomon Hill (2010-2013)
This matchup is unfair for Hill, not because he would not welcome the challenge of playing against the greatest Wildcat in the history of the program. Most players would be at a disadvantage against Elliott, especially a player like Hill who is blossoming but has not yet reached his potential.
Hill would benefit from seeing up close the manner in which Elliott played. No other UA player is better to emulate than the school’s career scoring leader with 2,555 points, which at the time topped Lew Alcindor‘s Pac-10 record. He is the only Wildcat to lead the program in scoring four consecutive seasons.
Former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, an Arizona nemesis, once said about Elliott: “He plays as though he invented the game of basketball.”
Elliott was the third overall pick in the 1989 NBA draft, taken by San Antonio. That was the highest a UA player was drafted at the time. Hill is not projected to be picked in the first two rounds, according to NBADraft.net. There is always next year for Hill to further prove himself as a versatile prospect.
“I think his progress won’t just be felt in one statistical area,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “He’s always given us a lot of things as a player, and that well roundedness is what we want him to do better more than any single stat.”
Tom Tolbert (1987-1988) vs. Derrick Williams (2010-2011)
This is one spot the 2010-11 could have an advantage over the 1987-88 club because of the way Williams could extend his game to the perimeter. Tolbert, however, would be a load for Williams to handle around the basket.
Significant in Arizona’s tournament run to its first Final Four in 1988 was the way Tolbert outplayed North Carolina All-American forward J.R. Reid in the Elite Eight game won by the Wildcats 70-52. Tolbert scored 18 of his 21 points in the second half. He shot 7-of-11 from the field after halftime and scored 12 points during a decisive 19-6 run.
That run started with Tolbert’s acrobactic, behind-the-back, reverse shot that went in and drew Reid’s third foul. Tolbert made the free throw for the three-point play that put Arizona ahead to stay 43-42. Reid and Tolbert were both about 6-8 but Reid weighed 256 pounds compared to Tolbert at 240, but Tolbert somehow got the circus shot to go in.
“I figured it had a 100-to-1 shot to go in,” Tolbert told reporters after the game. “I’ve made shots like that in practice, but never with a 256-pound monster hanging on me.”
Williams made an acrobatic shot of his own against Texas last year enabling the Wildcats to advance to the Sweet 16. With 9.6 seconds left, Arizona got the ball into Williams, who put his head down and charged toward the basket. He was bumped hard by Jordan Hamilton and blindly flung the ball toward the basket as he tried to lighten the impact with the floor. The ball went in and Williams hit the free throw, putting Arizona ahead by the winning margin of 70-69.
“If we would have lost the game, I would have taken it really hard on myself knowing that I didn’t have a great game,” said Williams, who had 17 points in the game but shot 4-of-14 from the field. “A lot of people on my team feed off of me.”
The 2010-11 team fed off Williams much like the 1987-88 team fed off Elliott, one other rare similarity between the two teams.
Anthony Cook (1985-88) vs. Jesse Perry (2011-2012)
Another matchup pitting players with different styles at the same position, although Perry (6-7 and 217) is more of a power forward playing at the post position.
Cook, a wiry 6-9 and 195 pounds, ranks in the top five of UA’s career statistical categories such as blocked shots (record holder with 278), rebounding (861), and field-goal percentage (62.9). In the 1987-88 season, Cook was instrumental to the Wildcats’ success. He averaged 15.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. He also shot 61.8 percent from the field.
He may not have been physically imposing but the way he played was huge.
After Arizona won its first-round game against Cornell in the 1988 NCAA tournament, Lute Olson turned to Cook in the postgame press conference and said, “Flex for us, Anthony. Show these guys how big you really are.”
“We used to think we were playing with four guys,” Olson continued, “but then we’d find out that Anthony was standing sideways.”
Perry, a junior college transfer, looks like he means business with his fierce expression and those long and wild dreadlocks. He proved he can be a big-game performer, scoring 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting against Connecticut in Arizona’s 65-65 loss in last year’s Elite Eight game. He also pulled down seven rebounds.
A little-known fact is Perry, because of his aggressive style, went to the free-throw line with the most frequency in 2010-11 behind only Williams. Perry shot a free throw an average of every 8.1 minutes while Williams’ incredible average was at 3.4 minutes. Perry leads the Wildcats this season with a free throw attempt an average of every 7 minutes.
“He always offensive rebounds, he gets fouled, he’s getting better on our defensive end as he learns what we do,” Sean Miller told the media last season about Perry.
1987-1988 key reserves: Kenny Lofton, Joe Turner, Jud Buechler, Harvey Mason, Matt Muehlebach, Sean Rooks and Mark Georgeson.
2010-2011 key reserves: Kevin Parrom, Jamelle Horne, Jordin Mayes, Kyryl Natyazhko and Brendon Lavender
Arizona’s reserves of 1987-88 started the tradition of the Gumbies — those loveable guys on the bench who seemingly stood and cheered for every basket made.
Lofton was lightning quick and could jump out of the gym, exhibiting the skills of a center fielder, a position he played for 17 seasons in the major leagues. As a sixth man, he gave Olson’s team a tremendous change of pace, especially taking over for Kerr, who was not fleet of foot but made up for that by taking care of the ball.
Buechler, a future NBA player who averaged 11.7 minutes a game in 1987-88, also spelled Elliott adequately to give the All-American forward enough rest. Mason and Turner — who each added charisma to the team – did their part by giving enough support for McMillan, Tolbert and Cook.
Muehlebach and Georgeson played sparingly and Rooks redshirted that season. They formed the nucleus of the Gumbies.
Miller’s reserves in 2010-11 were symbolized by their fortitude. Parrom overcame early foot injuries to be a catalyst for the Wildcats. Horne, a senior, did not sulk and continued to try his hardest when Perry took over his starting position. Mayes was an overlooked freshman guard during the recruiting process who relished playing in pressurized moments.
Natyazhko and Lavender never gave up. Natyazhko played solid in the Pac-10 tournament for the Wildcats. Lavender, who struggled with his perimeter shot most of the season, kept working on that part of his game.
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!