TucsonCitizen.com Arizona Elite Eight Event: 2000-2001 versus 1996-1997by Javier Morales on Feb. 15, 2012, under Sports
Javier Morales took first place in the 2010 Arizona Press Club’s Metro Sports Reporting category
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: Four players were drafted in the first two rounds of the 2001 NBA draft — Richard Jefferson, first round, 13th pick overall (Rockets); Gilbert Arenas, second round, 30th pick (Warriors); Michael Wright, second round, 38th pick (Knicks); and Loren Woods, second round, 45th pick (Timberwolves).
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 had five players drafted in 1998 and 1999, three of them in the first round — Mike Bibby, second pick overall in 1998, Grizzlies; Michael Dickerson, 14th pick in 1998, Rockets; and Jason Terry, 10th pick in 1999, Hawks.
First Round Arizona Elite Eight Event Matchups:
>> Poll: 1987-1988 versus 2010-2011. Story: TucsonCitizen.com analysis
>> Poll: 1993-1994 versus 2004-2005. Story: TucsonCitizen.com analysis
>> Poll: 1996-1997 versus 2002-2003. Story: TucsonCitizen.com analysis
>> Poll: 1975-1976 versus 2000-2001. Story: TucsonCitizen.com analysis
EDITOR NOTE: The following is a fictional depiction of what could occur between the 1996-97 and 2000-01 teams. The quotes used are also fictional.
VOTE ON HOW YOU FEEL THIS GAME STORY SHOULD END AT WILDABOUTAZCATS.NET!!!
The buzz at a standing-room-only McKale Center before this semifinal game of the Arizona Elite Eight Event — pitting the only two Wildcat teams to advance to an NCAA title game — centered around which starting lineup matchup was most intriguing.
Mike Bibby vs. Jason Gardner — A couple of young leaders who pioneered Point Guard U., their retired jerseys hanging from the rafters.
Miles Simon vs. Gilbert Arenas — Simon and his Final Four MVP credentials going against one of Arizona’s most potent shooting guards in the program’s history.
Michael Dickerson vs. Richard Jefferson — Dickerson with his equally strong defensive and offensive capabilities against the athletic Jefferson, who always had the capability to go for 19 points and eight rebounds.
Bennett Davison vs. Michael Wright — The wiry athletic Davison with springs for legs against the burly, strong Wright, who owned the paint around the basket.
A.J. Bramlett vs. Loren Woods — The efficient Bramlett who ended his career as a very strong rebounder against shot-blocking extraordinaire Woods.
Indicative of the 1996-97 team’s resiliency, it never gave up after falling behind by as many as 22 points. Bibby, Simon and Co. forced the 2000-01 team into an uncharacteristic 21 turnovers, including 12 during the game’s final 11 minutes. Conversely, the 1996-97 team committed just six turnovers the entire game and outscored the the 2000-01 team in points off turnovers by a 25-6 margin.
“The one thing I can always can count on with that ’96-97 team is that no situation was too much to overcome,” said Arizona coach Lute Olson, whose team beat three No. 1 seeds en route to the 1997 NCAA championship. “Mike (Bibby) and Miles (Simon) and those guys always know how to make things interesting don’t they?”
After a resounding dunk on a breakaway by Jefferson gave the 2000-01 team its largest lead of 54-32 with 11:21 left in the game, the 2000-01 team committed turnovers on four straight possessions giving the 1996-97 team life and momentum. The 1996-97 team took advantage of the sloppy passes, slicing the 2000-01 lead to nine points — 54-45 — with 6:35 to play.
The 2000-01 team, behind two three-pointers from Arenas, used an 8-3 spurt and took what looked like an insurmountable 14-point lead — 62-48 — with only 4:37 remaining.
“It was back and forth like a prize fight,” Arenas said afterward. “They took our best punch but kept coming back; we were not about to back down ourselves.”
That’s when Bibby started to take over, scoring 11 of the next 18 points for the 1996-97 team. The 2000-01 team would score just five points during the next four minutes. That stretch included four turnovers by the 2000-01 team, which also went 3-for-6 from the free throw line in that span. A Bibby three-pointer cut the lead to seven points with 1:46 left in regulation, followed by a Davison free throw and layup from Dickerson that cut the 1996-97′s deficit to 64-60 with 59 seconds to play.
Gardner, a career 77.8 percent free-throw shooter, then split a pair at the charity stripe for the 2000-01 team before Bibby, who was fouled by Wright on an aggressive move to the basket, swished two free throws to get the 1996-97 team within 65-62 with 44 seconds left.
“No such thing as an easy free throw with all that pressure on the line,” UA assistant coach Jim Rosborough said.
Again, the 2000-01 team split two free throws (by Woods) on their next possession before Bramlett scored on a tip-in to get the 1996-97 Wildcats within 66-64 with 26 seconds remaining. With the McKale Center crowd on its feet, and the roar deafening, the 1996-97 team put up a strong press on the inbounds. The 2000-01 team managed to get the ball up the floor before Jefferson was fouled with 12 seconds left.
Jefferson split yet another pair of free throws for the 2000-01 team to give it a 67-64 lead. That’s when unthinkable happened. Bibby took the inbounds and handled the ball to the other end of the court. He pulled up at the top of the key for an off-balance three-point attempt that hit nothing but net with six seconds left while being fouled by Gardner, who lost his balance and barreled into Bibby. That tied the game at 67 and gave Bibby the chance to put the 1996-97 team ahead.
Olson called a timeout to try to ice Bibby, who teammate Jason Terry once said had “ice water in his veins.” Olson also devised a plan in the huddle — for each team — depending on the outcome of Bibby’s free-throw attempt.
The 1996-97 team, invoking memories of its improbable comeback win over South Alabama in the first round of the 1997 NCAA tournament, used a 35-13 run over the final 10:02 to tie the game at 67 and put the game in Bibby’s hands with six seconds remaining.
“Man oh man,” Terry said shaking his head with that familiar smile. “I can envision Coach O saying that a thousand times … ‘Man oh man’.”
The outcome is not only in Bibby’s hands now. It’s also in yours. Vote on what you think would/should happen next in this classic matchup at WILDABOUTAZCATS.net. Here are the scenarios to choose from:
Scenario 1: Bibby makes the free throw, completing the four-point play and putting the 1996-97 team ahead 68-67 with six seconds left. The 2000-01 team tries to get a clean shot off but the 1996-97 defense is strong enough, causing Gardner to come up short on a contested three-point shot. The 1996-97 team wins 68-67 in regulation to advance to the Arizona Elite Eight Event championship against either the 1993-94 team or the 1987-88 team.
Scenario 2: Bibby misses the free throw and the game remains tied. The 2000-01 team does not call a timeout and Gardner races the length of the floor and puts up an off-balance jumper on top of the lane that bangs off the rim. The game goes into overtime and the 1996-97 takes over and completes the dramatic comeback for a victory. The 1996-97 team advances with the extra-period effort to the Arizona Elite Eight Event championship against either the 1993-94 team or the 1987-88 team.
Scenario 3: Bibby misses the free throw and the game remains tied. The 2000-01 team does not call a timeout and Gardner races the length of the floor and puts up an off-balance jumper on top of the lane that bangs off the rim. The game goes into overtime and the 2000-01 gathers itself and prevails. The 2000-01 team survives in the extra period and advances to the Arizona Elite Eight Event championship against either the 1993-94 team or the 1987-88 team.
Scenario 4: Bibby makes the free throw, completing the four-point play and putting the 1996-97 team ahead 68-67 with six seconds left. The 2000-01 team tries to get a clean shot off against the tough 1996-97 defense. Gardner gets free off a pick by Woods and launches a three-pointer at the buzzer that … hits nothing but the net. The 2000-01 team survives with a 70-68 victory in regulation and advances to the Arizona Elite Eight Event championship against either the 1993-94 team or the 1987-88 team.