Sean Elliott lifts 1987-1988 team to overtime victory over 1993-1994 squadby Javier Morales on Apr. 17, 2012, under Sports
Javier Morales took first place in the 2010 Arizona Press Club’s Metro Sports Reporting category
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 1987-88 and 1993-94 teams.
A couple of minutes after the thrilling finish of the 1996-97 vs. 2000-01 semifinal of the Arizona Elite Eight Event, the next two legendary Wildcat teams took the court at McKale Center and the lights from the rafters shook from the noise.
The scene at McKale conjured memories from when Arizona swept USC and UCLA for the first time in the arena in the 1978-79 season, the Wildcats’ first in the Pac-10 with Fred Snowden as coach. This was like Arizona beating Duke in 1987 or again in 1991 in double-overtime at McKale, multiplied.
You thought the roar at McKale Center after Derrick Williams’ game-saving block against Washington last season was deafening?
Drunk with emotion from the classic finish that just transpired between the 1996-97 and 2000-01 teams, Arizona’s fans were immediately treated to the sight of the program’s best player — Sean Elliott of the 1987-88 team — preparing to face the Wildcats’ best backcourt in history — Damon Stoudamire and Khalid Reeves of the 1993-94 team.
The voice of the late Roger Sedlmayr, the arena’s former public-address announcer, was played when Steve Kerr of the 1987-88 team went to midcourt during the introductions of the starting lineups. The crowd’s imitation of Sedlymayr’s “Steeeeeve Kerrrrrr” announcement could be heard on Cherry Avenue a block away.
When post player Anthony Cook of the 1987-88 team shook hands with counterpart Joseph Blair of the 1993-94 club it looked like the number “10″. Cook, 6-foot-9 and 205 pounds, was 60 pounds lighter than Blair, who was listed at 6-10 and 265.
The backcourts comprised of two of the best leaders in UA hoops history — Kerr vs. Stoudamire — and two of the more quiet, yet productive players in Craig McMillan (Lute Olson’s first Parade All-American) of the 1987-88 team against Reeves (the school’s single-season scoring leader with 848 points in that 1993-94 season).
Tom Tolbert of 1987-88 and Ray Owes of 1993-94 were workmanlike at the power forward spots, although Tolbert was a bit more animated and loose. Olson could lose his voice yelling at Tolbert to remain focused. Not so with Owes, who had the most serious look on the court, rivaling that of McMillan.
Reggie Geary, one of Olson’s best defenders in the coach’s 25 years at Arizona, relished the opportunity to try to throw Elliott off his game, but Elliott did not seem fazed from the start.
The All-American and national player of the year ripped the 1993-94 team thanks to the offensive flow of the 1987-88 team, which continues to own the school record for highest field-goal percentage (54.5 percent). Elliott scored 34 points off 14-of-29 shooting from the field, converting 6-of-12 from three-point range.
The teams were evenly matched for the most part with the lead changing hands 14 times and neither team leading by more than seven points. The 1993-94 team matched its largest lead of seven points, 79-72, with 3:54 left in the game as Stoudamire manuevered around a pick by Owes on top of the key to drill a three-pointer.
The 1987-88 team called a timeout to regroup from the spurt of five unanswered points from the 1993-94 team.
The 1987-88 team started the game on fire, opening a 15-8 lead, getting two three-point baskets from Kerr, a jumper from McMillan and another three-point basket from Elliott.
Reeves kept the 1993-94 team close early, scoring 11 of its first 13 points.
The shots kept falling for the 1987-88 team, however, and after a baseline jumper by Tolbert, it held a 28-21 lead with 8:37 left in the first half.
The 1993-94 team continued to chip away by getting the ball to Reeves, Stoudamire and Blair at the post. After a short hook shot by Blair with 2:52 left in the half, the 1993-94 team trimmed the 1987-88 lead to 39-37.
Geary stripped Elliott as time was winding down, and reserve forward Corey Williams filled the lane on a pass from Geary to finish the first half with a layup as time expired to give the 1993-94 team a 43-40 halftime lead.
The 1993-94 team continued its surge after the break, and after an 11-4 run fueled by six points by Stoudamire, its lead was extended to 57-50. Olson used the speedy Kenny Lofton off the bench often against Stoudamire but Stoudamire kept in the flow of the game for the most part.
Elliott took control when the 1987-88 team needed him the most. He hit two quick three-pointers to put keep the game close. The 1993-94 team quickly called a timeout to regroup. The Gumbies — the 1987-88 reserves — were doing their part cheering on their teammates and frolicking as Matt Muehlebach and Sean Rooks playfully tried to snap each other with a towel.
Both teams traded baskets for much of the remainder of the game, and the 1987-88 team found itself down 80-74 with 2:35 left. That’s when things got wild.
After sprawling on the ground for a loose ball, Jud Buechler tossed the ball ahead to Lofton, who located Buechler open on the wing for a three-pointer and got the 1987-88 team within three points.
Elliott blocked off the passing lane, and tapped an errant pass to Kerr, who dribbled down the court and spot up for a three-pointer that hit nothing but net to tie the game at 80 with 1:21 remaining.
After a Reeves jumper and a Blair free throw, the 1993-94 team took an 83-80 lead with 40 seconds left. McMillan then received a pass from Elliott and tried a three-pointer from the corner. The shot was short and Cook was able to reach high for the tip-in, cutting the lead to 83-82 with only 18 seconds remaining.
Stoudamire was fouled with 14 seconds remaining, and he uncharacteristically missed the first free-throw attempt. He ranks No. 10 on the Arizona career charts with a free-throw percentage of 80.4 percent. He made the second to put the 1993-94 team ahead 84-82.
The 1987-88 team, out of timeouts, quickly brought the ball up the court. Coming off a high screen by Cook, Elliott received the ball with Geary tightly guarding him on the right wing.
Geary, aware of Elliott’s deadly quick first step to the basket, did not crowd him too much, allowing Elliott some space just outside the three-point line … the clock ticked down 7 … 6 … 5 … 4 … the McKale crowd was on its feet holding its collective breath.
Elliott drove toward the baseline and pulled up for a jump shot, avoiding the help defense by Owes, and nailed the mid-range shot at the buzzer to send the game into overtime with an 84-84 tie.
Kerr nailed a three-pointer after the 1987-88 team won the overtime tip. Elliott then converted on a strong move to the basket, using that quick first step, to lay the ball in and give the 1987-88 team an 89-84 lead.
The 1993-94 team could not respond, going scoreless for the first three minutes of overtime. The 1987-88 team built its lead to 92-84 before Stoudamire nailed a three-pointer with 1:45 remaining.
From there, it came down to free throws for the 1987-88 team, and it converted. Kerr, Elliott and Tolbert made all six of their attempts down the stretch as the 1987-88 team held on for a 98-92 victory.
The win set the stage for Arizona’s first Final Four team — 1987-88 — against the Wildcats’ first national championship team — 1996-97 — for the Arizona Elite Eight Event title.