The odd point-guard couple of Mike Bibby and Jason Terry meets again, this time in the NBA Finals.
The fire of Terry matched with the ice of Bibby made Arizona’s chemistry flow 14 years ago when the Wildcats won the NCAA title. Now they will try to offset the other for their first NBA ring.
“They were always different,” former teammate Josh Pastner said this morning from his Memphis basketball office, where he is approaching his third season as the Tigers’ head coach. “J.T. was always outgoing, the funny guy. Mike was the quiet one.
“But as competitors they’re very much the same. Very intense. They had absolutely no conflicts (with Bibby starting as a true freshman and Terry the top sub as a sophomore in 1996-97). They actually got along and respected each other.”
More than 13 years after they played their last game together with the Wildcats — an Elite Eight loss to Utah in 1998 after winning it all in 1997 — Bibby and Terry still have championship aspirations. Bibby and the Miami Heat host Terry and the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Seventeen Arizona alums have appeared in the last 16 seasons, including Terry in 2006 when the Mavericks lost to the Heat. This is Bibby’s first trip to the championship round.
Overall, the UA alums have won a total of 12 NBA championships. The last time a pair of former Wildcats met in the NBA Finals was in 2003, when Steve Kerr and San Antonio defeated Richard Jefferson and New Jersey, 4-2.
Aside from their skills — Terry’s defense and timely shooting and Bibby’s playmaking and setting the tone — Pastner said one significant reason why they are in the NBA Finals goes back to their two years together at Arizona.
“Look at it this way: A lot of their development occurred when they went against each other every day in practice at the UA,” Pastner said. “I mean, you’re talking about two lottery picks competing hard against the other for two years under a Hall of Fame coach like Lute Olson.
“For those guys to be still going strong after all these years speaks volumes for what Coach Olson did for those guys and that program.”
The beginning of the 1996-97 season was not easy for Terry, who realized Bibby was a highly-touted recruit from Phoenix Shadow Mountain brought in to be the starter. Terry played approximately 10 minutes a game as a freshman in 1995-96, biding his time behind Reggie Geary.
Three games into the 1996-97 season, Terry was shooting only 34.4 percent from the field. In a pivotal bounce-back win after the Wildcats lost at New Mexico, Terry led the UA over Utah and All-American forward Keith Van Horn in Anaheim. Terry scored 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting, had four assists and only one turnover.