Javier Morales took first place in the 2010 Arizona Press Club’s Metro Sports Reporting category
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!
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.”