A special thank you to Tucsonan G.J. Fimbres for posting a video on his Facebook page tonight, giving me the opportunity to pass along the following information from the UA championship reunion festivities at the Fox Theater in Tucson.
The Fox Theater in downtown Tucson did not only replay Arizona’s 1997 NCAA championship over Kentucky on Friday night. The stage also allowed Lute Olson to show he still has some wits about him.
Former UA center and current undergraduate assistant coach Joseph Blair, a Tucson community activist, handled the emcee duties admirably in place of what would probably have been the late Dave Sitton.
Blair asked Olson and some of the former players: “When’s the last time you watched this game?”
Olson responded to Blair: “How many times have you watched it?”
Blair answered: “I’m asking the questions …” The exchange drew plenty of laughs.
“No I didn’t watch it,” Olson said. “You know, there are clips here and there, but it hasn’t been a case of where I watched it. I saw it in person.”
More laughs from the crowd.
“Touche,” Blair said.
“I will admit,” Blair continued, “I can’t think there’s one game that I’ve watched a full game of when I played at Arizona.”
Blair then asked Olson about what he remembers most of the game against Kentucky and Rick Pitino, won by Arizona 84-79 in overtime at Indianapolis.
His first thought was about walk-on Jason Stewart, a devout Christian, providing some inspiration for the Wildcats.
“There’s a separation of church and state,” Olson said, making people wonder what he would say next. “You can’t have prayers before the game. My first concern was that Jason Stewart … I wasn’t sure we were going to get out there for the tip off because once you get him going, it’s pretty hard to stop him.”
Olson then echoed what he said after the victory more than 16 years ago: That he was impressed how Mike Bibby, Miles Simon, Michael Dickerson, Jason Terry and A.J. Bramlett, to name a few, handled Kentucky’s full-court pressure. By the second half, Pitino called off the press because of the way Bibby, Simon and Co. executed against it.
“We had five guys who could handle the ball,” Olson told Blair and the crowd. “A.J. (Arizona’s starting post player) did a good job of catching and passing the ball. That was an important thing.
“The other teams did not have the kind of passing that we had from our big guys. One of the challenges we always made to the big guys is that they’re going to be the best runners in the country. They got a lot of chances in practice to work on that.”
Laughter once again filled the Fox Theater. The coach still has it.