Arizona Basketball

Race is on for Arizona Wildcats, who end 11-year drought of repeat Sweet 16 appearances


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PP: Productivity Points (Points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocked shots, FGs made, FTs made added together and then subtracted by missed FGs, missed FTs, personal fouls and turnovers)
MIN: Minutes played overall
PR: Productivity rating per minute played (Productivity points divided by minutes played)


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Sean Miller has achieved consecutive Sweet 16 trips three times in his 10 years of coaching

Sean Miller has achieved consecutive Sweet 16 trips three times in his 10 years of coaching

If the strength of a program is based on consecutive NCAA tournament Sweet 16 appearances over an extended period of time, the Arizona Wildcats are one of the best.

Their trip this week to the Sweet 16 in Anaheim, Calif., marks the sixth time over the last 26 years (since their Final Four run 1988) that they have made consecutive appearances that far.

UCLA has achieved five consecutive trips in the same span with the last repeat from 2007 and 2008.

No shocker that Duke has gone in consecutive years 14 times since 1988. Kansas is at 11 but had its three-year streak snapped this year by Stanford. North Carolina and Kentucky have achieved consecutive trips nine times. In somewhat of a surprise, Michigan State is only at seven with Tom Izzo in a current three-year streak. It seems like Izzo is in the Sweet 16 every year.

Louisville has six repeat performances like Arizona, including this season. Florida is now at four, three of which have come under Billy Donovan since 1999.

Guess how many times Jim Boeheim has achieved consecutive trips to the Sweet 16 since the 1987-88 season? The second-leading winning coach in college basketball has achieved only four repeat Sweet 16 performances in that span. He has only five overall dating to his first season in 1976-77. Underachiever?

Sean Miller is up to three now at Xavier and Arizona in only 10 years of coaching. Mark Few, whose name was mentioned as a candidate for the Arizona coaching vacancy at the time Miller was hired in 2009, has only one consecutive Sweet 16 achievement to his credit. And that was in his first two seasons at Gonzaga from 1999-2000 and 2000-2001.



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After Arizona dismantled Gonzaga 84-61 last night somebody at the press conference asked Miller if he wants to be removed from the list of the best coaches who have yet to reach the Final Four.

“Of course I would like to get off that list, but the way I look at it is, every year you give yourself a chance to compete for a Pac-12 championship, compete for a Pac 12 tournament championship,” said Miller, who is only 45. “We’ve been in the championship game of our own conference tournament three times and lost three heart-breakers, but as much as you focus on the end you have to focus on while we’re there and that’s more important.

“For us, this is our third time in the Sweet 16 in the five years I’ve been at Arizona and what we have to do is be ourselves. It’s going to happen. If we continue to do things the right way. You need some good fortune. Coach (Lute) Olson talks about that all the time. Some of the greatest teams in our program’s history didn’t reach the Final Four and perhaps the one that won the national championship (in 1997) you could put in the category that wasn’t maybe as expected or as talented.”

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The 1996-97 national title was Olson’s best coaching job in his quarter-century at Arizona and not only because the Wildcats won it all. Olson was forced to replace four starters from the previous team that lost to Kansas in the Sweet 16. Reggie Geary, Corey Williams, Ben Davis and Joseph Blair were replaced by Mike Bibby, Michael Dickerson, Bennett Davison and A.J. Bramlett.

Miles Simon and, to a certain extent, Dickerson were the only constants from 1995-96 team that factored into Arizona’s title run. Jason Terry and Bramlett averaged less than 10 minutes a game in 1995-96.

Olson replaced four starters again and reached the Sweet 16 in consecutive years from 2000-01 to 2001-02. The 2000-01 team played in the national title game. In the following, year Arizona lost to Oklahoma in the Sweet 16. Only Jason Gardner was the constant for both teams in the starting lineup. Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson, Michael Wright and Loren Woods in 2001 were replaced by Salim Stoudamire, Luke Walton, Ricky Anderson and Channing Frye in 2002.

Gardner, Stoudamire, Walton, Anderson and Frye returned in 2003 and the Wildcats advanced to the Elite Eight.

Olson’s best two teams, with their starting lineups intact from at least a Sweet 16 the previous year (1998 and 2003), did not go past the Elite Eight.

“The thing that’s captivating about our history is it’s not the Final Fours, we probably have competed for a Final Four 12 times and that’s what you have to do, put yourself in the race,” Miller said. “So we’re in the race.”

Arizona is in the race with a consecutive trip to the Sweet 16 without three starters from last year — Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill and Brandon Ashley. T.J. McConnell, Gabe York and Aaron Gordon have stepped into those roles.


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One of the difference-makers is Rondae Hollis-Jefferson coming off the bench and igniting Arizona as the sixth man in the Wildcats’ victories over Weber State and Gonzaga. Hollis-Jefferson has an astounding productivity rating of 1.327 in the two victories. Gordon has a rating of 1.018 in the NCAA tournament. A solid mark is .650 or higher.

The contributions of Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson in the NCAA tournament serve as indicator that Miller can reload after the program’s 11-year drought without consecutive trips to the Sweet 16. Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson may be gone to the NBA next season along with Nick Johnson. That core would be missed.

But Miller has reinforcements on the way with the likes of Stanley Johnson, Kadeem Allen, Craig Victor and Dusan Ristic. The nucleus is there. The race is on.


[table “” not found /] publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.


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