Arizona Basketball

Throwback Thursday: Front page of Star after Arizona Wildcats won first Pac-10 title


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The front page of The Arizona Daily Star sports page from March 4, 1986, signifying Arizona's first Pac-10 title (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

The front page of The Arizona Daily Star sports page from March 4, 1986, signifying Arizona’s first Pac-10 title (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

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While sifting through my boxes of Arizona Wildcats memorabilia I found another item to share with readers for our “Throwback Thursday” category.

The front page of The Arizona Daily Star sports section the day after Lute Olson and the Arizona Wildcats won their first Pac-10 title in 1986 was a special find. Chances are not too many people kept that section that includes a picture of Sean Elliott trying to get past UCLA player Jerald Jones during the Wildcats’ 88-76 victory at Pauley Pavilion with the legendary John Wooden in the stands.

I had a hunch it signaled great things to come for the Arizona Wildcats’ program.

The front page includes a game story written by former Star reporter Jim Elsleger and current sports columnist Greg Hansen. Some highlights:

Elsleger’s first few paragraphs:

The University of Arizona came here searching for its first Pacific-10 conference title, its first victory in Pauley Pavilion and its first sweep over UCLA.

The Wildcats went 3-0 in an 88-76 victory that their coach, Lute Olson, said typifies the heart and class of a team many said before the season wasn’t even a first-division club, let alone made of championship material.

“I’ve been in basketball for 30 years, and there are certain moments that you remember,” said Olson, who had the victory sweetened by his being named the Pac-10 Coach of the Year yesterday by the conference coaches.

“This will be among the special moments I remember the most,” he said. “I don’t think I could feel any more proud of a team. They’ve done it with great class and togetherness.”

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Site founder and award-winning sports journalist Javier Morales has published his first e-book, “The Highest Form of Living”, a fiction piece about a young man who overcomes a troubled upbringing without his lost father and wayward mother through basketball and hope. His hope is realized through the sport he loves. Basketball enables him to get past his fears. His experience on the court indirectly brings him closer to his parents in a unique, heartfelt way. Please order it at Amazon (for only $4.99) by clicking on the photo:
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“This used to be the toughest play. UCLA used to be the toughest team in the league. Now, the toughest place to play is in Tucson, and the toughest team in the league is in Tucson.”
— Steve Kerr after Arizona beat UCLA 88-76 in Pauley Pavilion in 1986 to claim the Wildcats’ first Pac-10 title

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Twenty-nine years later, the Wildcats now have 14 Pac-10/Pac-12 regular-season titles. They have beaten UCLA 12 times since then at Pauley Pavilion. They have swept UCLA 10 times after that championship 1985-86 season.

In Hansen’s column, a bold statement by Steve Kerr (a former UCLA ballboy) only three seasons after Arizona finished 4-24 overall and 1-17 in the conference:

“This used to be the toughest play,” UA guard Steve Kerr said. “UCLA used to be the toughest team in the league.

“Now, the toughest place to play is in Tucson, and the toughest team in the league is in Tucson.”

Kerr was also quoted by Elsleger saying:

“Everywhere I go they ask me if we’re Arizona State. Now, they are going to get that straight.”

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The Wildcats, who were picked to finish eighth in the conference that season, trailed UCLA 44-39 at halftime of that game 29 years ago. They responded in the second half making 75 percent of their field goal attempts and converting 19 of 22 free throws.

Olson also employed in the second half a box-and-one defense on Reggie Miller by having Craig McMillan guard him closely while the others were in a zone. Miller had 21 points by halftime. McMillan’s defense limited Miller to only seven field-goal attempts and eight points in the second half.

Miller, the most hated opponent to play Arizona, bloodied McMillan’s nose in the first half with an elbow. After the game, Miller showed his frustration by not complimenting McMillan and the Arizona defense.

Hansen’s column:

“The box-and-one didn’t affect me,” Miller said.

Huh?

“Oh, maybe McMillan should’ve been called for more fouls; he was pushing me all night. But I think the real key is that no one got the ball to me.”

Elliott, a freshman from Cholla High School, played brilliantly, scoring a career-high 28 points and nailing 10 consecutive free throws at one point.

Olson said Elliott made the shot of the game, converting a 25-foot jumper at the buzzer before halftime. Kerr also made a significant three-pointer as the shot clock expired with 6:35 remaining, giving the Wildcats a 67-66 lead.

That shot by Kerr ignited Arizona and deflated UCLA as the Wildcats went on a 14-4 run to seal their first Pac-10 title.

Hansen wrote that Arizona could start to feel the pressure in the NCAA tournament as the conference champions.

The real pressure begins now. Or does it?

“I don’t feel any pressure,” Olson said, smiling at last after a long night at the office.

“What kind of pressure can there be on a team picked to finish in eighth place, like we were?”

Touché.

ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He has also written articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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