EDITOR NOTE: AllSportsTucson.com will run a feature this basketball season highlighting what happened 20 years ago on that particular day commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Arizona Wildcats’ national championship. The next in the series is what occurred and what was written concerning the developments of Dec. 7, 1996, when Arizona played against Utah at The Pond in Anaheim, Calif. The information gathered is through articles written by beat reporters Steve Rivera (Tucson Citizen) and Javier Morales (Arizona Daily Star), who now are working together for AllSportsTucson.com
You can access previous stories in this series by clicking on this link.
DATELINE: Dec. 7, 1996, The Pond in Anaheim, Calif.
Arizona’s Jason Terry knew one day soon he’d have a game to be proud of. A game in which he’d play and lead as everyone wanted him to.
That game finally came – whew – for Terry today.
”This was one of those times when they keyed on Michael (Dickerson), and when they do that, one of the other wing players has got to step up,” Terry said.
And Terry, four games into this young season but seemingly an eternity in basketball terms, stepped up big time to help lead No. 15 Arizona (3-1) past No. 3 Utah (4-1), 69-61, here at Arrowhead Pond in the John R. Wooden Classic.
”I don’t think it’s that he finally came around,” Arizona assistant Jessie Evans said. ”He showed what he’s capable of doing. On this team everyone will have an opportunity to step up. And he did step up big time.”
Indeed. Terry was a major reason why Arizona stormed back from an 11-point deficit, as the sophomore guard scored 15 second-half points.
”I was talking to my high school coach (last) week, and he said this would be a great game for me to break out,” Terry said. ”He told me to play like the way I’m capable of playing. I took that to heart and played hard.”
And he did the things he does best. He cut to the basket for points. He hit his long-range jumpers. But perhaps best of all for UA followers and his teammates, he led Arizona emotionally.
During halftime, he gave a let’s-get-it-done-or-get-out speech unmatched in some time. He got on his players, perhaps something that needed to be done.
”I was the first one in here at half and jumped on the guys, telling them we needed to be aggressive,” Terry said in a tone much more subdued than his halftime fire-and-brimstone speech. ”Coach has been getting me to do that all year, but it’s taken time to get out of my shell.”
Today, Terry, who went 10 for 17 from the floor for 19 points, played with instinct and savvy – two qualities you can’t teach players. Arizona coaches have long said Terry has those qualities. When he uses them has always been the question mark.
”I’ve always wanted to be a leader and not a follower,” Terry said. ”I mean, being a leader out there is second nature to me. It just comes natural to me . . . even though I am a clown.”
That’s been his label throughout his time here. People have said he’s too content on being the laugh-a-minute player. Instead, he needs to be a guy who who is serious about his game. Last night when the team was watching game film, Terry was ”talking and talking.” Yet, when everyone was done, he came back and watched film again to get in some more detail of Utah.
When he has to get serious, he does. Today he was – even if it took him, and the team, 20 minutes to get the job done. Arizona overcame its poor first half – again – and outscored the Running, er, Sputtering Utes, 20-3 early in the second half.
”I think I need to approach every game like I did – be loose,” Terry said. ”There are times when things will get tough out there. Those are the times when you have to bear down and be tough.”
As long as Arizona gets that toughness and leadership he’s looking for, UA coach Lute Olson will be happy. And this afternoon, despite seeing his team sputter and spin out of control in the first half, he was very pleased with the final outcome.
”We’re certainly starting to get much better leadership on the court,” he said. ”I thought all three of our perimeter players (Dickerson, Terry and Mike Bibby) stepped up and communicated, and did the things that had to be done by talking. That’s something that hadn’t been done when we started the year. Miles (Simon) is such a strong leader that that doesn’t allow the secondary leader to develop. But right now, that leadership beyond the court is coming around very well.”
— Steve Rivera
* * * * *
All that needs to be said of Utah’s loss to Arizona is that All-American forward Keith Van Horn did not make a field goal in the last 26 minutes of the game.
That sums up the frustration of the Utes, whose stodgy, half-court offense was so dysfunctional against No. 15 Arizona’s quickness that they made only two field goals in the last 10 minutes.
The third-ranked Utes had far more turnovers, six, in that span, when faced against an effective trapping full-court defense. Arizona went on a 19-3 run to take control of the game in the waning minutes.
Speedster Jason Terry had two steals and eight points in that run.
“We fatigued a little at the end,” Utah coach Rick Majerus said following the John R. Wooden Classic game at The Pond in Anaheim. “They seemed to be in better condition.
“We wore down — they wore us down. They speeded us out. They have the ability to do that and we bought into it.”
The UA’s switch was flipped after Chad Mottola received a pass from Van Horn and banked in the shot to give Utah a 53-44 lead with 10:10 left in the game. The Utes, who led by as many as 14 before leading 40-29 at the half, looked as though it might hold off the Wildcats with their half-court game.
“We made them run stuff maybe other than what they normally would run,” UA coach Lute Olson said. “They set so many screens. By switching on them, and forcing them to back cut, they had to go to their secondary receiver instead of their primary receiver.
“That was really a key. The perimeter guys also did a good job of switching off. The job Bennett Davison did on Van Horn was strictly him, staying on him tough. Our perimeter guys could afford to be more aggressive to the ball with Van Horn shut down.”
Van Horn, playing in front of Lakers GM Jerry West, who sat on the front row, said he rarely has been so frustrated.
“They were fronting the post, and we were getting no movement on the weak side to take away the help,” Van Horn said. “We also weren’t able to see some of the mismatches we created. It was good defense combined with bad offense.”
— Javier Morales
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.