Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats 20 years ago today: Optimism, frustration follow OT loss against Michigan


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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. 21, 1996, when sixth-ranked Arizona lost to No. 4 Michigan in overtime 73-71 at The Palace at Auburn Hills, Mich., near Detroit. 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. 21, 1996, The Palace at Auburn Hills (Mich.)

Mike Bibby was angry with himself for not being able to make a difference in the end.

Mike Dickerson was upset and placed the blame for another loss by Arizona on himself.

The Cats were a bit depressed because deep down they knew they were capable of winning tonight’s Top 10 showdown with Michigan, and that their 73-71 overtime loss here at The Palace should not have been a loss but a victory to savor and embrace.

”I had the shots. I just couldn’t hit them,” Dickerson said. ”I couldn’t buy a bucket. And I was open. I was shooting what I thought were good shots.”

At least, Bibby thought, Dickerson had a chance at making a difference, although Bibby did his best by scoring a team-high 19 points before fouling out with nearly three minutes left in regulation.

”I was real mad because when they called the foul, I realized that was my fifth,” Bibby said. ”It was the first time I’ve been out of a game (on fouls) in I can’t remember how long. It was really frustrating.”

”Frustrating” might have been the key word for Arizona because it was the little things that proved to be the big difference.

• Such as offensive rebounds. Michigan had too many in the second half (11).

• Such as the unbearable 13 free throws UA missed for the game, 11 in the second half alone.

• Such as turnovers. UA had 22 for the game, five in the opening minutes.

”We knew coming in that we could win,” junior Bennett Davison said. ”But we also knew we’d have to play very well. We just didn’t do some of the little things we wanted to do. Had we, the outcome would have been different.”

Now, Arizona (5-2) heads home for the holidays with its second loss of the season. It was the little things that did in the Cats, perhaps more so than the play of the Wolverines, a team everyone in Michigan is saying is the second coming of the Fab Five.

The most crucial statistic probably came at the free throw line. UA went 12 for 23 in the second half, denying it the chance to win in regulation.

”Everyone’s always said that if we didn’t hit our free throws that it would finally catch up to us,” Davison said. ”And it did.”

Consider that UA nearly beat the Wolverines in front of their fans, while shooting a season-low 38.5 percent from the field, with little depth on the bench, with Bibby fouled out, its No. 1 scorer (Dickerson) struggling and without Miles Simon or another scholarship player available.

Jason Lee was declared academically eligible late Friday, but by the time UA basketball officials had received notice, Lee had already headed home for the holidays.

”Do you think we could have used Jason Lee?” Olson asked rhetorically. ”A guy who can shoot it?”

But Olson defended his outmanned team. When a reporter asked if it was a major blow to lose to Michigan – which was celebrating as if it had just won the Big Ten championship – Olson just grinned.

”We were playing in a very hostile environment with a very young team, and our best scorer has a bad shooting game, and our point guard fouls out, and we still had a chance to win it,” Olson said. ”I don’t think (it was bad). To me, it was a very good basketball experience. It was a loss, and we don’t like taking losses. But the gain is much greater than the loss is.”

— Steve Rivera

* * * * *

Divine intervention mercifully ended Michael Dickerson’s scoring drought, but he still could not not become the savior for the Wildcats in their overtime loss to Michigan.

After going 31 minutes, 46 seconds without a field goal, Dickerson scored with 3:47 left in overtime. He kissed his hand and pointed it skyward.

“I was thanking God for helping me make that shot,” said Dickerson, a deeply religious person. “I guess he didn’t want me to make any after that. It just wasn’t meant to be.”

Dickerson would only take one other shot after that, a 3-pointer — he missed 16 of his 20 field goal tries in the game.

Travis Conlan blanketed the UA scoring machine late in the game, but Dickerson said the Michigan defense wasn’t the main reason for his futility.

“I had some really good looks, and I felt good about a lot of them when they left my hand,” said Dickerson, who finished with nine points after entering the game with a 25.5-point-per-game average. He went 0-for-7 from 3-point range.

— Javier Morales

*****

NOTABLE

There is still no official word on whether Simon will be eligible to play this weekend. If he isn’t eligible, a winter session course he is taking might get him eligible. But if that’s the case, Simon would miss the Fiesta Classic and the upcoming Pacific 10 Conference games against Stanford and California at McKale Center.

— Steve Rivera


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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.

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