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 Feb. 13, 1997, when Arizona lost to UCLA 66-64 at McKale Center, completing the regular-season sweep by the Bruins over the Wildcats. 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: Feb. 13, 1997, McKale Center
Michael Dickerson bowed at the free-throw line, appearing lifeless, much like Arizona’s Pac-10 title hopes, while UCLA openly celebrated.
The No. 24 Bruins escaped with a 66-64 victory tonight, sweeping the season series, in another classic between the rivals in front of 14,474 fans at McKale Center. There were 14 lead changes and 11 ties.
UCLA and USC are in full command of the conference race with 9-3 records, while 11th-ranked Arizona slipped to 7-4. The Wildcats play the Trojans, victors over the UA last month, in two days at McKale Center.
“After a disappointing loss like this, we either come out with our heads hanging, or we come out charging,” said UA coach Lute Olson, who has never lost all four games to the Los Angeles schools in one season.
Arizona, 1-5 against the Bruins in the last three years, will try to heal itself before the Trojans come to town.
“This loss is hard to take,” said Dickerson, who along with Miles Simon, carried the Wildcats. “Now we have to hope other teams beat UCLA. That’s the hardest part.”
Simon, trying to hold back his emotions as best he could, said softly: “I can’t speak for everybody else, but I’m taking this pretty hard. This is the toughest loss I’ve experienced here.”
The duo combined for 45 points, but their efforts did not match UCLA’s Charles O’Bannon, who scored 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field. With his team trailing 66-64, O’Bannon made a baseline jumper to tie the game with 59 seconds remaining.
After a timeout, the UA committed a critical turnover on a charging call on Simon. Referee Billy Giaquinto ruled that Simon rushed into Cameron Dollar, a call that Arizona does not agree with.
With A.J. Bramlett and Donnell Harris on the bench, the UA had its smaller lineup in the game while UCLA worked the ball on its next possession, J.R. Henderson, a 6’9″ forward, was able to rise above the Wildcats and hit a jumper in the lane with 18.5 seconds remaining to put UCLA ahead 66-64.
Arizona ran its motion offense without calling a timeout, hoping to catch the Bruins off-guard defensively. But UCLA, which exhibited strong defense throughout, limiting Arizona to 40.1 percent shooting, did not allow the Wildcats a clean shot at the end.
Simon was stripped of the ball near the baseline while being triple-guarded. Mike Bibby’s shot was slapped away by Jelani McCoy. In the last seconds, Simon’s desperation heave did not come close.
Some of the Wildcats collapsed to the floor, including Simon. Dickerson, who had 21 points, was openly frustrated. He stood motionless at the free-throw line. Olson, looking stunned, lightly kicked aside the basketball while walking to the locker room.
— Javier Morales
* * * * *
In the end, the Wildcats were dazed and confused, perplexed that UCLA had come into McKale to pull off the season series sweep.
What may have humbled Arizona was seeing UCLA celebrate at McKale.
”They deserved to kiss and do whatever,” Dickerson said of UCLA’s post-game antics.
But deep down for UA players, it was a sight that cut deeply.
”It hurts,” said Eugene Edgerson. ”The past UA teams haven’t lost that many games here. Any time Arizona loses on its home court, it’s pathetic to them. We can’t have this happen again. We can’t have this foolishness.”
The Wildcats folded tonight in the final minute, doing something thought to be unthinkable in the Pac-10 this season – losing at home. Arizona had been undefeated in McKale (10-0) this season until tonight.
”Down the stretch they made the plays, and we didn’t,” Olson said. ”We tried to get the ball into the hands of our most experienced players . . . then we get two turnovers. We just didn’t do a good job.”
Arizona’s final minute proved to be fatal. The tally: two turnovers, two key UCLA baskets and a poorly executed final shot.
”Our offensive selection wasn’t too good in the end,” Terry said. ”What we had to do was pull it out and set the ball up. That’s where me and Mike Bibby have to take charge and run the team. I was surprised (on the last possession) because I thought we’d set up for a play. But it was in the heat of the moment.”
UCLA shot a crisp 58.7 percent from the floor; Arizona shot 40 percent. But the amazing thing was, UCLA committed 28 turnovers and still lost.
”They had 28 turnovers?” Jason Terry asked. ”They shot 60 percent, that’s how they (won).”
Said Olson, ”Forcing them into 28 turnovers and not winning the game is just mind-boggling. To their credit, they finished shots, and we did not.”
— 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.