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 March 6, 1997, when Arizona lost a thriller to Stanford 81-80 at Maples Pavilion in Palo Alto, 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: March 6, 1997, Maples Pavilion, Palo Alto, Calif.
It was a heavyweight boxing match, a slugfest in sneakers.
Arizona and Stanford went toe-to-toe, mano a mano tonight.
Every free throw, every rebound, every possession mattered. Every move was crucial.
From Miles Simon’s shot that rimmed out with 15 seconds left to Peter Sauer’s 10-footer that was good with six seconds left, to Mike Bibby’s desperation heave. And don’t forget everything in between.
”We just didn’t get the last shot,” Arizona’s A.J. Bramlett said. ”That’s what it came down to. They hit their last shot. We didn’t.”
No. 23 Stanford was able to provide the last painful blow when Sauer hit his jumper to provide the difference in the Cardinal’s 81-80 win over No. 12 Arizona here in a bring-down-the-house game.
”It was a battle,” said Arizona’s Jason Terry, who had one of his best games, with 17 points. ”All night long it was back and forth, back and forth. When you have two heavyweight teams playing that way, it’s going to be like that.”
For Stanford, the win was about survival, one it needed to help seal the deal for an NCAA Tournament berth.
”This was a big win because of what we had on the line,” said Stanford guard Brevin Knight, who penetrated and dished the ball off to Sauer for Stanford’s game-winner. ”The two just battled, play for play. And we made the last play to win it.”
As UA’s Bennett Davison put it, ”The ball seemed go up about 10 feet and float down into the basket.”
Said Terry, ”I thought that shot was going to fall short, and I was going to get the rebound and they were going to foul me. When it went in, I was like, ‘ah, man.’ ”
The most depressed person might have been Arizona’s Michael Dickerson, who fouled out with just over two minutes left after scoring 22 points.
”I feel I let my team down by fouling out,” he said. “But we did play hard. And they needed to win it.”
Despite a couple of sad faces in UA’s post-game locker room, not all was doom and gloom.
Arizona players said they did what most suspected they couldn’t do – play Stanford close at home. Stanford was a six-point favorite, having beaten teams by an average of 24 1/2 points at home this season.
”Heck, I’m encouraged,” Terry said. ”Just because we played well. Everyone played hard for 40 minutes and there was no let-downs.”
One of UA coach Lute Olson’s first statements in the locker room was just that: You played hard and well.
”This is not a negative for us,” Olson said. ”This is the best we’ve played all year long. We need to take out the positives from the game, understand some of the things we needed to do and didn’t do, and can build on it.
”Playing this team here is going to be as tough as any team we’ll have to face. Ask UCLA and any team that has been in here. I was really pleased with how our team was mentally tough the whole game. I don’t think they gave an inch. I don’t think you’d see a better game than you saw tonight.”
The consensus of the participants is that the win puts Stanford in the NCAA Tournament and that Arizona didn’t hurt its chances when it comes to seeding when the NCAA pairings come out.
”I don’t think it hurts us, but I just didn’t want to lose anymore,” Dickerson said. ”Simply, Arizona did everything it could except win.
Added A.J. Bramlett, ”Right now the chemistry is just great. Kind of like it was earlier this year. Things are a lot better.”
— Steve Rivera
* * * * *
Arizona’s mettle was never put to the test like this all season, which could not have come at a better time with March Madness calling.
Stanford was fighting for an NCAA tournament berth. Brevin Knight was energizing his team in his final weekend at rowdy, imposing Maples Pavilion, where the Cardinal was untouchable all season.
The Wildcats, their mental toughness questioned only two weeks ago by coach Lute Olson, had to stomach 15 lead changes and four ties in the second half alone, and Michael Dickerson fouled out with 2:58 remaining.
Arizona would lose as Pete Sauer made a short jumper on the baseline with six seconds left following penetration by Knight.
The Wildcats took “about 10 steps forward,” said Bennett Davison, whose 14 points were symbolic of how the UA came of age.
“I told our guys after the game that this was not a negative,” Olson said. “I told them to take all of the positives out of it. We played really tough. I was pleased with our mental toughness. We never gave an inch. I don’t think you’ll see a better basketball game.”
After Dickerson fouled out with Arizona leading 78-77, Mark Madsen missed the first free throw, and after a 20-second timeout by the Wildcats, Tim Young was whistled for a lane violation.
Davison tipped in a basket with 2:35 left, putting the UA ahead 80-77. It would be the last basket for the Wildcats, who had a similar breakdown against UCLA at McKale Center when they were unable to score in the last three minutes.
After Kris Weems missed a 3-pointer, Knight stripped Mike Bibby of the ball and later fed Young, who made the basket with 55 seconds left to cut the lead to 80-79. The Knight-Young combination was lethal.
Knight had 12 assists and one turnover in 36 minutes with most of those passes directed to Young, who had 22 points and 17 rebounds.
“Young better carry Brevin’s books to class with the way he takes care of him out there,” Olson said, managing to smile.
But it was the Knight-to-Sauer play that knocked the Wildcats out, and avenged a one-point loss at McKale Center two months ago.
Miles Simon missed a shot in the lane with 19 seconds left. Stanford called timeout with 15 seconds remaining to set up the Knight-to-Sauer play.
“During the timeout, I told the guys that Knight was going to try to isolate and take it to us,” Olson said. “I thought we needed to double-team him immediately but one of our inside players did not attack him in time.
“By the time he got out there, Brevin was in the lane and it was too late.”
— 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.