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 8, 1997, when Arizona came up short 79-77 to California at the Cow Palace at San Francisco. 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 8, 1997, Cow Palace, San Francisco
In a tension-filled locker room, Miles Simon tried to lend some leadership after watching helplessly toward the end of another Arizona meltdown.
“Keep your heads up, guys,” Simon said. “You all know what you can do. It’s not over yet.”
Maybe he should have told his teammates they know what they can’t do.
After losing a one-point thriller at Stanford two days ago, a result of ineffective play in the last couple of minutes, Arizona lost 79-77 today to California when a lack of execution resulted in a failed 25-foot jumper by Michael Dickerson with five seconds remaining.
The Wildcats finished the regular season 11-7 and in fifth place in the Pac-10, their worst showing since coach Lute Olson’s first season of 1983-84. It’s the first time the UA, 19-9 overall, didn’t reach 20 wins in the regular season.
The Arizona locker room scene reportedly included a coach and player getting into a heated argument. The athletic directors of each school had a spirited conversation of a lack of crowd control after a Cal fan reportedly got close to Olson after the game and flipped him off. A wild scene, indeed.
The Wildcats finished 3-8 on the road. And worse, yesterday’s setback could mean the UA is a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, rather than a No. 3 seed.
“I had to take the shot,” Dickerson said, defiantly. “I mean, I was wide open, and I thought there was only two seconds left.
“I guess there were about four, but in that situation, you can’t hesitate. You don’t have time to waste.”
Dickerson’s failed jumper came after Sean Marks made two free throws with 20.3 seconds left.
Jason Terry dribbled past half court and looked for A.J. Bramlett in the post area, but Al Grigsby strayed from Bennett Davison and doubled down on Bramlett. So Terry went to his second option, Dickerson on the wing.
Dickerson, selected to the All-Pac-10 team earlier in the day, took a couple of dribbles and heaved the shot that bounced off the front of the rim. The UA coaching staff wanted him to penetrate.
“We executed part of that play, but not all of it,” said UA assistant coach Jim Rosborough, who demonstrated the intensity of the game by slamming the scorer’s table late in the game. “I mean, (Dickerson) is the quickest kid in the league.
“He should have taken it to the basket. We probably should have set a screen, so he could drive off the screen, but …”
Olson said Dickerson lost track of time because the shot clock was difficult to see on the floor in the corner, and the game clock was hundreds of feet away, high on the towering wall of the Cow Palace.
“Maybe Cal should have spent some money to put the clock on top of the basket, where it belongs,” Olson said.
The game was moved from Harmon Gym to the Cow Palace because it was viewed as a revenue producer by the Cal athletic department. Harmon seats 6,578 and the Cow Palace holds 12,800.
— Javier Morales
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After today’s loss to California and a fifth-place finish in the Pac-10, Arizona players were concerned about even getting in the tournament.
”I don’t care where we go, as long as we’re in there,” Jason Terry said. ”This team can create havoc for anybody with our ability to get out and pressure people defensively. But it doesn’t matter where we’re seeded. We’re in a must-win situation now. We’ll see what this team is made of now. We can’t afford to have mental letdowns.”
Michael Dickerson agreed.
”It doesn’t matter where we’re seeded,” he said. ”I don’t believe in that. I believe that you play, and it doesn’t matter who it’s against.”
Arizona couldn’t convert on a crucial possession with 17 seconds left – Dickerson took an ill-advised 25-foot shot – and Miles Simon’s last-gasp effort, a 55-footer, rimmed out.
”We’ve got to think better in late-game situations,” Olson said. ”When you’re down one and you get the ball with 20 seconds left, you don’t shoot a three. The best part of Michael’s game is his ability to penetrate. Cal couldn’t foul.”
It didn’t need to. Dickerson’s miss allowed Cal’s Prentice McGruder to eventually get to the free-throw line. He hit one of two, setting up Simon’s last shot.
”I tried,” Simon said. ”I thought I had a chance. It looked good. But that isn’t what lost it. Rebounding, effort, we didn’t have any of that today until it was too late.”
— 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.