Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats 20 years ago today: After turbulent losses in Bay area UA’s NCAA tournament draw announced


EDITOR NOTE: 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 9, 1997, on Selection Sunday for the NCAA tournament. 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

You can access previous stories in this series by clicking on this link.

DATELINE: March 9, 1997, Selection Sunday

It is very busy day for the Arizona coaching staff. Work for their NCAA tournament first round game against Sun Belt Conference member South Alabama has already started.

”We already have tapes on them, so I’ll have an opportunity of seeing them,” Arizona coach Lute Olson said.

There will be few or no surprises when Arizona, the No. 4 seed in the Southeast Regional, plays the Jaguars, the region’s No. 13 seed, in Memphis at The Pyramid.

Olson is well aware of the tactics of South Alabama and its coach, Bill Musselman: defense and slow play.

”That’s always been his trademark,” Olson said.

Olson faced Musselman while the two were in the Big Ten Conference more than 20 years ago.

”It’s going to be a contrast in styles,” Olson said of his team’s penchant to run and gun, while South Alabama is methodical. ”They’re very physical, and Bill’s teams have always done a great job to that end and have been very athletic. . . .

”They will definitely try to slow down the pace, there’s no question.”

There was, however, some question as to UA’s seeding after the No. 15 Wildcats were swept over the weekend in the Bay area. There had been some thought that if Arizona were to lose Saturday, it could fall as low as a sixth seed.

”It’s hard to predict that,” Olson said of what he expected going into the 64-team draw. “I thought if we won two, we might have had a three seed. With two losses I didn’t know what kind of effect that had.”

When asked about his portion of the Southeast bracket, which includes No. 1-ranked Kansas, Olson said, ”There are a number of good teams in each bracket. From here on out, it’s a one-game season. It’s not easy in any of the regions, from what I gather.”

After that, he said he’d ”leave it to (the) experts” to evaluate the regions.

Some already have spoken. On ESPN’s tournament selection show last night, former Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps questioned UA’s seed.

”How did they get a four seed?” Phelps asked. ”They were 4-4 in their last eight games. They just faded away and then they get a four seed?”

Quinn Buckner said he wouldn’t be surprised if Arizona lost in the first round. And on ESPN’s Internet site, Blue Ribbon Basketball predicted Arizona would be a No. 4 seed, but that it would be placed in the West Regional.

Olson said he didn’t expect UA to play in the West.

”I didn’t even think that was on option,” Olson said. “I thought UCLA would be in the West. That’s a little bit of a surprise. (But Arizona being in the West) I thought that was the last possibility.”

— Steve Rivera

* * * * *

The thought on almost everybody’s mind in Tucson, other than who in the heck is South Alabama, must have been that Kansas is again looming in Arizona’s NCAA tournament path.

The Jayhawks are the No. 1 seed in the Southeast Regional, positioned in the same subregional in Memphis as Arizona, which is a No. 4 seed. If each team wins twice, that would set up another Sweet 16 matchup between the teams.

Kansas beat Arizona 83-80 in a classic last year in Denver. But UA coach Lute Olson would have nothing to do with anything concerning the Jayhawks today.

“There are good teams in every bracket,” Olson said when asked about Kansas. “We’re only looking at one game. This is a one-game season from here on out. It’s not easy in any regional, from what I can gather.”

Arizona can’t think about anything but South Alabama’s Jaguars anyway, especially after losing close games at Stanford and Cal. The Wildcats do not have a good history recently of winning in the NCAA tournament after ending the regular season on a losing note.

They ended the 1991-92 season with losses at UCLA and USC and wound up losing to East Tennessee State in Southeast regional first round. They lost at home to ASU in 1995 and then loss to Miami of Ohio in the Midwest regional first round.

The UA has not advanced beyond the first round in regionals outside the West.

“I think everybody has to see what they need to do to help make this team better,” Jason Terry said after Saturday’s 79-77 loss to Cal. “I mean, I don’t want to play one game and be through, and I know this team doesn’t.

“Everybody has to want it.”

— Javier Morales

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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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