Arizona has been here before … a number of times before. Utah has been the site of good days, and a very bad daze.
The Wildcats are back in the Beehive State, where they have been stung a time or two in the NCAA Tournament. Arizona also has seen many highs to its lows. One game, in fact, might be one of the all-time best NCAA Tournament games in the past 20 years, if not longer.
That came back in 2013, when No. 1 seed Arizona escaped with a double-overtime win against No. 9 Gonzaga at the Huntsman Center, when the Bulldogs’ Blake Stepp missed a jumper at the buzzer. He wasn’t sure whether to shoot the jumper off the glass or straight. He ended up splitting the difference, hitting the back of the rim as the ball wouldn’t fall through the net.
Arizona guard Jason Gardner dubbed it “an instant ESPN Classic.”
And it was.
Arizona was loaded with Luke Walton, Channing Frye, Salim Stoudamire and freshmen Andre Iguodala and Hassan Adams. Tony Skinner and Ronny Turiaf were a couple of the Zags’ key players.
Arizona had double-doubles from Frye (22 points, 12 rebounds) and Rick Anderson (17 points, 11 rebounds). Jason Gardner had 22 points.
Arizona had advanced to the second round by beating Vermont 80-51. And not that it wouldn’t have anyway, but Vermont came in unbelievably late because of a late-night blizzard that stranded the team in Denver. Vermont had little time to prepare, getting in the night before the game about midnight. It was just 13 hours before the game.
Vermont coach Tom Brennan wore a $2,900 Armani suit (a gift from his brother), which didn’t go unnoticed. As Brennan said in the news conference after the game, “who knew this would have been the calm before the storm?”
Arizona has played NCAA Tournament games in Utah on three other occasions:
A No. 2 seed falls to a No. 15 seed. It rarely happens, but it did happen to Arizona in 1993. Steve Nash was a freshman at Santa Clara back then, and Arizona had Chris Mills, Damon Stoudamire and Khalid Reeves. It’s still considered one of the biggest upsets in tournament history, as Arizona fell 64-61. It was only the second victory ever for a No. 15 seed in the NCAAs.
Mills was in foul trouble. Arizona squandered a 13-point lead.
“I don’t feel jinxed,” said Arizona Coach Lute Olson, whose team shot 25 percent in the second half, 31 percent overall. “At this point I’m just frustrated that we couldn’t play more the way we’re capable of playing.”
Arizona was the No. 1 overall seed in 2000 and was playing without center Loren Woods who had an injured back. Arizona had no problem getting by Jackson State 71-47, although Jackson State’s band was a hit at Huntsman. Michael Wright had 19 points to lead four players in double figures.
But Arizona fell to Wisconsin the next game behind Dick Bennett’s Badgers in a slow-down game that had UA dazed and confused. UA fell 66-59. Gilbert Arenas had 21 points. Ricky Anderson had 12 points and tried to rally the Cats late but an errant 3-pointer put an end to that. A reporter asked Olson if “over confidence” killed the Cats, but Olson refused to believe that was the case.
This sixth-seeded Arizona team, led by point guard Mark Lyons and senior forward Solomon Hill, opened its tournament run at what was then known as EnergySolutions Arena, now called Vivint Smart Home Arena.
The games weren’t overly memorable.
The Wildcats used their superior size to overwhelm Belmont 81-64, thanks in large part to a 44-18 rebounding edge. Lyons scored a game-high 23.
Arizona moved on to play Harvard, which was a trendy upset pick at the time. But the men from the Ivy League missed their first 13 shots from the field, and UA cruised 74-51.