EDITOR NOTE: AllSportsTucson.com will run a feature this basketball season highlighting what happened 25 years ago on that particular day commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Arizona Wildcats’ national championship. The next in the series is what occurred and what was written concerning the developments of Nov. 17, 1996, when Arizona played an exhibition against the Melbourne Magic of Australia. The information gathered is through articles written by beat reporters Steve Rivera (Tucson Citizen) and Javier Morales (Arizona Daily Star), who now are writing for AllSportsTucson.com.
You can access stories in this series by clicking here
DATELINE: Nov. 17, 1996, McKale Center …
Arizona Wildcats coach Lute Olson says this season’s team has been tougher to get ready than any other team he has coached during his 14 years at Arizona.
Too many questions. Too few answers. Such as, what will he do with Arizona’s apparent center by committee? Can his team’s defense, which has had him shaking his head, be good enough to contain anyone? Can his youngsters mesh well enough to run the team?
And who will provide the major offensive punch?
You can keep the Wildcats in the sports section and off the puzzle page since some questions were answered in UA’s 101-86 victory today over the Melbourne Magic in an exhibition game at McKale Center. What the test from Melbourne – a team that helped UA by being wire-to-wire tough – did was to help Olson understand what he needs to do before the upcoming season opener with North Carolina.
More important, Arizona learned that one good half of defense may be good enough to win an exhibition, but won’t be enough later.
”Defense has been a big concern, and in the second half we were much more aggressive,” said Olson, whose team allowed the Magic to shoot 54 percent in the first half but limited it to 42 percent in the second. ”The worst thing you can do on defense is be reactive as opposed to active. We made them do what we wanted them to do instead of reacting to what they wanted to do. And that’s because we were much more aggressive.”
Every Wildcat was aggressive, from the perimeter players to those in the post. Rebounds were more frequent in Arizona’s surging second half. Arizona’s aggressiveness was what turned a double-digit deficit into a double-digit victory.
”The guys just got a lot better and smarter,” said Arizona assistant Phil Johnson, who works with the big men. ”Defense was one of our biggest concerns. That and how strong we could be. We had to go at them. We needed to jam them and get into them.”
Arizona did. The Wildcats created easy baskets for what will be Arizona’s power play – the fast break. UA was able to create turnovers and keep Melbourne off the boards for second shots.
Eugene Edgerson, a freshman from New Orleans, finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. He drew raves from Olson. And it was because of his defense.
”Eugene is a tough, competitive young man,” Olson said. ”I’m not in the least bit concerned about having him in tight game situations. He’s a warrior.”
Nor is Olson concerned with guard Mike Bibby at the point. Olson said he was pleased with Bibby, although on occasion he should be more protective of the ball when there’s little chance of making a successful pass. Today, Bibby had seven turnovers and five assists to go with 15 points. But what he did best – along with Jason Terry – was put the gas in Arizona’s tank.
Arizona played without junior Miles Simon, who sat in street clothes on the bench after being suspended because of academic problems.
”I think it was pretty obvious we were lacking that verbal leadership,” Olson said of what Simon provides.
Simon did what he could.
”Defensively, I don’t think we put in the effort that we needed to,” Simon said. ”I was trying to tell the guys that if they didn’t have any fouls, they could get up in their faces. When they did, we got steals and blocked shots. It helped open up the offense.”
Which, of course, means UA’s Michael Dickerson benefited. He led the Cats with 30 points.
”Miles is our natural leader, but I know I’m second, so I knew I had to step it up,” Dickerson said. ”I needed to be more vocal, and I was.”
— Steve Rivera
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The Melbourne Magic held an 11-point lead today against a young Arizona Wildcats team that consistently failed to rotate defensively on the perimeter to the open man and negate the presence of 6-10, 240-pound center Chris Anstey inside.
Miles Simon, serving a suspension for academic reasons, contributed to Arizona’s numbers problem. His absence, combined with the redshirt status of Justin Wessel and Quynn Tebbs and the knee injury to Ortege Jenkins meant only seven players would be used.
The perimeter defense tightened up in the second half as Melbourne tried only two three-pointers after making 7 of 12 in the first half. A.J. Bramlett and Donnell Harris defended from behind instead of in front of Anstey, who scored only eight of his 25 points in the second half.
And Arizona’s transition game was fueled by Jason Terry’s steals, Mike Bibby’s playmaking and Michael Dickerson’s athletic ability.
“Our energy level was too low in the first half,” said Dickerson, who scored a game-high 30 points, 16 coming in transition, and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.
“The coaches got on us about being a little hesitant, playing away from the ball. I had to take it upon myself to talk a little more out there, especially with some of the younger guys. I had to do something because our most vocal guy (Simon) was on the bench.”
— 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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District