EDITOR NOTE: AllSportsTucson.com is running 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 Jan. 16, 1997, when Arizona lost to USC 75-62 in Los Angeles. 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 previous stories in this series by clicking on this link.
DATELINE: Jan. 16, 1997, L.A. Sports Arena, Los Angeles
Donnell Harris rubbed his eyes, shook his head and pondered: What had gone wrong?
He couldn’t explain the car wreck — disguised as a Pacific-10 Conference basketball game — that Arizona had just been involved in.
Yes, Arizona had been blindsided by Henry Bibby and his unsuspecting USC Trojans.
After a moment, the answer came to Harris’ attention as it did to everyone else in Arizona’s locker room who spoke to the media.
It was as simple as one word: turnovers.
Arizona had them — and too many of them. Worst of all, they came at times when UA couldn’t afford them.
UA finished with 23 turnovers. Arizona flailed, fumbled and eventually lost to USC, 75-62, at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, a site that proved to be more dangerous than the Los Angeles freeways.
“They were just all in our faces,” Harris said. “It might have been their pressure that proved to be the difference. Who knows? The bottom line is we didn’t get it done.”
It wasn’t even close. UA played as bad as its coach felt. Lute Olson had the flu. Arizona played sickly.
“It just seemed we were out of sync from the get-go,” said Olson, whose No. 6-ranked Wildcats dropped to 10-3 overall, 3-1 in the league. USC is 8-5 and 3-2.
“It was hard to explain,” Olson said. “It just didn’t seem like we were in the flow and if you’re not in the flow at the start, it’s hard to get it going.”
The Cats sputtered throughout, struggling to stay ahead in the first half only to see an eight-point halftime lead turn into a four-point deficit with 2:53 left.
“Those turnovers killed us,” said Arizona’s Michael Dickerson, who had a season-low seven points and was a non-factor all night.
“We had the game being up by eight in the second half and we just turned the ball over four times in a row and they just converted every time. That hurt us real bad.”
And it didn’t help that Arizona, which went into the game as the league’s highest-scoring team, couldn’t find the basket, finishing with its lowest output since scoring 62 points in the 1995 NCAA Tournament against Miami of Ohio.
UA has turned into the clank gang all of a sudden. It shot a season-low 38.1 percent and a miserable 1 for 14 from 3-point range. Dickerson was 3 for 13 from the field in easily his worst game of the season.
“You can say that,” Dickerson siad. “I didn’t play that well.”
But it was easy to see USC’s Stais Boseman, who had 21 points, was a major fact in Dickerson’s demise. He stopped Dickerson in both halves, holding him to three points in the first, four in the second.
“Stais Boseman did a fabulous job,” Olson said.
Bibby, father of Arizona guard Mike Bibby, went one better.
“At halftime, Stais said he had Dickerson in his back pocket,” the elder Bibby said. “Stais did a great job. That’s the Stais Boseman I know and the Stais Boseman who was the best defender in the Pac-10 last year. It was an All-Pac-10 performance.”
And Dickerson, who was named to the list of the best college basketball players earlier this week, just couldn’t get it going.
“Everyone has a bad night,” said UA’s Miles Simon, who also had a subpar night, going 6 for 14 (13 points). “You can’t make every shot. He didn’t try to miss. I didn’t try to miss. We just didn’t shoot the ball well.”
— Steve Rivera
+ + + + +
Tempers flared, things got out of hand and the normally morbid L.A. Sports Arena had a little electricity.
No, the first meeting between Henry Bibby and his son Mike Bibby was not the reason, although some tension was felt. It was a gritty USC team, with experience and athleticism, standing tall defensively against the sixth-ranked Wildcats.
The Trojans, who snapped an eight-game losing streak to Arizona with a 75-62 victory in front of a season-high 6,156 fans at the Sports Arena, stayed in the game despite committing 23 turnovers and shooting 28 percent from the field in the first half.
“We laid back a little bit,” Mike Bibby said before an onslaught of 15 reporters approached. Bibby, who had only four points on 2-of-8 shooting, immediately turned the other way and declined more questions.
Arizona was as erratic as the Trojans, shooting 38.1 percent for the game, which included a 3-of-13 performance from the field by Michael Dickerson.
The Wildcats committed a season-high 23 turnovers, including seven by normally sure-handed Jason Terry and five by Miles Simon.
“USC did a good job defensively of denying us a lot of looks,” UA coach Lute Olson said. “Defensively, they were more aggressive. The key thing was they converted off of our turnvers, while we were unable to finish after they committed turnovers.”
USC started to take charge when Donnell Harris was whistled for a technical foul with 4:35 remaining. USC center David Crouse grabbed a rebound of a Dickerson miss, and Harris went behind him to try to steal the ball.
Crouse turned and seemed to barrel into Harris, who threw Crouse aside. Harris received his fifth foul on the play, and although USC would score only one point on an Elias Ayuso free throw following the technical foul and ensuing possession, it appeared the Trojans caught fire.
USC went on a 7-0 run to take a 63-57 lead with 2:06 remaining in the game. Simon would cut the lead to 65-62 with 56.9 seconds left on a 3-pointer — the UA’s first in the game in 11 attempts.
But USC closed the game with 10 straight points, including six by Stais Boseman, who put an exclamation point to the game with a dunk at the buzzer.
— Javier Morales
Arizona Wildcats 1996-97 Men's Basketball Schedule
|11/22/96||19||7 North Carolina|
Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic
|W 83–72||Springfield (MA)|
|11/26/96||11||Northern Arizona||W 88–70||McKale Center|
|11/30/96||11||19 New Mexico||L 84-77||Albuquerque (NM)|
John Wooden Classic
|W 69–61||Anaheim (CA)|
|12/9/96||15||13 Texas||W 83–78||McKale Center|
|12/14/96||8||Jackson State||W 111–83||McKale Center|
|12/21/96||6||4 Michigan||L 73-71 OT||Auburn Hills (MI)|
Fiesta Bowl Classic
|W 118–54||McKale Center|
Fiesta Bowl Classic
|W 93–51||McKale Center|
|1/2/97||9||California||W 81-80||McKale Center|
|1/4/97||9||21 Stanford||W 76-75||McKale Center|
|1/11/97||7||Arizona State||W 92-84||Tempe|
|1/16/97||6||USC||L 75-62||Los Angeles|
|1/18/97||6||UCLA||L 84-78 OT||Los Angeles|
|1/23/97||11||Oregon State||W 99-48||McKale Center|
|1/25/97||11||Oregon||W 88-66||McKale Center|
|1/30/97||10||Washington State||W 87-78||Pullman (WA)|
|2/5/97||14||Arizona State||W 87-71||McKale Center|
|2/13/97||11||24 UCLA||L 66-64||McKale Center|
|2/15/97||11||USC||W 101-77||McKale Center|
|2/20/97||13||Oregon||L 78-72||Eugene (OR)|
|2/22/97||13||Oregon State||W 74-64||Corvallis (OR)|
|2/27/97||15||Washington State||W 100-86||McKale Center|
|3/2/97||15||Washington||W 103-82||McKale Center|
|3/6/97||12||23 Stanford||L 81-80||Palo Alto (CA)|
|3/8/97||12||California||L 79-77||San Francisco|
|3/13/97||4||13 South Alabama|
NCAAT 1st Round
|3/15/97||4||12 College of Charleston|
NCAAT 2nd Round
|W 85-82||Birmingham (AL)|
|W 96-92 OT||Birmingham (AL)|
|3/29/97||4||1 North Carolina|
|W 84-79 OT||Indianapolis|
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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.