Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats 25 years ago today: South Alabama NCAA tourney first-round opponent

EDITOR NOTE: 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 March 9, 1997, Selection Sunday, when Arizona learned it would play South Alabama in the first round of 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 writing for

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

DATELINE: March 9, 1997, Tucson

The thought on almost everyone’s mind in Tucson today, 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 Arizona 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 here on out. It’s not easy in any of the regionals, from what I can gather.”

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Arizona can’t think about anything but South Alabama’s Jaguars (the Sun Belt champs) anyway, especially after losing two close games at Stanford and Cal in its last two games. Arizona and South Alabama (23-6) are scheduled to play their first round game on March 13.

The Wildcats do not have a good history recently of winning 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 the Southeast Regional first round. They lost at home to ASU in 1995 and then lost to Miami of Ohio in the Midwest Regional first round.

Arizona 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 the most recent game, a 79-77 loss to Cal in San Francisco. “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.”

The Wildcats go into the tournament with a 19-9 record, which is not up to Olson’s regular-season standards, but there is a silver-lining to it.

Arizona’s near-hits in the Bay area are indicative of the Wildcats’ season. Never was Arizona blown out. They were in every game, even if in some of them there were last-minute breakdowns.

Their average margin of defeat in the Pac-10 was only 4.8 points. Their biggest loss was a 75-62 setback to USC, a game in which Arizona was close with three minutes remaining.

“It’s not a case of we didn’t compete or we didn’t play hard,” Olson said. “We knew the (Bay area) trip was going to be a war, and that’s exactly what it turned out to be.

“It’s not like we went into the game and played poorly, where somebody beats you by 15. I think our guys know they could have played better. But I don’t question their effort.”

But there are still critics, namely Digger Phelps of ESPN and former UCLA coach Jim Harrick, who provided analysis for Fox Sports Network today.

Harrick predicted Arizona would lose to South Alabama because of the Wildcats’ recent history of first-round losses.

He failed to mention Arizona went to the Sweet 16 last year and the Final Four in 1994.

Phelps questioned why the Wildcats were seeded No. 4.

“They went 4-4 in their last eight games, and they faded away in the end,” he said. “How do they get a No. 4 seed?”

Phelps should look no further than Arizona Rating Percentage Index ranking of No. 17, its quality wins against North Carolina, Utah, California and Stanford and quality losses to UCLA, New Mexico and the Bay area schools.

— Javier Morales

Arizona Wildcats 1996-97 Men's Basketball Schedule

11/22/96197 North Carolina

Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic
W 83–72Springfield (MA)
11/26/9611Northern ArizonaW 88–70McKale Center
11/30/961119 New MexicoL 84-77Albuquerque (NM)
12/7/96153 Utah

John Wooden Classic
W 69–61Anaheim (CA)
12/9/961513 TexasW 83–78McKale Center
12/14/968Jackson StateW 111–83McKale Center
12/21/9664 MichiganL 73-71 OTAuburn Hills (MI)
12/28/969Robert Morris

Fiesta Bowl Classic
W 118–54McKale Center

Fiesta Bowl Classic
W 93–51McKale Center
1/2/979CaliforniaW 81-80McKale Center
1/4/97921 StanfordW 76-75McKale Center
1/11/977Arizona StateW 92-84Tempe
1/16/976USCL 75-62Los Angeles
1/18/976UCLAL 84-78 OTLos Angeles
1/23/9711Oregon StateW 99-48McKale Center
1/25/9711OregonW 88-66McKale Center
1/30/9710Washington StateW 87-78Pullman (WA)
2/2/9710Washington L 92-88Seattle
2/5/9714Arizona StateW 87-71McKale Center
2/9/971421 Tulane

7Up Shootout
W 81-62Phoenix
2/13/971124 UCLAL 66-64McKale Center
2/15/9711USCW 101-77McKale Center
2/20/9713OregonL 78-72Eugene (OR)
2/22/9713Oregon StateW 74-64Corvallis (OR)
2/27/9715Washington StateW 100-86McKale Center
3/2/9715WashingtonW 103-82McKale Center
3/6/971223 Stanford L 81-80Palo Alto (CA)
3/8/9712CaliforniaL 79-77San Francisco
3/13/97413 South Alabama

NCAAT 1st Round
W 65-57Memphis
3/15/97412 College of Charleston

NCAAT 2nd Round
W 73-69Memphis
3/21/9741 Kansas

Sweet Sixteen
W 85-82Birmingham (AL)
3/23/97410 Providence

Elite Eight
W 96-92 OTBirmingham (AL)
3/29/9741 North Carolina

Final Four
W 66-58Indianapolis
3/31/9741 Kentucky

W 84-79 OTIndianapolis

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. 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.

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