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Feb. 13, 1984, is a significant day in Arizona basketball history.
That is the last day in the last 31 years the Wildcats knew they would finish with a losing record.
Oregon State defeated the Wildcats 53-48 that night, a Monday night, in Gill Coliseum at Corvallis. The Beavers went to 16-5 overall and 9-2 in the Pac-10 (what it was at the time). Arizona, playing under first-year coach Lute Olson, fell to 5-15 and 2-8. With only eight more games on the schedule, a sub-.500 record was in store.
The Wildcats, however, battled Oregon State and its touted frontcourt of A.C. Green and Charlie Sitton to the end.
Arizona countered with a couple of junior college transfers — 6’7″ center Pete Williams and wing player Eddie Smith — but the Wildcats just didn’t have enough. Williams and Smith combined for 26 points on 12-of-16 shooting from the field. The rest of the young, improving roster, including Steve Kerr, had 22 points on 9-of-23 shooting.
True to form, Olson was critical of the refs on the road. Sitton was assessed only three fouls, although he clearly fouled Smith on one drive to the basket, but the refs accidentally gave the foul to guard Alan Tait.
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That moment Gabe York passes by you at the Union
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“When (Sitton) stays out of foul trouble, he’s awesome,” Olson told reporters after the game. “I think there’s a rule here, isn’t there? Charlie never gets more than three fouls at home.
“We should go back to two officials. One just spends the time telling you to sit down and calling the T.V. timeouts.”
The biggest takeaway from that night was Arizona showing signs of life and making Oregon State actually be apologetic of the victory to its fans. How could a 5-15 Arizona team almost beat Ralph Miller’s team in Corvallis?
“You can make all kinds of excuses,” Sitton told reporters. “I guess fatigue sounds as good as any. We had them on the ropes, but we weren’t able to put them away. But I’ll take any win right now, even if it’s by one point.”
Arizona’s fight at Corvallis carried over as the Wildcats put together a five-game winning streak, including a 69-58 win over the Beavers at McKale Center 12 days later.
The Wildcats finished the season winning six of their last eight games to finish 11-17. Up until now, Arizona has finished above .500 and always positioned itself for the postseason.
Amazing to look back at Feb. 13, 1984, and see how far the Wildcats have come — a losing program to one of the nation’s elite.