Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats 25 years ago today: Bibby’s free throws difference in thriller over Cal

EDITOR NOTE: 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 Jan. 2, 1997, when ninth-ranked Arizona beat California 81-80 in the Pac-10 season opener at McKale Center. The information gathered is through articles written by beat reporters Steve Rivera (Tucson Citizen) and Javier Morales (Arizona Daily Star), who now write for

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

DATELINE: Jan. 2, 1997, McKale Center

Mike Bibby was not going to relive that horrible moment at the free-throw line when he was a junior playing in the Arizona state championship game.

Not this time. Not with the Pac-10 opener, a classic with California, on the line in front of a regional television audience and 13,608 fans at McKale Center.

“I just kept talking to myself when I went to the line, trying to get that confidence and the right follow through,” said Bibby, who two years ago missed a free throw in the last seconds of Phoenix Shadow Mountain’s loss to Mesa Mountain View.

Bibby, with cool nerves symbolic of a freshman who has endured so much hype, sank two free throws with 3.6 seconds remaining to give No. 9 Arizona an 81-80 victory today.

He was fouled on a drive to the basket by Alfred Grigsby. After making the first one to tie the game at 80, Cal called a timeout to unnerve the youngster, but it didn’t matter. Bibby sank the second free throw.

“Nothing was really going through my head when I went to the line,” said Bibby, who noticed first-option Michael Dickerson was guarded closely on the wing before his aggressive drive. “I think my mind was just blank.”

After Cal took another timeout, Prentice McGruder stopped every heartbeat in McKale with a driving shot at the buzzer. Taking off at the free-throw line, McGruder’s uncontested shot rattled around the rim and out.

Arizona’s players stormed the court as if they won a national championship.

“We obviously misplayed that whole thing at the end,” UA coach Lute Olson said. “We thought that with 3.6 seconds left, somebody couldn’t drive the length of the floor fir we kept a gap in between who we were guarding.

“We had a gap on him, but somebody overplayed a pass to the wing, he cut on us and had the look.”

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It was just one of nine shots Cal would miss in the second half. The Golden Bears shot 69 percent from the field (20 of 29) to make the game interesting after trailing 47-34 at halftime.

Arizona’s perimeter shooting, its staple in the first half when it shot 57.7 percent from the field, went cold in the second half when Cal’s inside game started to heat up.

The Golden Bears went on a 22-4 run to take a 76-72 lead with 2:06 remaining. At that point, Dickerson missed four consecutive 3-pointers and it felt like Arizona (8-2) was losing its confidence.

Grigsby, who gained a sixth-year of eligibility for medical reasons, gave Cal the boost it needed with eight points off strong moves to the basket in the run.

Ed Gray, the Pac-10’s leading scorer who was held in check most of the night by Jason Terry, also became assertive with a drive as did McGruder on a couple of occasions.

Gray still wound up with only 16 points, while the conference’s next leading scorer, Dickerson, finished with 27.

“Jason Terry was the MVP for this game,” Dickerson said.

Dickerson took the ball aggressively to the basket while being fouled by Michael Stewart. He sank the free throw to give Arizona a 79-78 lead with 59.4 seconds left.

It looked as if Arizona got what it wanted on the defensive end with Sean Marks shooting on top of the key. But Grigsby grabbed the rebound, passed out to Gray, who drove for the basket with 32 second left to put Cal ahead 80-79.

Terry was forced to take an awkward shot on the baseline, McGruder grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He missed the front end of the one-and-one with 10.4 seconds left.

That’s when Bibby’s play was set up. Bibby finished with 15 points and eight assists.

“I said you have to be lucky in this league,” Olson said. “I this situation, we were certainly luckier than they were.”

Arizona would lead by as many as 16 points — 62-46 margin with 14:33 remaining — but the Golden Bears (9-3) never gave up.

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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