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 Feb. 15, 1997, when Arizona beat USC101-77 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 are writing for AllSportsTucson.com.
You can access previous stories in this series by clicking on this link.
DATELINE: Feb. 15, 1997, McKale Center
A few minutes before tip-off tonight, the Wildcats sat in their locker room, not uttering a word, waiting for the game as if they were looking at the collective watches on their wrist.
Lute Olson had to be wondering how his seniorless team would respond after a disheartening loss to UCLA at McKale Center two days previously.
“I’ll be honest. I really didn’t what to think,” assistant coach Jessie Evans said. “They were not saying a whole lot. I really didn’t know what was going through their minds.”
“It was so quiet,” Gene Edgerson said, “you could hear a pin drop.”
Any questions about the UA’s state of mind were answered by the Wildcats’ 51 first-half points en route to a 101-77 drubbing of the Trojans in front of 14,474 fans at McKale Center. Arizona (16-6 overall, 7-4 Pac-10) kept the faint hopes for a conference championship alive.
The 11th-ranked Wildcats, USC and Cal each have four conference losses. UCLA leads the league with a 10-3 record. A loss tonight would have been disastrous for Arizona.
“I was really concerned about this game,” Olson said. “I was concered with how well we would play coming back after a loss like that (against UCLA).
“The key to the game was the combination of our offense and defense. There was a good balance of both.”
The Wildcats, thriving off drives to the lane by its perimeter players, shot 51.5 percent from the field. USC (14-8, 8-4) managed to shoot 50.9 percent, but the Trojans committed 26 turnovers, becoming the third straight team to eclipse 20 turnovers against the Wildcats.
Taking advantage of USC’s limited options at point guard, with off guard Stais Boseman and small forward Rodrick Rhodes running the positiion, the Wildcats had 15 steals. It was the 10th straight game Arizona had 10 or more steals.
The Wildcats forced UCLA and USC into 54 turnovers, and they had 34 steals during the weekend.
“To force two teams like UCLA and USC into that many turnovers is amazing,” said Olson, whose team is on pace to break the school record for opponent turnovers.
Arizona has forced 476 turnovers, an average of 21.6 a game. With six games remaining, opponents are on pace for 605 turnovers. The record is 567 in 1993-94, when 35 games were played. Arizona will play 28 games this season in the regular season.
Much to the delight of the Arizona coaching staff, Michael Dickerson not only led the Wildcats with 23 points, but he also had a career-high four steals. Olson has said more than once that Dickerson, with his quickness, should be averaging more than one steal a game.
Dickerson’s competitiveness was emblematic of the Wildcats.
Called a soft player in the past, he stood up to tonight’s challenge. Told more than once they were young and lacking toughness, Arizona withstood USC’s physical style of play.
— 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.