Lute Olson's 1996-1997 Arizona Wildcats team was loaded with 5 future NBA players. The biggest addition to the U of A program was freshman phenom, Mike Bibby. Bibby teamed with Miles Simon to give Arizona the best 1-2 backcourt punch in the nation. Add Jason Terry, Michael Dickerson and AJ Bramlett to the mix and you start to understand why expectations were high in Tucson.
A win over #7 UNC to start the season and another win over #3 Utah was a sign of things to come. However, the Wildcats lost their last two regular season games to finish 11-7 in the Pac 10, good for 5th place. Not the kind of momentum Olson wanted heading into the NCAA Tournament.
Arizona was given the #4 seed in the Southeast Region where they took care of South Alabama before pulling out a tough, 73-69 win against College of Charleston to make the Sweet 16. Waiting for them was the #1 overall seed Kansas Jayhawks and their star Paul Pierce.
While U of A had no answers for "The Truth", Kansas had no answer for Zona's 3 headed monster of Simon, Bibby and Dickerson who proved to be too much for the Jayhawks, 85-82.
A 30 point effort from Miles Simon led Arizona over a God Shammgod led Providence team in OT to put the Wildcats in the Final Four. In the Final Four North Carolina became the second #1 seed to fall to Arizona, 66-58.
Lute Olson was now one win away from his first and the schools first National Championship. The only thing standing in their way was another #1 seed and college basketball blue blood Kentucky.
Looking to go back to back for the first time since UCLA in '70s, UK put up a good fight taking Arizona to OT before Simon and Co. were able to pull away, winning 84-79.
"At the end of that game, I wanted to keep that ball forever. I had it overnight. Then when we got on the plane the next day, Coach Olson asked who had the ball and I gave it to the rightful owner which was him."
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