2. Miles Simon
6-foot-3, 202 pounds
Santa Ana (Calif. )Mater Dei
Simon was considered a top 50 high school recruit. He became the third Mater Dei player in five years to sign with the University of Arizona.
1994-95: Fr. (24-7 overall record) 2nd Pac-10
8.9 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.6 APG, 48.2 Field Goal Percentage
Regular Season: Simon was an immediate contributor for the preseason number five team in the country. While all-American point guard Damon Stoudamire and senior power forward Ray Owes were the primary options, Simon's court savvy and knack for scoring allowed him to make an immediate impact.
NCAA Tournament: The No. 5 seed Wildcats were upset by 13 seed Miami (OH) in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. UA's front line was obliterated by Miami (OH) big man Devin Davis, while Simon was held to 7 points on 2-6 shooting.
1995-96: Soph. (27-6 overall record) 2nd Pac-10
13 PPG, 4 RPG, 4.1 APG, 44.6 Field Goal Percentage
Regular Season: UA was led by a plethora of seniors logging heavy minutes, but Simon still ranked second on the team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals.
NCAA Tournament: Simon tallied a combined 33 Points and 9 assists in wins against Valparaiso and Iowa in the first two rounds.
Even though the UA lost in the Sweet Sixteen to No. 2 seed Kansas, Simon thrived, leading the Wildcats with 21 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds in a team-high 38 minutes.
1996-97: Jr. (25-9 overall record) 5th Pac-10
18.4 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 4.2 APG, 45.5 Field Goal Percentage
Regular Season: Simon was declared academically ineligible before the first game of the year and would miss the first third of the season. While he put up impressive numbers when he became eligible, the team struggled down the stretch and went into the 1997 NCAA Tournament as a No. 4 seed.
NCAA Tournament: Simon and the Wildcats earned two hard-fought victories against South Alabama and College of Charleston in the first two rounds, setting up a Sweet Sixteen match up against the 34-1 Kansas Jayhawks.
In the biggest upset of the tournament, Simon, Bibby, and junior swingman Michael Dickerson combined for 58 points, helping Arizona beat the Jayhawks 85-82.
The Sweet Sixteen win over Kansas set up an Elite Eight match-up against the No. 10 seed Providence Friars. UA won 96-92, as Simon contributed 30 points on just 13 field goal attempts, paving the way for a Final Four match-up against the No.1 seed North Carolina Tar Heels.
UA fell behind early to the Tar Heels, but came roaring back to win, paced by Simon's 24 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Simon saved his best performance for the national championship game against No. 1 seed Kentucky. He scored 30 points and dominated the Kentucky wing duo of all-American small forward Ron Mercer and all-SEC shooting guard Anthony Epps. Simon got into the lane at will and made a living at the free throw line, going 14-for-17 in UA's 84-79 overtime victory.
1997-98: Sr. (30-5 overall record) 1st Pac-10
17.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 4.7 APG, 47.6 Field Goal Percentage
Regular Season: The Wildcats encountered little resistance throughout the regular season, nearly posting the first 18-0 conference record in Pac-10 history.
Simon built off his success from the previous season, making an untold number of clutch shots on the way to garnering all-American status. The stage seemed set for a repeat run at the national championship.
NCAA Tournament: The No. 1 seed Wildcats cruised through the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament, and as usual, Simon thrived, increasing his average in all major statistics.
The Wildcats' season came to an abrupt end in the Elite Eight against the 3-seed Utah Utes. Utah coach Rick Majerus' deployed a triangle and two defense focused exclusively on containing Simon and Bibby. The strategy worked to perfection as both guards played two of the worst games of their careers, while the rest of the team was unable to pick up the slack in UA's 76-51 loss.
Role in Building Program
Simon's tournament run--especially his Final Four performance-- was one of the most impressive individual performances in recent NCAA tournament history.
In one of the most tightly contested games in championship history, Simon time and again penetrated into the paint where he either scored or got fouled. His 14 made free throws were five more than the entire Kentucky team.
If not for Simon's unprecedented tournament run, Lute Olson and the Arizona program might be thought of in a vastly different light. Olson would likely be thought of as a very good coach unable to win a championship. Arizona would likely be thought of as a solid program, but would lack the prestige that comes from winning a national championship.
UA's unprecedented 1997 run ensured those criticisms would vanish.
Simon Is Number 2... Because he was the catalyst for the program's lone national championship.