Schu Strings: My UA hoop memories

As Arizona celebrates 100 years of basketball with a gala series of events this weekend, here's to good times for the next 100 years. While Arizona basketball celebrates its centennial, it seems to many of us that only the last 20 years have carried any merit.

I am not the UA basketball historian I should be, and since my personal memories, almost exclusively, encompass events that occurred during Lute Olson's tenure, I apologize up front for the tilted perspective.

My mind doesn't recollect every game played every week while I was growing up. Some of my first memories of the game in general are the Notre Dame victory over UCLA that snapped the 88-game win streak.

My first in-state memories are of the 1975 (76?) ASU team with Lionel Hollins that advanced to the Elite Eight. My initial Arizona memory was not of Eric Money or Coniel Norman, but Russell Brown, who still holds the school's assist record. As the smallest kid in my school, I somehow gravitated toward Brown's uncompromising selflessness. Remarkable, given that his game in no way translated to mine, which more resembled that of World B. Free.

Many people, Lute Olson included, point to Pete Williams as a foundation for which the current model of Arizona basketball could be built. But there was one event, in particular, that provided an inkling of what the future might hold.

And it happened in Tempe.

In 1984, John Moredich and I (friends from high school, Moredich was later the long-time editor of Cat Tracks) attended the Arizona/ASU game. This was of occasions to check out the classic baseball rivalries at Packard Stadium. But this was our first taste of basketball.

Even this early in his career, Olson was turning heads, and by my recollection there were a number of Wildcat fans in attendance. Well, ASU pretty much controlled the game, and led by a seemingly insurmountable seven points with 38 seconds remaining, and had possession.

You know the rest. From there on out, Arizona did everything right, ASU did everything wrong, and somehow the UA won the game, in regulation, without the assistance of the three-point shot. To this day, it is the most amazing conclusion to a basketball game I have seen in person.

During the game, Moredich pointed to the sidelines, or just behind the bench, I don't recall which exactly, and said something to the effect of, "That's Sean Elliott. He's the kid from Cholla High School who signed with Arizona. He could be pretty good."

Even then, Moredich knew his stuff.

The point I thought Arizona had arrived occurred late at night, in a place that weather-wise is the Sonoran Desert's polar opposite. I remember watching the UA team at the Great Alaska Shootout pass circles around supposedly more talented Syracuse and Michigan squads. It was an absolute basketball clinic, one of many Arizona would conduct that Final Four season. Most will point to the victory over North Carolina that got the UA into the Final Four. For me, the Great Alaska Shootout remains a pinnacle in team play I may never see duplicated at the college level.

If Sean Elliott was the player that lifted the Wildcats to a level of consistency, fellow Arizonan Mike Bibby helped to place them among the elite. When Bibby agreed to come to Arizona prior to his junior season, the UA probably didn't know just how special he was. In his two seasons in Tucson, Bibby played on a national champion and Elite Eight representative. That will be tough to top.

Unquestionably, the last two decades of Arizona's initial centennial have been an amazing ride. And the memories keep on coming. Remember, just three games ago, the UA survived double-overtime with Gonzaga in what has been rightfully dubbed an instant classic.

The ride ain't over yet.

[John Schuster is an editor and contributor for Cat Tracks Magazine. With the start of football season his columns can be read weekly on cattracks.net.]


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