(10) What Does 44 Feel Like?
I've personally witnessed too many painstakingly, miserable UA losses in the Sports Arena since 1990 to not include this victorious shellacking as part of my Top 10 Greatest Games. From the jump, Arizona was relentlessly applying pressure on the Trojans; shades of the opening round in the Balboa/Lang rematch bout where Rocky was peppering Clubber with more shots to the face than a Jenna Jameson video. Within minutes, the usual tension UA fans experience in the Sports Arena was replaced by a calm I've never seen before or experienced since the 2001 season. We were quickly up by ten, then twenty, then thirty, then forty, then…not quite fifty, but almost on a few occasions. It was crazy. I felt like I was at a closed door charity event showcasing the Harlem Globetrotters. The best part of this 105-61 blowout was this was the point in a rather, up to this game, precarious season (the passing of Bobbi Olson, Lute's three game absence, Woods' suspension) where our team seemed to finally right the ship and set sail straight for the Final Four championship game.
(9) The Drinks Are On Me!
UA's 2005 Sweet Sixteen victory over Oklahoma State is easily forgotten by many due to the godforsaken travesty that occurred two days later. But for me, this was an incredible game that produced one of the most thrilling final seconds in UA history. Let me paint the picture…me and about 10 others are at Smooth's, a fancy high-end sports bar on trendy Pine Avenue in Long Beach, California, watching the game on a 10x10 projection screen. The picture was so clear twice I nearly got my hands on the ball for a steal and breakaway slam. Anyway, OSU goes up by one but leaves about 14 tics on the clock. Salim was in like a 13 game zone at the time and Frye was playing out of his mind so there was little doubt we weren't running the high post pick and pop with them. The ball gets into Salim's hands and he waives off Frye. If there was a UA fan who didn't know Salim was going to bury this jumper once he called off Frye, then you weren't paying close enough attention that season. For me, I was trying to wiggle myself out and away from the table almost immediately. Salim works his way to the wing, gives a little shake, pulls up and money ball. I spring out of my chair, ungracefully, and bang my knee on the table. No big deal, didn't even feel it. What I did feel, though, was the strain on my wallet from a fifty dollar tab for a round of beers because my collision with the table had knocked over everyone's pint glass after Salim hit the shot. Oh, well. To borrow a line from the movie, The Girl Next Door, "the juice was worth the squeeze."
(8) The Leap of Faith
1998 was an incredible football season for Arizona and it would take an incredible play to keep the hope of a Rose Bowl berth alive. Down by four with 10 seconds remaining and the ball at the Washington 9-yard line, Ortege Jenkins delivered. Jenkins dropped backed into the pocket and as the pass play broke down, OJ tucked the ball and raced toward the end zone. As three UW defenders converged on him, Jenkins miraculously leaped and with the force of the hit spinning him into a midair somersault, had enough momentum to amazingly land on his feet in the end zone. The final score was 31-28. We would win out the rest of the way, finishing 12-1 and 4th in the polls after beating Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
(7a) Run, Forrest, Run
What would a Top 10 Greatest UA Games list look like without at least one victory over Arizona State on it? It would be like omitting Lute Olson from the greatest coaches of all times list or worse, adding John Mackovick…blasphemous. So, here goes. Coming in at a tie for number seven is the 1986 Chuck Cecil interception game. With the time running out and ASU looking to punch in the go ahead score, Cecil steps in front of a Jeff Van Raaphorst pass in the end zone and races the other way for an unthinkable 106-yard TD interception that assured UA the victory and handed ASU their only loss of the season.
(7b) There's Comebacks and Then There's Comebacks
The 2003 UA/Kansas basketball game played at Allen Fieldhouse saw our Cats take the Rock and the Chalk out of "Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk, KU." Lucky to be down by only 14 at halftime the experience of Walton and Gardner gave our younger players the reassurance they needed to keep competing until the final buzzer, and compete they did. Freshman Andre Iguodala and Hassan Adams displayed their freakish athleticism and Walton and Gardner served as stabilizing forces while Channing Frye did what he could. As good as they all played, though, nobody watching the game would have known that they were even on the floor because Salim Stoudamire and his 20 second half points, 32 overall, absolutely stole the show. Salim was amazing. Pull-up three point daggers from 25 feet out, dipsy-do lay ups, running bank shots with a hand in his face - you name it, Salim made it. When all was said and done, Arizona had won by 23, an amazing 37 point turnaround that brought Kansas' 23 game non-conference home court winning streak to an abrupt halt.
(6) "Losing is a Disease…
Like Syphilis…like Hepatitis…" I say this because Gonzaga fans must have been sick for weeks after watching their team lose by one to UA in double overtime during the second round of the 2003 NCAA Tournament. Our 96-95 victory is listed as one of the greatest tournament games of all time right up there with the likes of Duke/Kentucky, Georgetown/Villanova, NC State/Houston, and North Carolina/Michigan. In addition to the amazing heroism that was being displayed on the court, was the equally amazing sacrifices that were being made at my parent's house that afternoon where friends and family had gathered to watch the game. With less than five minutes to play in regulation, a positive vibe began to fill the room, even though the Zags seemed to have an answer for everything Arizona did. So, like all completely insane, totally irrational sports fans, the guys in our group did the only seemingly rational thing we could in such an adverse situation and demanded that nobody move or shift positions anymore until further instructed. One of the couples at the house that day was my UA buddy Scott and his pregnant wife Heather who within a minute of our mandate, had to go to the bathroom. Impressively, but to the damnation of every male in the house, Heather did not get up until Luke Walton rebounded Blake Stepp's missed follow-up bank shot from five feet out some thirty minutes later to finally seal the victory. By the time an utterly exhausted Walton collapsed to the floor in celebratory relief, Heather was in the restroom.
If it wasn't for Heather and others like her, we would have lost that game. I'm convinced of it. And if you don't believe me, wait until you hear what my buddy Troy did for good luck to ensure victory in our 1997 Sweet Sixteen upset of Kansas - a crucial win which helped pave the way to our program's only national championship.
You'll find the story behind the story of the abovementioned UA/Kansas game and that of the other games that complete my Top 10 Greatest Games list in a few days. Until then, Bear Down!