Of all the great players and teams that played during the tenure of Lute Olson, the 1997-98 team was the best. Coming off the national title, Arizona had everything needed to repeat as champs. First, everyone came back. They had incredible guard play with consensus All-American Mike Bibby, the 1997 MOP Miles Simon and 1999 Pac-10 POY Jason Terry coming off the bench. At guard/small forward, Michael Dickerson led the team in scoring.
The Wildcats had quick, athletic size with A.J. Bramlett, Bennett Davison and Donnell Harris. They had hustle and glue with Eugene Edgerson. And they rounded it out with Josh Pastner's energy and intelligence.
If there was one thing Arizona could do it, was score. They did so at more than 90 points a game. They scored a hundred points or more five times and 125 twice. That is absurd. Three guys scored more than 17 a game (Dickerson, Bibby, Simon) and five more than 10. Once the team got rolling, they didn't stop. Olson's new and improved version didn't lose in the month of January. Or February either. They won 19 straight games. They finished 17-1 in the Pac-10 and were a No. 1 seed.
Blowing through the first three rounds of the tournament, Arizona ran into Utah and Rick Majerus.
Rick Majerus was a genius X’s and O’s guy. It showed in this game. When the mighty defending champs went to play his Utes, Majerus faced them with a triangle and two defense. It neutralized Miles Simon and the draft's second pick Mike Bibby who were a combined 4-24.
The Wildcats and Lute Olson were dumbfounded.
The team had 20 points at half and were ripped apart in the second. The 51 points they scored were 40 points less than the season average and 25 points less than Utah on this night.
It was a shocking end to what should have been only the second repeat since the days of UCLA's dominance. The Wildcats were good enough to beat anyone by 20 that year. Yet timing is everything and Arizona's talent was no match for the brain and savvy of Rick Majerus.
It was the scene of the Wildcats' most difficult defeat that was also the greatest victory for the legend that passed on this week. Rest in peace Rick Majerus, you will be missed.