Arizona Wildcats Basketball: Top 5 Sweet 16 Victories
The Arizona Wildcats' basketball program has achieved its 17th Sweet 16 appearance, an indication the program belongs among the nation's elite for its prolonged success.
When the Wildcats return to Anaheim, Calif., Thursday to face San Diego State in the Sweet 16, the memories of the 93-77 drubbing of Duke in 2011 there will be rekindled. Derrick Williams' career-high 32-point performance against the Blue Devils is one of the best in the history of the program, let alone its storied Sweet 16 legacy.
Some of the more memorable Arizona basketball games have occurred in the Sweet 16. The highest-ranking victories in that round span over three different coaching staffs led by Fred Snowden, Lute Olson and Sean Miller.
The top Sweet 16 wins include an overtime classic with UNLV in 1976, a buzzer-beater by Salim Stoudamire against Oklahoma State in 2005 and the best victory in school history—the toppling of No. 1-ranked Kansas in 1997.
Another Sweet 16 classic against San Diego State, a team that Arizona defeated 69-60 in November, appears likely, with both teams coming off impressive wins in the third round of the NCAA tournament. They are primed for their rematch in Anaheim.
Both teams have the incentive of finally getting their head coach to the Final Four. San Diego State's Steve Fisher has not returned to the Final Four since losing the national championship game to North Carolina as Michigan's coach in 1993.
Sean Miller, in his 10th season as a head coach at Xavier and Arizona, has never reached the Final Four.
"We all know what he really wants and we know it means a lot to him," Arizona freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said, per Yahoo! Sports. "We love Coach Miller. He's a great coach. He cares about all the players. There's nothing better than seeing him happy. We're just going to keep working and doing our best. As long as we do that, I'm sure we'll get him there."
The following slideshow ranks Arizona's top Sweet 16 victories en route to that Final Four goal. Arizona did not reach that destination after three of them, but the games remain as some of the best in Wildcats history.
No. 5: Arizona Defeats Lute Olson's Former Program Iowa in 1988
Arizona Wildcats coach Lute Olson defeated his former program Iowa 99-79 behind a memorable performance by frontcourt players Sean Elliott, Anthony Cook and Tom Tolbert.
The trio combined for 61 points on 26-of-43 shooting from the field in the 1988 Sweet 16 game played at the Seattle Kingdome, which has since been demolished.
Steve Kerr also contributed 17 points, including four three-pointers in the second half. Elliott led the Wildcats with 25 points.
Arizona led 62-43 with 13:24 remaining thanks to a 9-0 run. Elliott's dunk on a pass from Kerr capped a 6-0 run that made it 68-46 with 11:54 to play. The Wildcats' biggest lead was 74-48 on Kerr's three-pointer with 9:47 remaining.
The Wildcats defeated North Carolina in another classic performance in the next round to achieve their first Final Four in program history.
No. 4: Salim Stoudamire's Buzzer-Beater Downs Oklahoma State in 2005
Arizona sharpshooter Salim Stoudamire made many meaningful shots for the Arizona Wildcats, but none was more significant than his game-winning bucket in the waning seconds against Oklahoma State in the 2005 Sweet 16.
He hit an off-balance jumper over two defenders with 2.8 seconds remaining, giving the Wildcats a thrilling 79-78 victory at Rosemont, Ill.
"I thrive on those situations. That's what I live for," Stoudamire said in an Associated Press story. "That's why I play basketball. Bigtime players step up in bigtime situations, and I see myself as one of those players."
Arizona shot an incredible 66 percent from the field, making 31 of its 47 attempts. Channing Frye (15 points and 10 rebounds) and Hassan Adams (19 points and 10 rebounds) achieved double-doubles, complementing Stoudamire's performance (19 points and seven assists).
The Wildcats lost in the Elite Eight to Illinois in a dubious classic where the Fighting Illini erased a 15-point deficit in the last four minutes to win 90-89 in overtime.
No. 3: Arizona's Derrick Williams Does a Number on Duke in 2011
Derrick Williams had one of the best individual performances in Wildcats history with a career-high 32 points along with 13 rebounds in the 93-77 drubbing of defending national champion Duke in 2011.
He made 11 of 17 shots from field, including five of six from three-point range. The Wildcats dominated Duke 55-33 in the second half. The victory occurred at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., which is where Arizona will face San Diego State on Thursday.
“Williams, he’s just a superb player,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in The New York Times. “He’s as good as anybody we’ve played, or, I should say, better than anybody we’ve played.”
Williams had 25 of his points before halftime. Arizona used a 28-9 run early in the second half to break the game open. Sophomore guard Lamont Jones (who transferred to Iona after that season) scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half. Solomon Hill added 10 of his 13.
“I really felt like it was two different games,” Sean Miller told The New York Times. “In the first, Derrick’s individual play allowed us to have a chance. In the second half, we were revved up and we really rebounded the ball. That was the difference in the game.”
Arizona came close to reaching the Final Four in the next game, but last-second shots by Williams and Jamelle Horne fell off the mark as eventual national champion Connecticut survive with a 65-63 win.
No. 2: Arizona Outlasts UNLV in 1976 Classic Sweet 16 Game
In a Sweet 16 for the ages, Arizona and UNLV matched their run-and-gun offenses against each other in 1976, and Fred Snowden's team outlasted Jerry Tarkanian's Running Rebels 114-109 in overtime.
In a game before the shot clock and three-point line were instituted, Arizona's Herman Harris was an assist and rebound away from a triple-double. His performance tops any Wildcat's in the Sweet 16, including Derrick Williams' 32-point effort against Duke in 2011.
Harris tallied 31 points, nine rebounds and nine assists against UNLV at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. Tarkanian's team entered the game 29-1 and ranked No. 3. The Rebels included the likes of Reggie Theus and Glen Gondrezick.
Arizona's Bob Elliott scored 20 points and had 12 rebounds. Phil Taylor came off the bench and produced 18 points and 15 rebounds. Al Fleming contributed 11 rebounds. Jim Rappis, hobbled by an injured left heel in the last six minutes of the game, tallied 24 points and 12 assists. His 12 assists were more than what UNLV produced as a team.
His injury limited him to only four points against UCLA in the West Regional Final, which the Wildcats lost 82-66 at Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins were one year removed from John Wooden as head coach.
No. 1: Arizona Upsets Top-Ranked Kansas During Magical 1997 Title Run
Arizona's 85-82 victory over top-ranked Kansas in 1997 is not only the best Sweet 16 win in the program's history, it is the best win overall.
The Wildcats went on to beat two more No. 1 seeds—North Carolina and Kentucky—in their historic run of three victories over a top seed for the title. What made the win over Kansas significant is the unlikelihood of the outcome.
Kansas was 34-1, playing an Arizona team with nine losses in the regular season. The Wildcats finished fifth in the Pac-10.
The Jayhawks—a 10.5-point favorite—also featured future NBA players Jacque Vaughn, Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz and Scot Pollard.
"This was all about believing in ourselves because nobody else did," Arizona's Michael Dickerson told me after that game when I was the beat reporter for the Arizona Daily Star. "Nobody gave us a chance, even people in our own state. But I think that made us that much stronger. We shouldn't be looking for respect. We should have that already."
Dickerson had 20 points for Arizona, while freshman Mike Bibby scored a team-high 21 with five assists. Miles Simon, the Final Four MVP that season, had 17 points. A.J. Bramlett outplayed LaFrentz (14 points and nine rebounds) with a double-double (12 points and 12 rebounds).
Simon was asked in an interview with Huffington Post in 2012 what stuck out the most to him during the championship run of 1997:
I think the Sweet 16 really stands out. The game against Kansas was a game where they had pretty much been the best team in the country and really dominant with four future pros on their team.
There wasn't a lot of hope by people outside of the Arizona basketball family that they could be beaten, and for us to win that game. We were up double digits in the second half. I remember going to jump on the media table with my teammate and my grandmother after the game.