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Final Four Memories

1998 NCAA Men's Tournament

  Bibby Makes 6 Three-Pointers as Arizona Gains First Final

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 30, 1997; Page D1

INDIANAPOLIS, March 29 — The Arizona Wildcats are a team without seniors in an era when seniors are supposed to be increasingly valuable. They are a team with no dominant big men in a game that always will value height. Most of all, however, they are a team that has overcome the odds, and they did it again tonight in their grandest fashion yet.

Against a North Carolina team that had won 16 consecutive games, the Wildcats continued to prove that youthful exuberance combined with blazing speed and quickness is a potent combination. They made 11 three-point baskets, including six by freshman point guard Mike Bibby, on their way to a 66-58 victory over the Tar Heels in an NCAA tournament semifinal at RCA Dome.

The Wildcats (24-9) earned their second victory of the season over North Carolina and advanced to Monday night's championship game against Kentucky. The Tar Heels (28-7) lost for the first time since Jan. 29 against Duke.

The victory vaulted the Wildcats, who have been to the NCAA tournament 13 consecutive years and 16 times in school history, into their first NCAA tournament championship game. They lost in the semifinals in 1988 and 1994. Coach Lute Olson also earned his first trip to the final, after taking two previous Arizona teams and an Iowa squad to the Final Four.

"It's indicative of the heart and hustle these guys have shown all year long," Olson said. "I'm thrilled with the opportunity to play Monday. But I'm even more thrilled with the group of guys we have. They're fighters, they're competitors. ... It's a credit to the competitiveness they show every day in practice. They flat-out do not like to lose."

Arizona finished fifth in the Pacific-10 Conference during the regular season, its lowest Pac-10 finish ever. But it has thrived in the postseason behind a bevy of quick, heady guards, including Bibby and junior Miles Simon, who led the Wildcats to a stunning upset of No. 1-ranked Kansas in the regional semifinals. Tonight Bibby finished with 20 points, and Simon with 24 on 9-of-19 shooting — a day after he said he "couldn't hit anything or anyone" during a team food fight.

Forward Vince Carter scored 21 points to lead North Carolina, and second-team all-American Antawn Jamison had 18, but the Tar Heels shot a season-low 31.1 percent, including 4 of 21 (19 percent) from three-point range. The Wildcats, although smaller, blocked eight shots and limited the Tar Heels to 10 free throw attempts (they made eight).

"What got us here was our shot selection," Coach Dean Smith said. "We shot 54 percent over the last 16 games. ... They surprised us with their shot-blocking after we had thrown over the top. Usually we get to the foul line."

The Wildcats used their quickness to rally from an early 11-point deficit to take a 34-31 lead at halftime.

But Arizona forward Bennett Davison, who had limited Jamison to eight points in the first half, committed his fourth foul 40 seconds into the second half and left the game.

Arizona had answers. Reserve forwards Eugene Edgerson and Donnell Harris took turns replacing Davison, who played only 10 minutes, and Edgerson finished with nine rebounds, Harris with six points.

The Wildcats' starting trio of guards — Bibby, Simon and Michael Dickerson — combined for 18 rebounds and center A.J. Bramlett had 10 rebounds and four blocked shots as Arizona neutralized Jamison and 7-foot-3 center Serge Zwikker.

"This team has great quicks," Olson said. "In practice all week, we said, 'When a shot goes up, we have to have all five guys in the paint.' We knew we might not get the rebounds, but if we got a hand on the ball and knocked it free, our quickness would allow us to go get the loose balls."

The Wildcats led 47-42 when Simon made a three-pointer. Over the next three minutes, Bibby made three three-pointers as Arizona increased the margin to 61-46.

"My mentality is, 'Shoot the rock,' " Bibby said. "I'm not scared what time of the game it is."

North Carolina's guards had trouble getting the ball to Jamison and Zwikker and couldn't match the Wildcats' outside shooting. Shammond Williams made 1 of 13 shots, and Ed Cota went 2 for 9.

The Tar Heels scored seven points in a row to cut the lead to 61-53 with three minutes left, but Bibby, showing that steeliness doesn't come solely with age, nailed another three-pointer.

"When you have a team out there with no fear, that just plays and has a bunch of young guys out there just playing basketball, then we don't worry about not having seniors," Bramlett said.

"We've been through everything we can be through this season, from bad losses to good wins. . . .

Everybody's really grown up."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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