Arizona should be playing in the NCAA Tournament this weekend, but with the cancellation of nearly all sporting events, Arizona fans are left remembering the past. We decided to create a “dream bracket” with the best games of each round of the NCAA Tournament. We naturally start with the first round.
Picking a best first round game was actually kind of easy. The only issue is there really not a lot of good games to choose from. Since the expansion of the tournament to 64 (and later 68) teams Arizona has won 20 out of 32 games. Of those 20 wins just four have been decided by single digits and only two games have been decided by two possessions or less. On the other hand, 10 have been decided by 20 points or more, and three were decided by 39 points or more.
Conversely, of Arizona’s 12 first round losses, seven have been decided by single digits and 11 have been decided by 10 points or less.
DREAM GAME – Arizona 77, Memphis 75
At the end of the day there were only a few legitimate choices. This game was the closest against the best opponent. The fifth seeded Wildcats got Sean Miller his first tournament win as Arizona’s head coach at Josh Pastner’s expense.
Derek Williams and MoMo Jones paced the Wildcats with 22 and 18 respectively and Williams preserved the win with a block of Memphis’ Wesley Witherspoon with two seconds left.
Arizona survived foul trouble to Kyle Fogg and Kevin PArrom, thanks in part to eight points from Jordin Mayes.
Arizona 65, South Alabama 57 (1997)
This one was way closer, and scarier, than the final score indicates. The Wildcats had lost in the first round in three of their previous five NCAA Tournaments and came into the game on a small losing streak. The Wildcats struggled with the Jaguars for most of the game but came alive late thanks to some clutch buckets and free throws from Miles Simon, who missed all five three pointers and committed three turnovers. Of course, the win propelled Arizona to their lone national championship.
Arizona 86, UCSB 81 (2002)
Few remember the Wildcats needed double figure scoring and a second half push to survived 32 points and 8 three pointers from the Gauchos’ Mark Hull.
UTEP 98, Arizona 91 OT (1987)
This one could easily have been the “nightmare” game below, but I put it here to show just how much the NCAA Tournament and college has changed. Arizona, despite being the lower seed, not only hosted the higher ranked minors at McKale, but the game was scheduled midday and UTEP had nearly half the fans in attendance. Arizona not only lost at McKale, but lost in a game that saw four Minders foul out and future NBA guard Tim Hardaway score just two points. Arizona led by four with :34 seconds left but missed two key free throws and allowed a buzzer beater at the end of regulation.
Arizona 90, Cornell 50 (1988)
Arizona held Cornell to 19 at the half, the proceeded to score 54 themselves in the second half. The Ivy League champs never had a chance.
NIGHTMARE GAME - Santa Clara 64, Arizona 61 (1992)
There are plenty of nightmare games in the first round for Arizona, East Tennessee State, Oklahoma, Miami (OH), Wichita State, but in the end it came down to Santa Clara or Buffalo. Buffalo was a pretty good team and a match-up nightmare for Arizona. Santa Clara was a mediocre team from a bad conference. They entered the NCAA Tournament at just 18-11 and though they had Steve Nash, he was not yet THE Steve Nash. Although Nash was nails down the stretch, the Broncos actually missed four straight free throws and Arizona had a chance to tie. Damon Stoudamire rushed his off balanced three, tried to draw contact, and it hit the back iron. It was the second major first round upset of the Wildcats in as many years and would be one of three that sandwiched the 1994 Final Four.