Greg Hansen: Cats in good shape for 3OT game

2011-02-08T00:00:00Z 2012-11-30T19:14:55Z Greg Hansen: Cats in good shape for 3OT gameGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 08, 2011 12:00 am  • 

By the time the Arizona Wildcats left McKale Center on Feb. 23, 1973, it was close to midnight. They had played for almost three hours before beating Utah 101-95 in triple overtime, a game of such scope that the Utes attempted 106 field goals.

The losing coach, Utah's Bill Foster, said, "it's a tragedy, just a tragedy." What tragedy? The Utes were already in last place.

Rather than be so dramatic, Arizona coach Fred Snowden said, more aptly, "It's real tough on your nervous system."

Snowden was more worried about the quick turnaround than about any drama. In 20 hours, his young team, which started four freshmen, would play WAC powerhouse BYU, a wicked requirement in the WAC's old Friday-Saturday schedule pattern.

UA freshmen Coniel Norman and Eric Money did not come off the floor in that triple-overtime game. They went the full 55 minutes; Norman scored 29, Money 26.

Tucson was so energized by Snowden's young team, playing its fifth-ever game at McKale, that it filled every seat 20 hours later. No one said a word about being tired or running on empty. Arizona rolled 100-94. Norman scored 38 points against the Cougars.

He did not leave the floor in that Utah-BYU sweep. He scored 67 points in 95 minutes. Maybe that's old-school. There were not eight media timeouts built into every game; you just played. It was a macho thing as much as a strategic thing. You kept your best players on the court, 40 minutes a night, if that's what it took to win a game.

If you were the eighth man or the ninth man on most college basketball teams of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, you rarely saw the floor.

"It's a different game now," said Tucsonan Jerry Holmes, who was Snowden's lead assistant coach in 1973. "I don't remember anybody talking about being gassed."

When Arizona outlasted Cal 107-105 in triple-overtime Saturday night, the first three-OT game played by the Wildcats since the Norman-goes-for-67 weekend 38 years ago, UA coach Sean Miller was prepared for the moment.

He made player substitutions 61 times in the game, or, more than once per minute. Miller has 10 useful players. He used them extensively.

Cal, by comparison, substituted players just 15 times in the game. The Bears are so thin; they go six deep, no more.

So it's probably no surprise the Bears were unable to hold the lead in the final moments, or prevail in any of the overtimes.

Three Cal players played in excess of 50 minutes. No Wildcat played more than 39.

This is the new way of college basketball, and Arizona's victory at Cal reflects how important it is to stay fresh.

In the 55-minute ordeal, Arizona and Cal combined to call 21 timeouts (that includes eight media timeouts). Almost without fail, Miller spins his substitution pattern around the TV timeouts.

This is no accident. Miller has played all 10 men in his rotation in all 24 games. Each of those 10 averages at least 10.6 minutes per game. No Wildcat averages as many as 30 minutes per game. No other Pac-10 team can match those numbers.

Good game management, consistency, is another way of saying good coaching. You don't get any surprises with Miller, no hot-hand-of-the-week, back-on-the-bench-next-week guy. He has created 10 roles and through 24 games hasn't changed.

Miller didn't have much experience in triple-overtime games. His college teams at Pitt did not play one. His Xavier teams played one: a 90-86 loss at UMass in the 11th game of his head coaching career. So on Saturday night, Miller relied not on experience, but on his system: Pace yourself; 10 guys play. Have more fuel than the other guy at the end.

In the 2,467-game history of Arizona basketball, only four games have gone into triple-overtime. That's roughly one every 25 years. Two had lasting significance.

Arizona played its first triple-overtime game on March 6, 1953, at Hardin-Simmons. The winner of that game would play Santa Clara for a berth in the NCAA tournament. Arizona lost 67-61.

On Feb. 3, 1965, the Wildcats beat Bradley 85-83 in three overtimes at Bear Down Gym. It gave Arizona a 15-4 record, its best at that period of the season in 13 years. Only seven Wildcats got in the game. The drama was so thick that referee Bob Korte was hit when a fan threw an object onto the court. He threatened to forfeit the game.

Play ended with a brawl under the UA basket when Wildcat forward Albert Johnson was taken down by a Bradley player.

For whatever reason, that triple-overtime game seemed to undo the thin Wildcats. They lost five of their next six games and with it, their best chance to get to the NCAA tournament between 1953 and 1975.

Now, 46 years later, the game has turned. Arizona won't have to worry about fatigue; it won't play again until Sunday at ASU. And the triple-overtime theatrics at Cal puts it in position to win its first Pac-10 title since 2005.

No brawl. No tragedy. Just good basketball.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

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