Exactly none of the 1997 Arizona Wildcats on hand for a showing of their NCAA championship game victory Friday had seen the game replayed before.
Not even coach Lute Olson.
“I’ve watched clips here and there, but it isn’t a case where I watched the game,” Olson said. “I saw it in person.”
That was good enough. Those firsthand memories were still etched in the minds of the several players and coaches who attended the charity event along with about 1,000 fans at the Fox Theatre downtown.
Though, except for Olson’s memory of how adept UA was at handling Kentucky’s press during its 84-79 overtime win, most of the memories were around the game, not about the game.
“I gotta be honest,” longtime Olson aide Jim Rosborough said. “I don’t remember a darned thing about the whole game.”
Maybe that’s because the game itself was a blur of key shots, critical fouls and aggressive defense, with neither team taking more than a six-point lead at any time.
Even 16 years later, the Final Four MVP found himself riveted.
“I’m still kind of anxious and nervous. I don’t know if we win or not,” Miles Simon said, smiling, as he took the Fox Theatre stage during a break near the end of the showing. “But the memories, seeing my teammates and how hard they’re fighting — that’s the memory that lasts.”
While being interviewed by emcee Joseph Blair, a member of UA’s 1994 Final Four team, Olson said he recalled as overtime opened that Kentucky players were grabbing their shorts, indicating fatigue.
“So I told the guys in the huddle, ‘The toughest team was going to win,’ ” Olson said. “I knew who that was, and they knew who that was. So this thing was as good as over.”
Sure enough, Simon and the Wildcats took the words as a license to shut the other Wildcats down. Arizona actually went 0 for 4 from the field in overtime but barged its way to the line to hit 10 of 14 free throws in overtime, with Simon hitting four of them in the final 41 seconds.
“That’s exactly what Coach said … ‘The toughest team is going to win and that let us take over as players in the overtime,” Simon said. “We just had smart basketball players who knew how to play basketball the right way …
“The fundamentals we learned every day — I can see now why it paid off. You never saw Bennett (Davison), A.J. (Bramlett), Eugene (Edgerson), Mike Dickerson or Mike Bibby doing anything they were not comfortable doing. They were all willing to sacrifice for the team, and that’s why we won.”
What really stuck in the Wildcats’ minds the most may have been what happened after the game, immediately and in the long term.
Guard John Ash said he remembered sitting in the postgame locker room in Indianapolis, watching TV screens above that showed joyous chaos back home and thinking ,“Let’s get on the bus and go back to Tucson!”
In the immediate aftermath, though, it could not fully sink in. Davison started to realize it only once the Wildcats sat on a bus while Olson and Simon did an interview.
“We thought ‘Who we playing next?’ ” Davison said. “Holy crap, we’re the No. 1 team in the nation?’ ”
They were. They had beaten three No. 1 seeds for a historic romp through the NCAA tournament.
That, and their friendships, are what they’ll never forget.
“The thing I remember most is the camaraderie and the chemistry,” Bramlett said. “Sixteen years later, I love these guys like brothers, and that will never change. … and three No. 1 seeds going down? It was something special.”