Editor’s note: This week, the Star is using Whatifsports.com to simulate a single-elimination tournament among eight great all-time UA teams. Whatifsports.com provides a play-by-play and box score, and each matchup was simulated only once in a true win-or-go-home scenario. The teams were seeded on how far they advanced in the NCAA Tournament. The No. 3-seeded 1988 Wildcats have advanced to the championship game, where they will face the winner of today’s second semifinal contest between the No. 5 2003 UA team and the No. 8 2011 Arizona team, which bounced the 1997 national champions in the first round of our simulation.
The 2003 Arizona Elite Eight team spent 13 weeks at No. 1 that season thanks to an electric offense that could score on anyone. In the simulation semifinals at McKale Center, it was the team’s defense that ensured it will have a date in the championship game against the 1988 Wildcats. Down by one near the midway point of the second half, No. 5-seeded UA clamped down on the No. 8 2011 Wildcats with a game-ending 19-2 run to win 79-63.
Jamelle’s Horne 3 with 9:14 left gave the 2011 team a 61-60 lead, and it looked like another upset could be in the works after it stunned the top-ranked 1997 national champions in the opening round. Instead, Derrick Williams’ two free throws with 4:18 left would be the only points scored by the 2011 Cats the rest of the way. Those two free throws ended a 13-0 run by the 2003 UA team and cut the lead to 73-63. The 2011 Arizona team missed its final four shots after those free throws while committing two offensive fouls and two other turnovers. Overall, the ’11 Cats were just 1 of 11 from the field in the final nine minutes. With the game slipping away, Williams put on a replica of the bandage he wore on his right pinky for part of 2011. He thought it might bring his team good luck, but they still couldn’t find their shot. Luke Walton scored 19 points and Salim Stoudamire added 15 in the win. Channing Frye notched nine points and 15 rebounds for the ’03 Cats, who trailed 40-31 at halftime but opened the second half on a 13-3 run to go up 44-43. Williams had a game-high 20 points in the loss. The ’11 Cats again played with a chip on their shoulder after upsetting the ’97 UA team in the opener. This time they came out fired up after it became apparent the game was just the “other semifinal” after the 1988 team beat the 2001 squad in the first semifinal between arguably the two most talented teams in UA history.
The 2011 Cats played near-perfect basketball in the first half, as Williams scored 16 points, and they jumped to the nine-point halftime lead. Williams found Kyle Fogg for a 3 with 25 seconds left for the last points of the half to conclude a 17-6 run. Walton had the shot that put the 2003 Cats up for good in the second half. His fadeaway off an assist from Stoudamire with 8:25 remaining made it 62-61. A Rick Anderson free throw, Hassan Adams bank shot and Jason Gardner 3 made it 68-61 with 6:30 left. Eventual transfers Will Bynum (Georgia Tech) and Dennis Latimore (Notre Dame) got in the game for the final minutes for 2003 UA, leading 2011 coach Sean Miller to argue with the officials that they shouldn’t be allowed to play for ’03 Arizona. Bynum’s basket with 55 seconds that ended up being the last points of the game didn’t improve Miller’s mood any. 2003 UA outscored the 2011 team 48-23 over the final 20 minutes overall in the win.
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