Editor’s note: This summer, Star columnist Greg Hansen is counting down the top 10 of just about everything related to Tucson sports. Today’s list: The 10 worst teams in Arizona Wildcats history.
A few days before Arizona flew to Houston for the 1982 Kettle Classic, an athletic department official asked basketball coach Ben Lindsey about his team’s hotel arrangements.
“We don’t have reservations,” Lindsey said. “But Houston has a lot of hotels. We’ll get one when we get there.”
It’s uncertain what has changed most over the last 35 years: the travel itineraries of Arizona teams, which often fly via charter and stay in 5-star hotels, or the caliber of play.
Arizona lost the first game of Lindsey’s one brief year as its basketball coach, 104-63, to the Cougars’ Phi Slama Jama team led by future NBA stars Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Arizona committed a school-record 33 turnovers. Guard Puntus Wilson had 10 himself.
“That’s about as bad as anything I’ve ever gone through in coaching,” said Lindsey, who had coached NAIA Grand Canyon before replacing Fred Snowden at Arizona six months earlier. “I’ve taken beatings, but tonight I was embarrassed.”
That was the theme of the UA’s 1982-83 season. The Wildcats went 4-24 and limped home 1-17 in the Pac-10.
The opening loss at Houston set the tone for what I believe to be the worst season of any sport in school history. It was Cougars coach Guy Lewis’ 500th victory.
“I didn’t think (Lewis) was going after his 500th win,” said Lindsey. “I thought he was going after 500 points.”
Two weeks later, blown out at Tennessee to fall to 1-5, Lindsey was assessed two technical fouls when he objected to a call under the basket. He walked to mid-court and argued with referees, stopping the game.
“We’re so far from being a Division I team it isn’t funny,” he said.
At year’s end, first-year athletic director Cedric Dempsey, who inherited Lindsey, fired the first-year coach. A long court battle ensued, with Lindsey claiming his contract was breached.
Three weeks after firing Lindsey, the UA hired Lute Olson away from Iowa.
Here are the 10 worst teams in UA sports history:
1. Men’s basketball, 1982-83. The Wildcats averaged 6,224 fans per game at McKale Center, the lowest in arena history.
2. Volleyball, 1991. Coach Rosie Wegrich’s team went 0-18 in the Pac-10, the only team in school history to do so, any sport; they were 4-26 overall, with victories against Wyoming, Miami of Ohio, Cal State Northridge and Minnesota. There was little warning for such a bad season; the previous three years Wegrich’s teams had gone 18-13, 18-13 and 19-14. Wegrich was fired at year’s end and replaced by current UA coach Dave Rubio.
3. Baseball, 1994. At 15-40 overall and 7-23 in the Pac-10, Arizona’s .275 team batting average remains its lowest in school history. UA pitchers weren’t much better, allowing 679 hits in 474 innings. Two years later, coach Jerry Kindall retired.
4. Football, 1957. First-year coach Ed Doherty resigned as ASU’s head coach in 1950 after going 9-1. He returned to the state to coach the ’57 Wildcats, who went 1-8-1, losing 47-7 to the 10-0 Sun Devils. Arizona’s only victory was over a Marquette team that dropped football a year later.
5. Women’s basketball, 1990-91. Coach June Olkowski’s team went 1-17 in the Pac-10 and 6-25 overall. As a coincidence, she opened the year by losing at Long Beach State 106-62. At year’s end, Olkowski was fired and Arizona hired Long Beach State coach Joan Bonvicini.
6. Men’s basketball, 1958-59. Coach Fred Enke’s 4-22 club was outscored by an average of 15.7 points per game, the widest differential in school history. Arizona was 1-9 in the lower division Border Conference, last place, its worst league record in 29 years of Border Conference play.
7. Soccer, 2011. The Wildcats went 1-9-1 in the Pac-12 and scored just four goals in conference games. Coach Lisa Oyen’s club was 1-16-2 overall. The lone victory was a 1-0 late-season win against Oregon.
8. Men’s golf, 2009. The once-proud UA men’s golf team finished a career-worst ninth (of 10 teams) at the Pac-10 championships, finishing 59 shots out of first place. Arizona golfers shot rounds of 81, 82, 83, 84 and 87 in the four-day event in Seattle.
9. Football, 2003. After losing 59-13 to LSU, 48-10 to Oregon and 59-7 at Purdue, John Mackovic was fired on Sept. 28. His teams had gone 2-11 over two seasons, which included a 2002 midseason gathering — a player mutiny — to voice displeasure to President Peter Likins. The ’03 Wildcats yielded 429 points, the most in the school’s first 104 years of football.
10. Softball, 2013. The only losing conference season in Mike Candrea’s three decades as head coach resulted in a 9-15 Pac-12 record. The Wildcats lost three straight games to seventh-place Oregon State 2-1, 2-1 and 2-1 and were outscored by opponents 274-257, the only time a Candrea team has ever been outscored.