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Remembering Arizona's 1997 National Championship run

1997 National Champions
Posted at 5:32 PM, Mar 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-28 23:24:41-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — This Thursday marks the 25th anniversary of Arizona winning the national championship in basketball.

We look back at that improbable run in March of 1997, with two men who literally had front row seats.

"We were not prepared for this at all," recalled Dave Silver, longtime sports director at KGUN 9.

Silver covered Arizona's run to a national title in 1997. A run few expected.

1997 National Championship team photo

"They had a lot of young guys on that team," said Silver. "A lot of freshman, a lot of people we just weren't sure about. o, as that season unfolded it was like wow this is a pretty good team. They still didn't finish great. Remember they lost two Pac-10 games, but then they go hot. It was just an unbelievable run to the end."

"Every Lute team had a chance," said Ryan Hansen, a member of Lute Olson's staff for many years. In 1997, he was the video coordinator.

"That particular team was struggling down the stretch and didn't play it's best basketball," Hansen remembered. "You felt like this group, if they could ever get it put together, was going to do something special."

The Wildcats were only a 4 seed, in what was then known as the Southeast Regional.

Arizona disposed of South Alabama and College of Charleston, before facing top seeded Kansas. It was a Jayhawks team loaded with talent.

"That Kansas team had Jacque Vaughn, Raef LaFrentz, Paul Pierce, all these guys that played in the NBA," said Silver. "Roy Williams was their coach. He was in tears when that game ended, and Arizona's walking away with a win."

That is when many stood up and took notice of an Arizona team now on a roll.

The Cats beat Providence in the regional final, and their confidence was sky high.

"We believe that Mike Bibby's going to hit a big three when he gets the ball," Arizona Guard Miles Simon told the media. "Michael Dickerson's going to take it to the hole and get an 'and one' when he gets the ball. It's just the confidence that we have."

"We're finally coming together," said Arizona Forward Bennett Davison. The guards are getting confidence in us and we're building confidence in the guards."

At the Final Four in Indianapolis, Arizona took down another one seed in the national semifinal game. The wildcats beat North Carolina by eight points.

"The underdog role that's great," Simon told the national media. "No one, no one gives us a chance to win or come close in these games. We're just coming out and believing in ourselves and playing good Arizona basketball."

Up next, the national championship game against yet another number one seed, Kentucky.

It was a very long day waiting for the late Monday night tip-off. Dave Silver caught up with head coach Lute Olson that afternoon at the team hotel.

"Everyone talks about the psychological edge that maybe you have, you're not the favorites," said Silver in the interview. "Can we throw that away now that the game is here?"

"I think they know, being who we've beaten, whatever psychological advantage it was we probably blown that by now," Olson said. "I know Kentucky respects what we do and we respect what they do. It's going to be an excellent ballgame I think."

As the team was about to leave the hotel for the short ride to the RCA Dome, they had a special guest step onto the bus. The greatest player in Arizona history Sean Elliott addressed the team.

"He delivers just a little bit of an inspirational talk," recalled Hansen. "Not a Knute Rockne type talk. More of a take Arizona where none of us have been able to take it before. You guys are representing all of us in this national title game."

They did. Arizona won the cat fight between the U of A Wildcats and Kentucky Wildcats, although it took overtime.

But Lute Olson's calmness in the huddle heading into overtime, was the difference according to Hansen.

"At that moment, you just knew we're going to win. We're going to win this thing because of Coach O's calmness that he extended to the team. It was a great moment."

1997 National Champions

"We don't have the individual egos, we don't have guys that think they're bigger than life," Olson told reporters in the hallway after winning the national title. "They're together and they represent the University of Arizona."

Miles Simon scored 30-points and was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player.

"You just don't even know what to think or feel," Simon told reporters. "You just sit up there and look at all the fans and you don't even know what you've done. It'll probably sink in probably tomorrow or the next day."

"We knew that we had it in us," said Arizona Guard Mike Bibby after the victory. "As for all of the nonbelievers that didn't even think that we had a chance at the first game, it's unbelievable."

It was a very short night for Lute Olson.

"I still thought it was going to be ours," said Olson on ABC's Good Morning America.

He explained that quiet confidence in the huddle before overtime, and how the Arizona Wildcats were able to take down three number one seeds en route to a national championship. They are still the only team to accomplish that feat.

The real celebration began later that day, with a parade from the Tucson Airport to a packed Arizona Stadium.

"We flew here and saw the stadium just filled and the streets lined," said Olson at Arizona Stadium. "We've said all along these are the greatest fans in the world."

"So many people can say I remember where I was when Arizona won their only national title," Hansen recently said. "I can say it's so special to say I was on the bench, I was in the locker room, I was on the bus with these guys. That is what i will take away."

"To have your hometown team win something that big was definitely the highlight," Silver said looking back on his long career at KGUN.