This will be a special series in the worst teams of all time, dedicated to college basketball teams who flamed out in the NCAA tournament. These teams for the most part had quality regular seasons, but crashed come tournament time. Only teams that were seeded 1, 2, 15 and 16 will be included in this special series.
There was a time during the 1992-93 NCAA basketball season when the Arizona Wildcats looked like the best team in the nation. A 19 game winning streak will help matters in that regard.
Led by the backcourt tandem of Damon Stoudamire and Khalid Reeves, Arizona stormed through the Pac 10, with a 17-1 record, including a sweep of rivals UCLA. It was, at times too easy for Arizona. The regular season for Arizona was easier than Lindsay Lohan on a drunken binge on Hollywood Boulevard on a Saturday night.
Lute Olson’s reserved style contradicted with the fast pace he demanded from his players. Arizona was a small team built around point guards and swingmen. Ball movement, accurate shooting, running the court and solid team play are trademark’s of Arizona basketball.
Then came the 1993 NCAA Tournament. Arizona were disappointed that they weren’t a number one seed, despite their dominance in their conference. The Wildcats were a second seed in the West Region, which made them travel to Salt Lake City, to face Santa Clara in the first round.
The Broncos were an unknown entity in the tournament, as they fielded a young team led by freshman point guard Steve Nash. A virtual unknown out of Victoria, British Columbia, Nash was expected to get schooled by Stoudamire and Reeves in the opening game. After all, Stoudamire and Reeves were highly touted players coming out of high school and both were expected to be regulars in the NBA, once their college careers were done. On the other hand, Nash was barely recruited at all and was thought of to be lucky that he even got a scholarship. No one thought an undersized Canadian, would make it past the college level. In fact, many suggested this would be Nash’s only moment in the spotlight, then would fade into obscurity.
However, this first round game that was thought of to be a walk in the park for Arizona, turned out to be something completely different. In fact, it changed lives of some of the players involved.
The first half saw both teams trade baskets and leads throughout. Santa Clara surprised the Wildcats by slowing down Arizona’s fast break while running when they had the opportunity. The Broncos built a 12 point lead, but Arizona went on a 25-0 run to take a 35-33 lead into intermission, but they and everyone else knew the lead was tenuous at best.
The second half saw Santa Clara step up their defensive play, as they began to confound Arizona’s vaunted backcourt. Nash and company stifled and frustrated Stoudamire and Reeves while forcing swingman Chris Mills to make every shot he could. Arizona started to feel the pressure as Santa Clara took the lead late in the second half.
The Wildcats tried everything but couldn’t overcome the Broncos pressure and spirit. In the end, Santa Clara shocked Arizona 64-61, becoming the second 15 seed to defeat a number 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
How did it happen? Arizona only shot 30.9% from the field to begin with. Damon Stoudamire in particular had an awful game, going 0 for 7 from the field. Elmer Fudd was a more accurate shooter than Mighty Mouse. Khalid Reeves wasn’t much better, going 2 for 9 from the field. Those aren’t good numbers for high school basketball, let alone the NCAA tournament. Chris Mills did lead the Wildcats with 19 points, but had precious little help from his teammates. What was supposed to be the strength of the Wildcats proved to be their undoing as the team became individuals who panicked when their shots weren’t going in. Arizona’s ball movement in the half court game was non-existent and they couldn’t run on fast break opportunities, thanks to the strong transition defense of the Broncos.
Arizona did rebound the following season. Reeves and Stoudamire returned to Tucson to prove a point that they could lead Arizona to the Final Four. The Wildcats repeated as Pac-10 champions, and they did achieve their goal by reaching the big dance, before losing to eventual National Champions Arkansas in the National semifinals. Lute Olson would finally win the big prize in 1997, as once again a strong backcourt tandem led the Wildcats.
Damon Stoudamire enjoyed a solid NBA career, winning the rookie of the year in 1996, while with the Toronto Raptors. Mighty Mouse played 13 seasons in the show, going from Toronto to Portland to Memphis before finishing his career in San Antonio in 2008.
Khalid Reeves was selected 12th overall by the Miami Heat in the 1994 draft. His career was spotty at best as he bounced around for six season with six different teams. Reeves left the NBA in 2000, and hasn’t been heard from since.
Chris Mills was selected 22nd overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1993 draft. A serviceable pro, Mills played for 10 seasons, bouncing from Cleveland to New York to Golden State until he retired in 2003 as numerous injuries cut his career short.
The one thing to learn about this Arizona team is, no matter how good your regular season is, it can quickly go down the drain with a terrible postseason showing.
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