The Other Wildcats
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If someone said the Wildcats were going to win the NCAA tournament it would not have been much of a surprise. After all, they did cruise through the Final Four in 1996.
However, it seems that no one told Lute Olson's Arizona Wildcats that they weren't talking about them. Arizona made history by beating three No. 1's, including the real Wildcats (from Kentucky) as well as tourney favorite Kansas on way to the first national title in school history.
The surprising four seeds crashed the party like a wisecracking kid brother, sending the big boys home early with vacant stares unable to offer explanations about how this little kid shut them up. Their 84-79 overtime win over Kentucky in the national championship game wasn't exactly of Douglas-Tyson proportions but when the tourney started Arizona was ranked fifteenth in the country and no one expected them to take home the trophy.
Still, Arizona had a recent history of either making a lot of noise, witness their final four appearance in 1994, or fizzling out early (see 1992, '93 and '95). There would be no fizzle this year although they came close plenty of times, with no double-digit margins of victory and two OT wins. This victory, when it was least expected, was sweet for Lute Olson's all or nothing 'Cats. Roy Williams' Kansas team could not have known what hit them after Arizona rolled out of the Regionals in Birmingham, Ala. with what nearly everyone assumed was the Jayhawks' rightful Final Four bid. Arizona even beat Dean Smith, who became the winningest college coach in history on March 15, passing the legendary Adolph Rupp with his 877th career win. Smith would shock some people on his own just seven months later by announcing his retirement on Oct. 9 after 36 years at Chapel Hill.
Wake Forest center Tim Duncan, who resisted the instant wealth of the NBA to try to win a title with the Demon Deacons fell short of his ultimate goal but still managed to win national player of the year honors, lead the nation in rebounding and earn a college degree before becoming the first overall pick in the 1997 NBA draft.