Arizona Wildcats best-play countdown: Smith’s buzzer-beater at ASU in 1984 set Olson’s dominant program in motion

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This year’s countdown to tipoff includes an overall look at the best play in Arizona Wildcats history, which will be determined as the days leading up to tipoff. Today marks 38 days until Arizona starts its 2014-15 season against Mount St. Mary’s on Nov. 14 at McKale Center. Along with the mentioning of the top plays, the countdown will once again display the top players who wore the number that corresponds with the day. The following is the next top play (they will be listed randomly during the countdown until a determination is made in a bracket):

Eddie Smith's buzzer-beater at ASU in 1984 set Lute Olson's dominant program in the state and Pac-10 in motion

Eddie Smith’s buzzer-beater at ASU in 1984 set Lute Olson’s dominant program in the state and Pac-10 in motion

Arizona State held the upper-hand in its basketball rivalry with Arizona until Lute Olson showed up in the 1983-84 season.

Arizona instantly turned the tide with tidal-wave proportions first with the Wildcats’ 71-49 drubbing of ASU at McKale Center, a game in which Steve Kerr played an emotional game two days after his father was assassinated in Lebanon. In the next meeting at Tempe on Feb. 17, 1984, Eddie Smith gave Arizona a 65-64 win with a swooping bank shot as time expired.

The Wildcats were 5-15 overall with only a win over Cal in the five games since beating the Sun Devils in Tucson. Before that season, ASU won nine consecutive games against Arizona and 23 of the previous 30.

ASU’s Steve Beck appeared to give Arizona its 16th loss in Olson’s first season, but Smith came to the rescue. After Beck made a baseline jumper with five seconds remaining, Olson opted to not call a timeout — his signature strategy in such circumstances — so ASU could not set its defense.

Arizona point guard Brock Brunkhorst quickly dribbled upcourt and noticed Smith undefended swooping in from the wing. Smith released the ball just in time for the short game-winning bank shot at the buzzer.

That basket, although very early in Olson’s coaching career, ranks as one of the most substantial in his 24 years at Arizona.

It sparked a five-game winning streak for the Wildcats, who beat Oregon State, a conference power at the time, on the road during that stretch. Arizona won six of its last eight games to finish 11-17 and serve notice that the Wildcats were an emerging presence in the Pac-10.

Smith took that progression to another level the following year, again in Tempe. That monumental sequence will be described in tomorrow’s blog in this series.


ARIZONA’S TOP PLAYS LISTED SO FAR (Click on link to access blogs that pertain to the following)

Salim Stoudamire’s jumper with six-tenths of a second left beats ASU in Tempe in 2005.
Nick Johnson gives Arizona fans Christmas Day gift with game-saving blocked shot against San Diego State in 2012.
MoMo Jones’ 16-foot bank shot at the buzzer in 2010 adds to New York flavor of Arizona winning shots at Stanford’s Maples Pavilion.
Chris Mills’ buzzer-beating jumper in regulation gives Arizona life in its 105-94 overtime victory over UCLA in 1991.
Kenny Lofton’s behind-the-back, double-pump dunk caps rout of Oregon in 1988, ranks as one of college hoops’ best dunks of that season.
Salim Stoudamire’s game-winning long-distance three-pointer downs UCLA in 2005.
Derrick Williams’ emphatic blocked shot against Washington in 2011 saves game for Arizona.
Khalid Reeves’ coast-to-coast game-winner with less the five seconds left beats Stanford at Maples Pavilion in 1992.
Steve Kerr’s first shot after father’s assassination in 1984, a 25-foot jumper against ASU, gives him hero status in Tucson and contributes to Arizona’s emergence in the Pac-10.
Sean Rook’s last-second bank shot at Stanford in 1991 gives the Wildcats a 78-76 victory.
Salim Stoudamire’s game-winning jumper against Oklahoma State in the 2005 Sweet 16.
Sean Elliott’s free throw breaks Lew Alcindor’s conference scoring record in 1989.
Craig McMillan’s McClutch shot at the buzzer from full-court pass from Steve Kerr against Oregon State in 1986.
— Arizona 6-10 center Bob Elliott’s 35-foot jumper at the buzzer beats Kansas State in 1973.
Sean Elliott downs Duke with three-pointer over Danny Ferry in last minute in 1989.
Miles Simon’s 65-foot bank shot as time expired to beat Cincinnati in Phoenix in 1996.
Tom Tolbert’s no-look, twisting shot against North Carolina in the 1988 Elite Eight.



ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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