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The Arizona Wildcats may be out of the NCAA tournament but their brand lives on because of their NCAA title in 1997, four Final Four trips and numerous standouts who made deep runs in March Madness possible.
CollegeHoopedia.com released its rankings of the Nostalgia 78 — Top 78 ranking of premier players in the history of the NCAA tournament (which is in its 78th year) and two former Wildcats are prominently mentioned.
Sean Elliott is ranked No. 9 overall, just ahead of Duke’s Christian Laettner, who is at No. 10 and ASU coach Bobby Hurley (of Duke at No. 12) and UCLA coach Steve Alford (of Indiana at No. 13).
Miles Simon, the Final Four MVP in Arizona’s 1997 title run, is ranked No. 15.
UCLA’s Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton — yes the love-or-hate-him Bill Walton — are the top two rated players in NCAA tournament history.
What makes Elliott’s lofty rating especially significant: He joins the likes of No. 3 Jerry West (West Virginia), No. 4 Elvin Hayes (Houston), No. 6 Bill Bradley (Princeton) and No. 8 Oscar Robertson (Cincinnati) as top 10 players in NCAA tournament history despite not winning a national title.
To Elliott’s credit, he never had what would classify as a bad game in the 10 games he played in the NCAA tournament, including the 1988 Final Four game against Oklahoma in which he had 31 points and 11 rebounds in the Wildcats’ 86-78 loss.
Elliott’s entry in the CollegeHoopedia.com listing states: “Of the more than 60 different players to score at least 2,500 points and/or rank among the top 25 in career scoring average, Elliott is the only one to have a winning NCAA playoff record in his career plus post higher scoring, rebounding and field-goal shooting playoff averages than he compiled in the regular season. Elliott scored at least 17 points in all 10 of his NCAA playoff games with the Wildcats from 1986 through 1989.”
Greatest first weekend of the ncaa tourney ever!!!! #MarchMadness
Love guards who 2 foot jump stop in the lane. Gives you so much control & many more options. Coach Olson taught us that everyday n practice
Sean Elliott was the master at this! https://t.co/rFcIHTO8Mh
Sean Elliott preaching the mid-range jumper. He's a guy who knows; went from explosive slasher in college to a $ mid-range shooter in NBA
Elliott’s record in the NCAA tournament was 6-4, and that included two first-round losses to Auburn in 1986 and UTEP in 1987 before going to the Final Four in 1988 and Sweet 16 in 1989.
CollegeHoopedia.com notes of Simon that he averaged 18.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 14 games from 1995 through 1998 (11-3 record). He was the game-high scorer in his last three NCAA tournament games, capped by his 30 points in Arizona’s 84-79 overtime win over Kentucky in the 1997 title game.
UCLA with three players (Alcindor, Walton and Gail Goodrich) has the most players in the top 15 of the CollegeHoopedia.com’s ranking followed by Arizona and Duke, each with two.
Therefore, with Elliott and Simon recognized as the two best NCAA tournament players in Arizona history, who do the Wildcats have to fill the other three positions — center, power forward and point guard — to round out an All-March Madness team?
Candidates: Steve Kerr, Damon Stoudamire, Reggie Geary, Mike Bibby, Jason Terry, Jason Gardner or T.J. McConnell.
— Kerr was 4-3 in the NCAA tourney but he had the unfortunate bad shooting spell against Oklahoma (2 of 13 from the field) in the 1988 Final Four loss.
— Stoudamire suffered three first-round losses sandwiched around the 1994 Final Four run.
— Geary was 6-4 with the top assist total of 13 against Iowa in the 1996 second round. He has three of the top 10 assist games in Arizona’s NCAA tournament history and two such rankings in steals.
— In his two years at Arizona, Bibby won his first nine NCAA tournament games before losing to Utah in the 1998 Elite Eight. He was a steady force behind Arizona winning the 1997 NCAA title, making six three-pointers against North Carolina in the Final Four. Bibby surprisingly, is not listed in the top 10 in points, assists or steals in NCAA tournament games for Arizona, but he had solid numbers throughout setting up Simon, Terry, Michael Dickerson, A.J. Bramlett and Bennett Davison.
— Terry was 11-3 in March Madness, including appearances in the Final Four, Elite Eight and Sweet 16 but the Wildcats lost in the first round to Oklahoma in his senior season of 1999. Terry is also not listed among Arizona’s top 10 in points and assists in NCAA tournament games although he comes up twice in steals (No. 2 with five against South Alabama and No. 4 with four against Kansas, both in the 1997 title run). Terry’s 30 steals in March Madness games tops all Wildcats.
— Gardner, who never lost in the first round, was 11-4 in NCAA tournament games. He led the Wildcats in scoring in six of those games, including 21 points as a sophomore when Arizona beat Michigan State in the 2001 Final Four. Gardner is listed among top players in assists at No. 8 with eight against Wyoming in 2002. He ranks No. 3 overall in assists (56) and No. 2 in steals (24).
— McConnell in his two years went to two Elite Eights (6-2 record). He ranks No. 9 tied with Bibby with 35 assists overall in the NCAA tournament and No. 7 tied with Hassan Adams with 16 steals.
The choice: In terms of career NCAA tournament games, Gardner gets the nod, but Arizona would not have a national title were it not for Bibby’s stabilizing force as a point guard. He belongs on the Wildcats’ All-March Madness team without question.
The candidates: Anthony Gook, Bennett Davison, Michael Wright, Luke Walton and Derrick Williams.
— Cook, who with Tom Tolbert was interchangeable at center and power forward in Arizona’s Final Four season of 1987-88, paired with Elliott throughout their careers. Cook is tied with Loren Woods with most blocked shots in an NCAA tournament game with seven against UTEP in 1987. He ranks No. 5 in rebounds in March Madness with 69 and No. 3 in blocked shots with 19.
— Although Davison played in only two NCAA tournament games, he was highly productive with a 9-1 record. He ranks No. 7 in rebounding among Wildcats in NCAA tournament games with 66 and No. 6 in blocked shots with 13. His four steals (a state dominated by guards) against Nicholls State in 1998 is tied for fourth-most in March Madness for Arizona. Cook also had four steals against Cornell in 1988.
— The late Wright ranks No. 4 in rebounds with 70 and led the Wildcats twice in scoring in his 6-3 record in March Madness. The 2001 title-game appearance against Duke made up for his unfortunate turnover while trying to inbound the ball late against Oklahoma in 1999.
— I am going small with the inclusion of Walton as a power forward, although he could be classified more as a wing (Elliott has that spot). Walton not only deserves to be on this list, he should be rated as one of the top five NCAA tournament players of all-time for Arizona. Not only did he have an 11-4 record with an NCAA title game appearance, Walton ranks No. 1 among Arizona players in assists in the NCAA tournament with 67. He is No. 3 with 88 rebounds. He has three assist games among the top 10, including nine against Gonzaga in the classic 2003 double-overtime victory.
— Williams had that memorable 2011 Elite Eight run as a sophomore in which he scored 32 points against Duke in the Sweet 16. He led the Wildcats in scoring in all four of their NCAA tournament games that year.
The choice: Walton he did so much inside and outside for Lute Olson with his rebounding, shooting and passing ability. A March Madness lineup so far of Bibby, Simon, Walton and Elliott can also be classified as the All-Gamer or All-Mentally Tough team.
The candidates: Joseph Blair, A.J. Bramlett, Loren Woods, Channing Frye and Kaleb Tarczewski
— Blair leads all Wildcats in NCAA tournament games with shooting percentage of 63.9 percent (23 of 36 from the field). He made all six of his shots against Loyola (Md.) in 1994. He also pulled down 14 rebounds in the Final Four game against Arkansas that season.
— Bramlett was an unsung hero of Arizona’s early-round triumphs over South Alabama (16 rebounds) and College of Charleston (15 rebounds) in the 1997 title run. He also ranks No. 2 in rebounds in March Madness games for Arizona with 101. His 18 blocked shots rank No. 4.
— Woods led the Wildcats twice in scoring in their 2001 march toward the title game against Duke. He made 12 of 13 free-throw attempts and also registered an Arizona March Madness-record seven blocks against Illinois in the Elite Eight win that year. He also had six blocks against Eastern Illinois the week before. His 24 blocked shots rank No. 2 on Arizona’s March Madness list.
— Frye had an 8-4 NCAA tournament record and came a miraculous comeback from Illinois away from reaching the 2005 Final Four. He led the Wildcats with 24 points in that 90-89 overtime loss, making 11 of 14 shots from field. He also had six blocked shots. In two other NCAA tournaments games he registered five blocked shots. His 172 points in March Madness are the most for Arizona in a non-guard or wing position. Elliott and Simon have the most field goals for Arizona in the NCAA tournament with 88 and 86, respectively. Frye is next with 71. Frye is also the No. 1 rebounder (115) and shot blocker (38) in Arizona March Madness history.
— Tarczewski also completed an 8-4 record in the NCAA tournament this year with the first-round loss to Wichita State after going to two Elite Eights and a Sweet 16. His 17 blocked shots rank No. 5 in March Madness for Arizona and his 58.1 percent shooting from the field (36 of 62) ranks No. 5.
The choice: Frye without a doubt because of his overall success and production in March Marchness.
In the end, Arizona’s All-March Madness team is as follows: Bibby, Simon, Elliott, Walton and Frye. That lineup is tough to beat in March or any other month on the calendar.
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.