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Miles Simon’s legendary run through the 1997 NCAA tournament catapulted Arizona to its improbable title 20 years ago. Without his performance, Lute Olson may have gone through his illustrious career without a national title.
Remember Simon clutching the ball after Arizona’s 84-79 overtime win over Kentucky in the title game? That is one of the snapshots of that magical run — beating three No. 1 seeds en route to the championship — that will carry on forever.
“I’ll probably mount the ball up in my room somewhere,” Simon was quoted as saying in an article I wrote for The Arizona Daily Star when I was the beat reporter that season. “I know it’s seen its last shot, that’s for sure.”
Arizona’s jersey No. 34 has likely seen its last game. The number was last worn by Chase Budinger in the 2008-09 season.
Simon will be recognized in October during the Red-Blue Game with his number in the rafters, joining these Arizona hoops immortals: No. 10 Mike Bibby, No. 22 Jason Gardner, No. 25 Steve Kerr, No. 31 Jason Terry and No. 32 Sean Elliott. All coached by Olson, the hall of famer.
Bibby and Terry were his teammates during his most outstanding player honor of the 1997 NCAA tournament. Michael Dickerson, A.J. Bramlett, Bennett Davison and the rest all played a significant role.
These are the 1997 NCAA tournament games that contributed to Simon’s legacy:
Miles Simon with A.J. Bramlett, Mike Bibby and Jason Terry during a Final Four victory over No. 1 seed North Carolina.
March 13, 1997 — Arizona 65, South Alabama 57
Simon, struggling offensively most of the night, helped spark a game-turning 17-0 run with a couple of free throws and a baseline jumper with 6:12 left in the game. It was Simon’s first basket. South Alabama led by as many as 10 points — 53-43 — with 7:31 remaining. “The thought going through my mind is that I didn’t want to go home,” Simon said in an article I wrote for the Star. Simon had an obvious look of disgust after the game despite scoring nine of his 11 points during that 17-0 run. “I’m glad we won but I wouldn’t call it sweet,” he said.
March 15, 1997 — Arizona 73, College of Charleston 69
Simon led the Wildcats in scoring after his mostly forgettable performance against South Alabama. “Everybody overlooked us,” Simon told the Arizona Republic. “All the TVs and the papers, nobody had us going on from here. None of us had anything to do with what might have happened to the University of Arizona in the tournament in past years. Maybe now people will stop overlooking us.”
March 21, 1997 — Arizona 85, Kansas 82
After topping No. 1-ranked Kansas, which was 34-1 entering the game, Simon and his teammates jumped on press tables courtside to openly celebrate with fans. “It’s the best experience I’ve had on a basketball court,” said Simon, who contributed to Arizona making all of its last six free throw attempts in the last two minutes. Simon made two as did Terry and Bibby.
March 23, 1997 — Arizona 96, Providence 92 (OT)
Simon’s 30 points were enough to prolong Arizona’s journey in the tourney one more round to the Final Four, warding off the pesky Friars in a grueling game. Simon played 42 minutes. “The emotion of this is hard to explain,” Simon told the Arizona Republic. “My grandmother and my two best friends were here. I am almost lost it after the game. We all knew we were a young team without seniors. But we set realistic goals. We still have one goal left and it’s very attainable.”
March 29, 1997 — Arizona 66, North Carolina 58
Simon’s dream run through the NCAA tournament continued as he helped eliminate North Carolina in what proved to be Dean Smith’s last game as the Tar Heels’ coach. Simon put Smith and the North Carolina program on a pedestal while growing up. Smith sent him recruiting letters. Simon pinned one on his bedroom wall, a message from Smith that North Carolina no longer needed his services. “Things worked out for the best,” Simon said. “I’m obviously not disappointed that I went to Arizona.”
March 31, 1997 — Arizona 84, Kentucky 79 (OT)
In the game’s final seconds, CBS announcer Jim Nantz proclaimed: “A milestone victory.” Billy Packer added, “Simon says … championship.” Simon, the obvious choice for the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, knelt down on the court, hugging the ball, looking like Michael Jordan when he won his first NBA title. “It was such a war,” Simon said, shaking his head in disbelief. “This is the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever done.”
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.