Friday, November 30, 2007

The Worst of Times...1997 Kansas/Arizona Revisted

I remember it is if it were yesterday. March 21, 1997. My beloved Kansas Jayhawks were the #1 team in the country. They blew everyone out en route to a 34-1 record. There were future NBA players all over the team. They were a veteran club with four scholorships seniors (Scot Pollard, Jacque Vaughn, BJ Williams, Jerod Haase), a superb junior class (Raef Lafentz, Billy Thomas, CB McGrath), a solid sophomore class (Paul Pierce, TJ Pugh, Ryan Robertson), and future Hall of Famer Roy Williams manning the ship. Then Miles Simon and Mike Bibby walked into my life and ruined it.

Arizona took down everyone #1 that night 85-82 and survived a flurry of missed game-tying three-point opportunities by Robertson, Thomas, and lastly Lafrentz. The memory will always stick with me. In honor of the KU/Arizona game last Sunday, I emailed some of my college buddies to get their rememberence of where they were that night. Take a look.

TD of MTAC: The night before the game was when Spring Break started. We were all scheduled to leave the next day. My plane ticket home was supposed to be during the game, so I had to figure out another option. I stayed up on night thanks to .....i can't get into my only option was a 6 AM flight home. I got home, slept all day, then geared up for the game at home with my father.

As I watched the game, I never once thought we'd lose, despite trailing for most of the game. Everytime Simon hit a shot, it seemingly hit front rim, back rim, side rim, and in. Then he'd smile running down the court. We couldn't stop Mike Bibby and Jason Terry. AJ Bramlett became one of my most hated players of all time, as he grabbed big rebounds all night and yelled after he made put-backs. Michael Dickerson was hitting every big three. Was this really happening?

Most of the game on the KU side however was a big blur until we began to make our comeback and I began to scream at the TV. My pops, a man who has thrown a fit or ten over a sporting event in his day, even told me I needed to relax. Down 10, my alltime favorite Jayhawk, Billy Thomas, was hit two threes and I believe Robertson hit another. Suddenly it was a one point game. After Simon hit two free throws. KU had one last chance. Thomas missed an open three, Vaughn ended up with the ball and dished an open look to Robertson, a move to this day still irks me, who missed. Lafrentz had the last chance. His three from the corner was off the rim and it was over.

I was stunned. I didn't know what to do. I just stood there in shock. Did it really just happen? Was my dream season over? As Williams told his team after the game "life isn't always fair." I had to take a walk. I went outside in shirt sleeves in a Cleveland 35 degree evening and just walked. 45 minutes later I came back. I couldn't watch highlights or the rest of the tournament for that matter. It killed me to do so. All I know is that night KU went to the line just 13 times and Arizona went 27. Arizona coach Lute Olsen to this day never gave KU any credit for being great. That's something that has always stuck in my craw.

The Danimal: Oh Yes, the spring of 1997. I stayed in Lawrence opting out of going home or on some college spring break trip. I wanted to be there, on campus the moment they made the final 4. It was a feeling I thought I would be entitled too going to such a school with a deep basketball tradition. The entire tournament was shaping up to be a classic with 3 out of the
Phat 5 as #1 seeds.

Living at the corner of 19th and Mass, Sean and I had a straight drive down to the Granada. The place was packed as they were showing the game on their big movie screen. We couldn’t find any seats so we sat down on the steps leading down to the dance floor… where we spent many on nights listening the LA Ramblers, Big Head Todd, Government Mule, The Deal, including that one night we watched the Buatchs’s little sister hump a floor monitor, but I digress.

I don’t remember much about the game, but do specifically remember Olsen’s half time interview. He was asked if he was worried about KU’s depth and if he was worried that his team might get tired with such a short rotation. I remember him saying that KU looked tired, and he could not have been more right. Zona hung around the rest of the game, and we left when there was no hope left. I Guess KU made a slight comeback, but to this day I have not seen it. All I remember is the two last shots, Sr. Leader Vaughn giving up a 3 to Sophomore Ryan Robertson, his miss, and then Raef’s miss out of the corner. After that I kicked a hole in my door disgusted… that pain will never heal. That was to be our time, our moment, but I should have known better.

Money: I remember it last it was yesterday. I was studying abroad in London (don't want to bring up bad memories for us). With the time change and other things, I went to bed without knowing the outcome of the game. I remember waking up the following morning and heading straight to the computer room to check the score. As I was walking down the stairs, a friend of mine who went to Arizona was walking up the stairs. She smiled at me and said, "Nice game, you always have next year." I was shocked and pissed. The fact that we lost and the way she said will forever be embedded in my mind.

Stu: One of the hardest days of my life. I was actually on a plane to Los Angeles and my lay over was in Denver. On my way to the gate I stopped at a bar and there was 1 minute left in the game. I still remeber Raef heaving the ball in the air in desperation trying to get that ball in the net. I then went to the bar did 3 shots of Jaeger went to my plane and passed out hoping I was having a bad dream. I got to L.A and had the worst spring break I have ever had. One of the worst days ever.

PPierce: The stage was set for an epic weekend at KU. Although many were gone for Spring Break, Danimal and myself stayed behind to enjoy our first Final Four run of our tenure in Lawrence, KS. It was going to be incredible. Parties on Mass Street, girls everywhere and lots of other things I cannot mention on work email. The destination would be The Granada and their wall size projection tv.

We got there early in eager anticipation of a beat down. With NBA players such as Raef Lafrentz, Jacque Vaughn, Paul Pierce, Scott Pollard and Billy Thomas, we could not be denied. Unfortunately someone forgot to tell that to Miles Simon, Michael Bibby and co.. I'll never forgot those smug looks, smiles and winks on Miles Simon's face throughout that game. His floater couldn't be stopped in the lane and we had no answer for Freshman Michael Bibby's pull up 3's. Which had us all asking the question "why don't we have any guards that can bury three's like Arizona?" Ten years later we finally do, thanks Roy. Their guards made our All American Jacque Vaughn look like an over-hyped fraud (which he was but thats for another article). We had no answers especially with Mr. Floorburns himself, Jared Haase, on the bench with an injured wrist. Although I doubt his pasty a** would of been able to slow down Simon and Bibby.

Dejected, depressed and pissed off, Danimal and myself left the game early. We could watch no more. Little did we know that enroute home the Hawks were in the midst of a great run, cutting it to three. We got home just in time to watch our All American Jacque Vaughn pass up an open three. As Raef's desperation corner 3 point attempt fell short, it was over and Danimal's steel toe boots met his bedroom door. Little did we know that this was just the beginning and 10 more years of agony were upon us.


scottsdaleoliver said...

Watching Roy Williams cry and mutter about how this just wasnt fair for his kids was one of the most satisfying moments sports wise for me. Sure it was fair Roy, thats why they play the games. It was almost as if he and KU fans felt because they had an amazing regular season they should have been handed the trophy. The arrogance of KU basketball and its fans finally being muffled gave fans not only of Arizona but of college basketball great pleasure!

ddrucker said...

great pieces... very strange or sad how one night sticks with all of us for so long.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

On Facebook, a good friend who we thought was a good, loyal KU fan just posted that he was glad to Duke lose, but tried to remember if there was something in our past about Arizona that is hurtful to KU. We had to jump all over him. Clearly, to this day, that ranks as the most painful loss in modern times. There wasn't the parity then there was now. It never crossed our minds we wouldn't win it all, especially with that special group of players. I suspect Ol' Roy STILL gets a little misty when reminded of that game. :-)