Each Monday until the national championship is played in Indianapolis on April 5, One Great Season will count down the Top 10 National Championship games since 1979, when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson squared off in Salt Lake City. Today's No. 3 is the 1997 overtime thriller between Kentucky and Arizona in Indianapolis.
By JOHN P. WISE
One Great Season
Living in Cincinnati in the 1990s, I found it easy to dislike Kentucky fans. Rick Pitino had the Wildcats on top of the college basketball world year after year it seemed.
+ No. 5: Kansas vs. Memphis, 2008
+ No. 6: Michigan vs. Seton Hall, 1989
+ No. 7: Syracuse vs. Kansas, 2003
+ No. 8: Georgetown vs. North Carolina, 1982
+ No. 9: Duke vs. Connecticut, 1999
+ No. 10: Indiana State vs. Michigan State, 1979
UK fans have long been regarded as some of the most obnoxious in college sports. Sure they support their team like no other fan base, but while a game takes typically two hours to play, the boasting is around the clock all year long.
So it wasn't difficult to enjoy watching Lute Olsen get that March monkey off his back by coaching Arizona to the national championship in 1997 at the expense of Big Blue. The championship game in Indianapolis was loaded with talent; Arizona had Miles Simon, Mike Bibby and Jason Terry, while Kentucky rolled people all season long with Ron Mercer, Scott Padgett, Anthony Epps and a deep bench that accounted for 30 points in the title game.
Epps made a three-pointer late in regulation to send the game into overtime, but once Arizona earned a slight margin, it held on by making free throws. In fact, all 10 of Arizona's points in the extra session came from the stripe, including Simon's four in the final 41 seconds to seal the 84-79 victory. Simon finished with 30 points in the final en route to being named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player.
It was an impressive March for Arizona, which became the first team to beat three No. 1 seeds in a tournament. Had the Catfight not gone Arizona's way, Kentucky might have been the first team to have won three straight titles since the UCLA dynasty of the 1960s and 70s. Pitino guided the Wildcats to the 1996 national championship and Tubby Smith led UK to the crown in 1998.