Even back in 1997 this was a historic matchup between two elite college coaches. Lute Olson was already known as a good coach from his Iowa days, but he created his own ecosystem down in Tucson when he made Arizona perennial contenders. Meanwhile, Roy Williams was entering his ninth season as a head coach, and had taken Kansas to two Final Fours already, and kept the program afloat as a Midwestern juggernaut. Going into this Sweet Sixteen game, the Jayhawks had only lost 1 game out of 35–giving them a deceiving 34-1 record. The Big 12 wasn’t cracking as a basketball conference yet, with a Chauncey Billups led Colorado finishing second in the standings with 4 losses, and a six loss Tom Penders coached UT squad that was in its final run as an exciting upstart team ( Penders would be gone after the following season). Neither coach had won a National title yet (although Roy was an assistant on the ’82 UNC title team), so this had all the makings of a classic with a bit of tension woven into the Sweet Sixteen storyline.
Arizona would go on to win the game 82-79 and at the time, I remember the media pushing this as another Roy WIlliams’ collapse to fit the narrative that his Kansas teams underachieved during the post season. There may be some truth to that, of course history is much kinder to Roy after he won multiple titles over in Chapel Hill. But in the 90’s, it felt like the media enjoyed those post game press conferences of Coach Roy Williams crying into the microphone, lamenting his players’ lost seasons. But after watching this game the other night, it is obvious that not only did Roy not get outcoached by Lute Olson, but maybe perhaps this 34-2 Jayhawk team may have overachieved. Hear me out for a second.
- That Kansas team was not that deep to begin with and had battled injuries the entire year with their star players. Both Jacque Vaughn and Scot Pollard had missed games throughout the season, and going into the tournament guard Jerod Haase was playing basically one handed. When Scot Pollard got into foul trouble early in the 2nd Half (Probably the only real in game mistake Coach Williams made–leaving Pollard in too long after he picked up third foul–4 fouls with 17:50 remaining), it was obvious the Jayhawks were in for an uphill battle.
- This was the perfect storm for Arizona, a team with a lot of depth in both their back and front lines. Jason Terry, Miles Simon and Mike Bibby had a field day, creating penetration at will, and no one to guard them. Other than Vaughn (who had his own problems guarding Bibby), there was no one to help out on the perimeter defense. Once Vaughn picked up his 4th foul at 9 minutes, the Arizona guards went on attack mode getting bucket after bucket in the paint. Kansas couldn’t get stops during winning time and Bibby, Terry, and Simon took advantage of no Pollard in the paint and foul stricken Paul Pierce and Jacque Vaughn. No one that Coach Williams brought off the bench could guard anyone in the Wildcats’ backcourt.
- Kansas got outrebounded by Lute Olson’s rotating front line of A.J. Bramlett, Donnell Harris, Michael Dickerson, Eugene Edgerson, Bennett Davison. The Zona guards also got their fair share of rebounds, crashing the glass and somehow catching loose balls and caroms, providing second chance possessions that almost always led to points. The quickness of the Arizona players allowed them to jump the passing lanes (Jason Terry broke the team’s season steal records with 85 thefts) and create turnovers. Kansas had 12 turnovers in the first half alone, some unforced, but Arizona’s pressure defense created a lot of problems for Kansas’ thin backcourt.
- Kansas’ best players had their worst games of the season. Pollard was rendered ineffective with foul trouble and only attempted a handful of shots at most. Raef LaFrentz only got four first half shots and finished below his season average for scoring. Jacque Vaughn played well, but not as well as the team needed him to play. There were many posessions where Vaughn needed to penetrate and create scoring opportunities, but instead gave the ball up early to a perimeter shooter (even during the final possession). Paul Pierce balled out, keeping the team in the game with timely shots, blocks, and steals. He even created two turnovers during the final stretch of the game when Kansas was down by 10 and clawed their way back to within 1 point.
- Bringing me to my next point: Kansas could’ve laid dwn after going down by 10 with 2 minutes to go, but they kept fighting and gave themselves a chance to go into overtime with the final possession. Role players like Billy Thomas and Ryan Roberson hit timely 3 pointers to trim down that big Arizona lead, and had it not been for a blown (wide open) layup by B.J. Williams, and a missed alley-oop by LaFrentz, history might look at this Jayhawks post season run differently.
Kansas really just ran into the perfect storm with a deep and well coached (Olson coached the perfect game and arguably a perfect tournament run) young Arizona team. On paper, it may look like an upset, but Arizona beat 3 #1 seeds to win that tournament–led by a Freshman point guard in Mike Bibby. Providence proved to have been seeded too low with the legendary God Shammgod and a veteran front line of future professional NBA players. Carolina had Vinsanity and Antawn Jamison and Ed Cota. Kentucky was coming off a championship season and had only lost a couple players from their title team. This is one of the best NCAA tournaments of all time and it could’ve gone either way. Even if Kansas had beaten Zona, the road to a title was not a cakewalk by any means.
This game featured a lot of future professional players. With Bibby, Pierce, and Terry (future teammates for a spell in Boston and Brooklyn) making respective their marks in the NBA. Vaughn, Pollard and LaFrentz would take journeymen roles and Michael DIckerson made a little noise in his brief NBA career. Simon, Bramlett, Robertson, and Thomas would have a cup of coffe and catch some balls in the league for a spell as well. This Sweet Sixteen game stands the test of time and is one of the Good Ass Games of Good Ass Games for many reasons. It is worth investing the 1 hour and 20 minutes it will take to watch it. But don’t take my word for it; click on the link and find out for yourself.
National Championship from 1999. 8 future NBA players in this one: Most notably Elton Brand, Shane Battier, Corey Maggette and Richard Hamilton,
God ShammGod. Austin Crochere. Jamel Thomas. Derrick Brown
Random takeaways from rewatching this Spurs classic:
- Really loved the assortment on role players on both sides. Carl Landry, Jarrett Jack (used to kill the Jayhawks when he played for Georgia Tech), David Lee, and Harrison Barnes on Golden State. For the Spurs, you had DeJuan Blair, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, and I liked Gary Neal enough.
- This playoff run gave us a glimpse of what was to come for Golden State. Even though San Antonio knocked them out of the playoffs this round, the Warriors gave the Spurs all that they could handle (and arguably outplayed them outside of a couple of endgame scenarios that were costly). Golden State was ascending and San Antonio had plateaued as a dynasty, reaching the Finals the next two years, but leveling off the following six seasons. Warriors would beat the Spurs handily the next two times they’d face each other in the playoffs.
- Warriors were a really scrappy bunch with Draymond Green coming onto the floor as an energy guy. You can already see the chemistry developing between he, Steph and Klay when the three of them are on the court together. At the time, it seemed like Harrison Barnes was knocking on the door of being a top player at his position. It is fascinating to watch an emerging dynasty in the works. The team had yet to pick up Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, David West, or Mo Speights. The Warriors weren’t quite the destination team yet, but you can see the nuts and bolts of the squad coming together during that run.
- Watching this 2013 Spurs team is tough knowing what is ahead for them down the road. If you put that roster side by side with the championship team from the following year, its easy to understand why they couldn’t get the job done against the Heat during the Finals. Outside of Duncan, Ginobili, Matt Bonner, and Parker, no one on that team had been to an NBA Finals (which makes you wonder if they could’ve used Stephen Jackson who was cut right before the playoffs that year). The team lost Blair the next season, and Gary Neal, replacing them with Jeff Ayres and Marco Belinelli. Plus all those role players who’d lost in the Finals the year before were back and better prepared for challenge. It is also worth mentioning that the 2014 Heat were on their last leg having been to four Finals in a row with a core of slow aging veterans.
- This game reaches its competitive peak in the 3rd, 4th, and second overtime periods. Steph Curry went on one of his epic third quarter runs that were still a novelty; scoring 14 points in 3 minutes (22 in the third quarter). Unfortunately for the Warriors their inability to finish the quarter would ultimately cost them. The Spurs went on an 8-2 run during the final 35 seconds that started with a Ginobili and 1 layup, then a Danny Green 3 pointer, and finally, a careless inbound violation by Curry, that was followed a silly foul by Jarrett Jack; which led to two free throws by Gary Neal.
- The real turning point of the game came in the 4th quarter at the 3:51 mark when Tony Parker fouled out Klay Thompson on a baseline drive towards the basket. With Tim Duncan in the locker room battling the flu, it seemed like it was all but wrapped up for Golden State. Even Chris Webber says at the time, “luckily they won’t need him the rest of the game.” This is when “shit got real” for the young Dubs.
- Down by 16, and less than 4 minutes left in the game, Tony Parker put the team on his back for an 18 to 2 run, and the Warriors shot themselves in the foot with every following possession–only scoring on a Jarrett Jack jumper with 29 ticks left in the game.
- The Danny Green game tying three was the result of a well designed play by five individuals executing their roles with perfection.1)After the timeout, Coach Popovich elects to take out ball by the Spurs bench at full court instead of at half court giving the Boris Diaw room to inbound the ball to Tony Parker. 2) Parker brings the ball up the court– letting it roll til Draymond Green comes forward to make him pick up the ball. 3)Parker then passes it at midcourt to Diaw, who does a dribble handoff to Manu Ginobili, who releases from defender Harrison Barnes from the wing to the top of key to become primary ballhandler. 4)At the same time, Danny Green goes from the top 3 point corner to sets a pick for Kawhi Leonard (who started on the left block then shifts to right block) on Jarret Jack. 5) Kawhi dives toward paint moving back to left block on a defensive switch by Golden State and now has Steph Curry is guarding him.6) Diaw screens his man , Harrison Barnes, out on the wing after realizing he doesn’t need to run to set a baseline pick on Jarret Jack who due to a miscommunication on a switch with Steph Curry, is caught in no man’s land, and leaves Danny Green free to roam along the baseline towards the 3 point line where 7) he catches a perfect pass from Manu Ginobili for a wide open, catch and shoot, game tying 3 pointer
- The Warriors bench which at one point was going nuts during the Steph Curry 3rd quarter run, now looked shook. To the Warriors credit, they managed to regain their composure in the 2nd overtime and still almost stole victory from the jaws of defeat. I honestly saw enough to believe the snafu that left Ginobili open for the game winning three pointer would not have happened with Draymond Green on the court, but unfortunately for the Dubs, he’d fouled out earlier just a few minutes into overtime.
Give it up for the assistants in the game, Mike Malone, Mike Budenholzer and Bret Brown. All three would go on to be head coaches very very soon, and for now still all have jobs with–playoffs teams– the Nuggets, Bucks and Sixers.
I watched this game live at an Austin bar down on Red River and was the only one paying attention as the sound was off and some singer songwriter was playing her depressing music on acoustic guitar. My ill fitting and inappropriate yells, moans, and guffaws elicited some nasty looks from the other patrons, but I couldn’t contain myself during the second half and overtime portions of the game.
It was a different experience being able to listen to the announcers and stop the feed an replay different segments of the game to my heart’s content. I can’t describe the buzz I had that night of the game replaying that Ginobili shot over and over again in my head. Of all the most improbable comebacks, this was the craziest I’d seen outside of the Duke vs Maryland, “10 points in one minute game.” It didn’t look good for San Antonio, and somehow they still pulled it out.
I would be fortunate enough to see the Spurs clinch this series in person at the famed Oracle arena and it was quite the experience. The year before, I was in Oklahoma to watch the Thunder knock San Antonio out of the playoffs during the Western Conference Finals, and so it seemed fitting to be in Oakland to see them take care of the Warriors. Warriors fans joy was infectious and walking out of the arena that night, I felt bad for them. I’d lived in Oakland during the “We Believe” era that already seemed like ancient history. At the time I didn’t know that this was a team still on the horizon and that their playoff runs were just beginning. Of course, this also meant that the Spurs were a team that was already on the decline, but no one had time to think about that. Their run was still ongoing.
Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found in the KDVS studios making on air playlists. For booking inquiries, send contact info to firstname.lastname@example.org