Flashpoint: A few Observations from rewatching the Arizona vs Kansas Sweet Sixteen Game

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Bonus Point:

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.

BM

From Runnin’ Horns to Kevin Durant to Mo Bamba

[The following is a chapter from my upcoming book, Tao of the Passing Big Man, and other essays. Due out if ,and when we survive this global pandemic.]

Tom Penders 

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To some (okay, maybe just me), Tom Penders is considered the godfather of UT basketball. Before he got to the program, the team averaged less than 5,000 fans a season in a town that was apathetic to anything beyond the football team. The school hired Tom Penders to be head coach and the team immediately went from 16 to 25 wins in one season. Most importantly, Penders implemented an uptempo offense (dubbed the Runnin’ Horns) that was fun to watch. During his tenure at UT, the team averaged 87 points a game, won three southwest conference titles and had 8 NCAA appearances. The average attendance doubled and the Runnin’ Horns won on an average of 20 games a season. Although his tenure ended in a less than satisfactory manner, Penders set up the program to get locally and nationally ranked players to at least take a look at the University of Texas; making it easier for successor Rick Barnes to take the basketball program to yet another level of success. Penders recruited mostly system players that played well during the regular season, but they usually lost to superior teams at certain points in the NCAA tournament.

Despite not having much post season success, Penders put UT Men’s basketball [before Penders arrived, if someone told you they were going to a UT basketball game, you just assumed they were talking about the nationally ranked women’s team coached by the legendary Jody Conrad.]on the map with their fun and loose style of run and gun basketball; became the second most watchable team in the Southwest Conference next to the Arkansas Razorbacks. Penders  ran his own version of Nellie ball starting 3 guards (B J. Tyler, Roderick Anderson, and Terrence Rencher)– starting his 5 best, fastest players instead of setting lineups based upon position.

[The only other school I remember trotting out a 3 guard lineup at that time was FSU with a starting backcourt of Bob Sura, Sam Cassell and Charlie Ward–all three would go on to play in the NBA.]

Penders finished his tenure at UT with a 228-110 record while having only 2 losing seasons (one of them his final season with the team;finishing at 14-17).

 

 

Rick Barnes

Things really took off nationally for the Longhorns when Rick Barnes took over the program (from 1998 to 2015). Barnes recruited two National Players of the Year( T.J. Ford and Kevin Durant) to play for the program (something that was not easy to do in Texas. Most high school basketball players left the state to play college ball), and sent a slew of others to the NBA. Despite making 16 NCAA tournament in his 17 seasons, Barnes was fired after a 20-14 final season and a second round tourney loss. Barnes’ tenure is looked at as an unprecedented success as a UT Men’s basketball coach; going 402-180 in his time in Austin. UT had even made the Final Four–their first since 1947– in 2003, and had a #1 national ranking for the first time in team history. images

 

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Shaka Smart

In 2015, University of Texas fired Rick Barnes and replaced him with former VCU head coach, Shaka Smart. Smart’s tenure has yet to deliver on some of the big expectations fans had for him and the program, but Smart has kept the team competitive and sent players to the professional leagues. The program however, has yet to make a real impact on a national level in quite a while(two NCAA tournament appearances in 5 years–both first round exits.

The good news is that the basketball program is no longer being treated like a stepchild and the team is due to get a new arena in 2021. I hear that it will seat 10,000 fans (which might be the exact number of basketball fans in Austin) As excited as I am, that UT is finally getting a basketball only venue, it disappoints me that its only just now happening. I figured this would’ve been in the works the minute Kevin Durant declared fort he NBA draft. Smart’s coaching record is a respectable 90-78 at UT, but it still feels like UT basketball is at a crossroads. Perhaps they will get a bigger profile new coach to match their new venue. 

 

Players of note from University of Texas

 

Tom Penders Era (1989-1998)

Travis Mays, Dexter Cambridge, BJ Tyler, Terrence Rencher, Chris Mihm

 

Rick Barnes Era (1999-2015)

Maurice Evans, Chris Owens, T.J. Ford, Royal Ivey, James Thomas, Lamarcus Aldridge, Daniel Gibson, P.J. Tucker, Kevin Durant, D.J. Augustin, Damion James, Dexter Pittman, Avery Bradley, Tristan Thompson, Jordan Hamilton, Cory Joseph, Myles Turner

 

Shaka Smart Era (2016-2020)

Isaiah Taylor, Jarrett Allen, Mo Bamba, Jaxson Hayes

 

 

profile pic b mick  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 thisagoodassgame@gmail.com

KU vs UT:Rivalry or Revelry?

[The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Tao of the Passing Big Man, and other basketball essays; coming out someday if we ever survive this global pandemic]

Texas vs. Kansas provided fans with not only some of the most entertaining games of not only the Big 12, but in the nation.

One of the consequences of the formation of the Big 12 in 1996, was that it combined the strengths of the Big Eight and Southwest conference and covered up some of the weakness. Annual football powerhouses like Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A& M were able to pitch recruits on marquee games against in conference foes, while Kansas could continue its reign as basketball overlords (having won 43 outright conference titles with the next closest being Kansas State with 17).

Kansas would continue its dominance in the new conference even going undefeated with an all time great team in 2002 (being the first and only team to do so, so far). Although Kansas has won 17 of the last 21 titles (including 12 straight before the 2018-2019 season), there have been years where other schools were able to give them a run for their money; most notably, the University of Texas. 

At UT’s best, (during the T.J. Ford and Kevin Durant years) this matchup produced some of the most memorable games the conference and nation had ever seen. The reason these games were so memorable is that they had star power on both teams, with future NBA players in each game. Although Texas lost all four games, the quality of the games were so high, that even Kansas fans walked away with respect for how those Texas teams competed. T.J. Ford once remarked on Twitter that the 2003 game in Allen was unforgettable, and one of the most intense games he’d ever took part in. 

As of today, Kansas leads the series 33-9 and since the 2013-2014, Kansas has won 11 of 12 meetings. Que Lastima! It could’ve been something beautiful. It could’ve been a Big 12 rivalry, but in the Big 12, Kansas has no rival (and don’t say Kansas State; that’s more emotion than execution). 

 

Kansas at Texas February 11, 2002 

Kansas over Texas 110-103 OT

This high octane game featured the two highest ranked recruits at their position in Jayhawks’ point guard, Aaron Miles and the Longhorn’s T.J. Ford. It was a point guard clinic. This game got up to 100’s as Kansas finally prevailed in overtime 110-103. It was one of the best games I’d ever attended live, with both teams going up and down the court. T.J. Ford was already making his case as one of the best point guards in the nation, taking the precise amount of dribbles necessary to advance the ball and always throwing his passes in a place where teammates could either shoot it or make a basketball move. He was fundamentally sound and a good defender. 

Miles had the luxury of playing with three All American players in Drew Gooden, Kirk Hinrich, and Nick Collison. In addition to those guys, he had sharpshooter Jeff Boschee, and off the bench came Wayne Simien, Michael Lee and Keith Langford. Texas at the time was no slouch with James Thomas, Brandon Mouton, and Brian Boddicker on their side, and arguably one of the nation’s best perimeter defenders in future NBA role player, Royal Ivey. 

This game featured some impeccably run fast breaks, high flying alley oops, great defensive plays, and efficient offensive possessions, punctuated by a game tying jumper at 0:31 seconds in layup by Royal Ivey to send the game into overtime. At the time it was the loudest game I’d ever attended. The Frank Erwin Center was at 94 % capacity that night , at least half the crowd were Jayhawks fans. Seeing the Jayhawk faithful devotion and passion to their team (some people had driven down to Austin that day and were driving back to Lawrence immediately afterwards) piqued my interest, and the seed was planted to one day see a game at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas

Footnotes:

  • Aaron Miles 10 points, 13 assists
  • T.J. Ford 16 points, 11 assists
  • Brandon Mouton had 25 pts , 9-17 FG for UT
  • Wayne Simien had 17 points, 10 rebounds (7-9 field goals)
  • Jeff Boschee 21 pts, 6-13 (3 pt)
  • Drew Gooden 28 points, 7 boards on 12/23 shooting
  • Texas forward Brian Boddicker 19 points for UT (4-8 3 pt)
  • Kansas more than 50 points in the paint and 4 out of timeout plays that resulted in lobs at the rim (This was also the first time I’d seen the front court high-lo run to perfection with Drew Gooden and Nick Collison). 
  • UT Power Forward James Thomas 14 pts, 12 rebounds
  • Nick Collison had 5 points, 2 key rebounds and 1 assist in the last 6 minutes of play (regulation and OT combined)
  • Kansas at the time of this game was 53-0 all time when scoring 100 plus points
  • Kansas guard Aaron Miles almost ended the game in regulation when he missed potential game winning jumper at the buzzer
  • Texas had five players in double figures of scoring while Kansas had six
  • This game also featured 5 players who all ranked in the previous season as the top 100 high school recruits, point guards T.J. Ford (#10) and Aaron Miles(#11), and forwards, Wayne Simien(#67), and Keith Langford(#41).
  • Basketball fans were robbed of a NCAA tournament rematch between these two teams when UT lost to Oregon 70-72 in the Sweet Sixteen round. It would’ve been a memorable Elite Eight for all parties involved. 

 

Texas at Kansas January 27th, 2003: The Nick Collison game

Texas 87-Kansas 90

This Big Monday rematch (featuring two top 5 teams) did not disappoint. It was fast paced, up and down and a very intense crowd in Allen Fieldhouse. Playing on four fouls, Nick Collison took over down the stretch drawing a standing ovation from announcer Dick Vitale. T.J. Ford put up 25 points and had 10 assists. Aaron Miles put up 15 and 9 assists, Kirk Hinrich had 25 points as well, but it was Collison who put up an unforgettable 24 points and 23 rebounds; scoring in every way possible to put the team on his back. A # 3 ranked Texas squad came to Lawrence and gave the struggling Jayhawks all they could handle (Kansas had lost their previous 2 games making this matchup a must win). Texas had two chances at the end to tie the game (Kansas didn’t make their free throws–something that would continue to haunt them all year) and send it to overtime with 2 missed desperation three pointers before the buzzer sounded. This would be the last time head coaches Rick Barnes and Roy Williams would face off as Big 12 opponents.

 

March 3, 2007 Texas at Kansas Kevin Durant comes to Lawrence 

Texas 86-Kansas 90

 

One of this generation’s most fantastic phenoms came to basketball’s most hallowed court and left his mark. Kansas overcame a 16 point deficit as Kevin Durant scored 25 first half points to open the game (he would finish the game with 32 points). He had lots of help from his teammates. Damion James chipped in 12 points, A.J. Abrams had 18 points, and D.J. Augustin scored 19 points and dished out 13 assists. Unfortunately for the Longhorns, they only had 8 offensive rebounds compared to Kansas 13, and Texas only had 2 points all game from their bench. Despite all that, they almost came away with a W, and probably would’ve if not for an injury to Kevin Durant’s ankle with less than 11 minutes left in the game (keep in mind that KU was up at the time 71-67 when this occurred).

Texas jumped out to a 16 point lead, lost it in the second half but fought back at the end to get within three points. Julian Wright made an unbelievable block on D.J. Augustin’s 3 point attempt to tie the game. Wright would finish the game with 17 points, 13 rebounds 6 assists and 5 blocks.

What is most notable about this game was the sheer volume of NBA bound players who played. Brandon Rush, Julian Wright, Mario Chalmers, Sasha Kaun, and Darrell Arthur, and for Texas, D.J. Augustin, and Kevin Durant (Damien James and Dexter Pittman had cups of coffee in the league too).*(Keep in mind that Lamarcus Aldridge, Daniel Gibson, and P.J. Tucker all left school early for the NBA. Imagine the hype around this game had they still had those guys on the roster.)* 

Although it would not go into overtime like the Big 12 tournament championship game, the overall quality of play was better. Because it was in Lawrence–a college atmosphere not an over-sized arena–both teams played better overall in this match-up to decide the Big 12 regular season champion. This would prove to be the peak of these two basketball programs contesting each other.

2007 Big 12 Championship Tournament game (Durant gets a glimpse into his future)

Texas 84 at Kansas 88

The second meeting had the intensity of their first meeting, but lacked the efficiency and execution, as both teams were clearly exhausted going into their game at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant had little help scoring outside of A.J. Abrams’ 19 points. The team collectively shot 38 % and would’ve been blown out had it not been for Kevin Durant’s 37 points (12-30 shooting) 10 rebounds and 6 blocks. Kansas with its five future NBA players on the roster, had four guys score in double figures. In a harbinger of what was to come for Kansas (the next season), Chalmers hit a game tying 3 pointer off a dribble hand-off play to send it into overtime. Texas (again) jumped out to a solid lead, but couldn’t quite hold on. There were only 14 points scored total during overtime as Kansas just outlasted Texas despite Mario Chalmers fouling out at the end of regulation.  

That particular Kansas team would would go on to lose to UCLA in the Elite Eight, while Texas would get knocked out in the second round of the NCAA tournament by Nick Young, Taj Gibson and the USC Trojans. Neverthless, Kansas and Texas have never been able to recapture the magic that college hoops fans witnessed in the early to mid 2000’s. Despite sending numerous guys to the NBA, Texas hit a level of mediocrity that cost Rick Barnes his job after almost another decade.  Kansas would continue to dominate the league to this day, not missing a beat with head coach Bill Self who would parlay his success at Kansas into a Hall of Fame coaching career. Losing only Julian Wright the following season, Kansas would go on to march to the Final Four and beat Memphis in the title game; taking Self only 5 seasons to win a national championship at KU. 

 

BM

Clicks to Pick Week of 4/1/18

Monday

Michigan at Villanova

 

Tuesday

Boston At Milwaukee

 

Wednesday

No Good Ass Scheduled

 

Thursday

Portland at Houston

Minnesota at Denver

 

Friday

Cleveland at Philadelphia

 

Saturday

Portland at San Antonio (Good Ass Game of the Week)

New Orleans at Golden State

 

Sunday

No Good Ass Games Scheduled

 

 

profile pic b mick  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 recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com

Clicks to Pick Week of 3/11/18

Monday

No Good Ass Games Scheduled

Tuesday

Indiana at Philadelphia

Wednesday

Washington at Boston

Thursday

Cleveland at Portland (Good Ass Game of the Week)

Friday

Los Angeles Clippers at Oklahoma City

Saturday

Houston at New Orleans

Sunday

Portland at Los Angeles Clippers

Oklahoma City at Toronto

 

 

profile pic b mick  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 recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com