School's out and it's over 100 degrees outside in Tucson, so regardless of what the calendar says, it's summer. With summer comes vacations (hopefully), extra free time (hopefully), and, unfortunately, no University of Arizona sporting events. I can't think of any better way to fill that void than to re-watch some of the University of Arizona's most iconic games.
The first game we'll re-watch is Arizona's 1994 Final Four loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Arizona has made four Final Fours: 1988, 1994, 1997, and 2001. Of those, the 1994 Final Four is by far the most overlooked. People make documentaries about the 1988 Final Four, the 1997 team won the national championship, and the 2001 national championship loss to Duke is still relatively fresh in the minds of Arizona fans. No one pays much attention to 1994. Let's try to fix that.
The NCAA has a number of classic games posted on Youtube. This is one of them, so you can watch the entire game (without commercials) here:
Best Parts of the Game
1. There are a lot of names that even younger Arizona fans will recognize.
A lot of players on the 1994 Final Four team have continued to play a role for Arizona basketball. Damon Stoudamire started for the 1994 team and went on to share the 1995 Pac-10 Player of the Year Award with Ed O'Bannon. He later returned as an assistant coach under Sean Miller. Likewise, Joseph Blair started for the 1994 team and eventually returned to coach at Arizona. Corey Williams, who came off the bench, became a college basketball analyst who fans will most likely recognize from the Pac-12 Network. There are a lot of familiar faces, even for fans who are too young to remember the 1994 run.
2. Reggie Geary and Khalid Reeves were awesome.
Arizona fans remember Damon Stoudamire. They don't remember Reggie Geary or Khalid Reeves near as well. And that's a shame.
Khalid Reeves was a devastating scorer. He averaged over 24 points per game in the 1994 season, which I'm pretty sure is the most any Arizona player has ever averaged in a season. And he did it while shooting over 48% from the field, so he wasn't just chucking up shots. He got to the rim at will and dominated the first half of this game for Arizona, scoring the team's first seven points and finishing the game with 20.
Reggie Geary, on the other hand, was a force on the defensive end. Geary was a high-energy, emotional player that modern Arizona fans would revere the same way we revere Kevin Parrom. Geary jumped into the stands after loose balls and repeatedly stole the ball from defenders, ending his career at Arizona as the school's all-time steals leader. He was especially great in this game, racking up a number of steals, soaring over defenders for a putback dunk, and threading the needle on some great passes through traffic. Geary's performance in this game felt very T.J. McConnell-like.
3. Arizona fans have been yelling, "Nice shot, buddy!" after missed free throws for over twenty years.
I wasn't really a fan of, "Nice shot, buddy!" It's sort of cheesy and it just criticizes the player for missing the shot. I'm a much bigger fan of "Ball don't lie!" -- I like how it criticizes the foul call itself and credits the basketball as possessing some inherent justice.
That said: it was pretty cool hearing Arizona fans yell, "Nice shot, buddy!" after missed free throws by Arkansas. Tradition (by yelling this at opposing players for over two decades) wins out over my sense of cheesiness, so I'm starting to come around on, "Nice shot, buddy!"
Not So Great Parts of the Game
1. Corliss Williamson was a man among boys.
Corliss Williamson was just a beast at the college level. He was the SEC Player of the Year in 1994 and went on to win the Most Outstanding Player Award for the Final Four. Williamson was a huge threat on the inside and on the block. Arizona was not well-equipped to deal with him. Arizona started three guards (all of whom would eventually play point guard at the NBA-level), Ray Owes (a small forward who was at least twenty pounds lighter than Williamson), and Joseph Blair (who had to deal with Arkansas' other big men as well). That spelled trouble for Arizona. Unsurprisingly, Williamson played very well in this game.
2. During one Arizona run, Jim Nantz said, "The Wildcats are in a Zona!"
3. Damon Stoudamire had a bad game.
Stoudamire had his moments, most notably hitting a three pointer as the first half ended. But this game was a struggle for Damon. Other than that three pointer, Stoudamire didn't score any points in the first half, and he forced a lot of shots. Worse, he did so to the detriment of Reeves, who played much better, but lost opportunities as Stoudamire struggled. If Stoudamire had a better game, there's a decent chance Arizona would have pulled out a victory and played Duke for the national title.
The game was close throughout, but Arizona couldn't keep it together. Arizona led 57 - 52 in the second half, but Arkansas came storming back and Arizona (and especially Stoudamire) could not get shots to fall. Arizona eventually lost the game 91 - 82. The game was closer than the final score -- Arizona kept fouling to the bitter end -- but Arizona just wasn't as good as Arkansas.
GIF that best sums up the game
What did it mean for the program?
Arizona's 1994 Final Four team was immensely talented, and the players on that team played a vital role in establishing Arizona's reputation for producing NBA-caliber point guards. Geary, Reeves, and Stoudamire all were drafted and all went on to play in the NBA at least briefly.
It also proved that Arizona was capable of a deep run into the tournament. While we bemoan losing in the Elite Eight nowadays, pre-1994 Arizona had trouble just getting out of the first round. In 1992, Arizona lost as a 3-seed to 14-seed East Tennessee State, and in 1993, Arizona lost as a 2-seed to 15-seed Santa Clara. 1994 helped make up for those early tournament losses.
Overall, Arizona's 1994 Final Four team deserves more acclaim. The team had a number of iconic players who helped push Arizona to a different level as a program. It deserves more credit.
What game should we cover next?
Comment below if there is any particular game you think we should re-watch as part of this series. Some are obvious (1997 NCAA Championship against Kentucky for the positive memories, 2005 Elite Eight against Illinois for the negative ones), but obscure suggestions are great, too.
We've got more than ninety days before Arizona football kicks off the season against UTSA. Let's use that time to remember some of the great teams (and sometimes painful memories) from Arizona basketball and football.