NCAA Courtside Memories, No. 8: Once Upon A Time In the Pac 12 Conference

Chris Dufresne

Pretend your name is Bob Cactus and you recently graduated from the University of Arizona.

You are 22 years old meaning you were not alive the last time the Pac 12 won the NCAA basketball championship.

The good news for Bob is that his school was the last Pac school to win it.

It is almost impossible to believe 1997 was the last year the conference of "champions" crowned a champion in hoops.

A lot of us growing up in Southern California lived in a time when only the Pac 8 won it, well, when UCLA won it. The Bruins claimed seven straight before losing in the national semifinal round in 1974. It was like the world tipped off its axis.

Kids of this Pac generation are living through the ice age. Some of them probably think UCLA is famous for gymnasts.

Let me tell you a story about 1997, the year Arizona topped Kentucky, 84-79, in OT in Indianapolis.

It was a fantastic run by a fantastic team and yours truly had a front-row seat for that thrill ride.

Lute Olson's Wildcats team finished only fifth in the Pac 10 that year and was shipped to the Southeast region. From there, the Wildcats went on to defeat three top-seeded schools on the way to the championship. Those schools were Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky.

The title game in Indianapolis was a thriller, with Arizona scoring 10 points (all on free throws) to knock out Rick Pitino's.

Arizona, a senior-less team led by Miles Simon, Mike Bibby, Jason Terry, Micheal Dickerson and AJ Bramlett, was thought to be a year away.

More than the title-game, though, my most enduring memory of that tournament was Arizona shocking top-seeded Kansas, in Birmingham, in the regional semis.

It was the first, but not the last, time I saw Roy Williams cry.

That Kansas team was loaded, led by Jacque Vaughn, Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz and Scot Pollard. The Jayhawks SHOULD have won it all that year.

But, as the teary-eyed Williams said, "I told them life isn't necessarily always fair."

Life got fairer for Williams at North Carolina, but Pac hoops has since dried up.

The Pac 10 left Indianapolis with six more championships than any other conference. It had 15 compared to the Big Ten's nine, with the ACC and SEC tied at seven. 

Today, the ACC has caught the Pac at 15, with the SEC closing fast at 11.

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Chris Dufresne

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