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College Basketball

NCAA Tournament Recap

Posted: April 1, 1997 at 2:55 a.m EST

Miles Simon scored a career-high 30 points and hit four free throws in the final 41 seconds of overtime as Arizona capped an incredible run to its first NCAA Championship with a stunning 84-79 overtime victory over defending champion Kentucky at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.

Arizona (25-9) became the first school to knock off three top seeds since seeding was established in 1979. Arizona defeated pre-tourney favorite Kansas in the Southeast Region semifinal and North Carolina in the national semifinals before tonight's victory.

"I don't think this will sink in for a while," said Arizona coach Lute Olson. "It's kind of like a dream. The thing I'm pleased with, is this is one tough group of cats."

Simon, who was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, was one of four different players to hit free throws in overtime for Arizona, which went 0-for-4 from the field but hit 10-of-14 foul shots in the extra session. Bennett Davison's free throws 25 seconds into overtime gave Arizona the lead for good and triggered a 5-0 burst as Kentucky also went cold from the field.

"I think we wanted it more in the end," said Simon. "I didn't want to let my teammates down. They tried to wear us down, and our legs pulled us out in the end. This is the most unbelievable thing I've ever done."

Arizona denied Kentucky the chance to become the second team to repeat since UCLA's seven-year dynasty ended in 1973. Kentucky (35-5), which had an 11-game NCAA Tournament winning streak snapped, was bidding for its seventh title.

"I told the guys in the lockerroom, 'You're not champions with a second-place trophy, but you are champions in your heart," said Kentucky coach Rick Pitino. "If you don't understand that, you don't understand life."

It was the first NCAA Tournament championship game to go into overtime since 1989, when Michigan edged Seton Hall in Seattle, 80-79. It was the sixth championship game to go into overtime and matched the largest overtime margin of victory in a championship game. Cincinnati defeated Ohio State in 1961, 70-65, in overtime.

Scott Padgett scored 17 points for the defending champions, who saw four players foul out but did not die easily. Kentucky forced the extra session when Ron Mercer and Anthony Epps hit three-pointers around Davison's layup in the final 51 seconds.

"I was really proud of this team," said Padgett. A lot of people doubted us all year long and we just kept coming up with ways to win and ways to win, and we kept advancing. And I think that shows the true heart of this team. I don't think we have any thing to hang our heads about."

Kentucky took its final lead with 2:09 to play in regulation after Padgett drew an offensive foul and hit two free throws to make it 68-67.

But Simon responded with a 10-foot runner 16 seconds later. Padgett had a bad pass and on the ensuing inbounds, Simon broke free for a sure layup. But Jared Prickett caught him from behind with a hard foul and was whistled for an intentional foul with 1:27 to go. Simon made one of two to make it 70-68.

After a miss by Kentucky, Epps had a steal, but Wayne Turner missed an eight-footer. He also committed his fifth foul with 61 seconds left and freshman Mike Bibby made both free throws to bump the lead to four.

But Mercer, playing in his final collegiate game, drilled a three-pointer from the right wing with 51.1 seconds left. Davison, though, took a feed from Bibby and converted a layup that gave Arizona a 74-71 lead with 18.6 seconds to go.

Kentucky attacked and did not call timeout. Epps caught the ball at the right wing, pump-faked to draw a defender past him and nailed a three-pointer from the right wing as well to force overtime.

In the overtime, Davison gave Arizona a 76-74 lead with his two free throws. Nazr Mohammed was fouled with 4:11 left, but missed two free throws. Donnell Harris missed two free throws two seconds later, giving Kentucky another chance to tie.

Cameron Mills missed a three-pointer, and Mercer got to the rebound, but was stripped of the ball down low. However, neither team scored for almost two minutes until Harris made the second of two foul shots with 2:25 to play, giving Arizona a 77-74 bulge.

Epps missed a running six-footer on the right side and Jason Terry, who was guarding Mercer throughout overtime, made two free throws to give Arizona a 79-74 lead with 2:01 left.

Epps countered with a layup to pull Kentucky within three 15 seconds later. Bibby missed a jumper, but Harris, who had set a pick to free Bibby for the jumper, grabbed the rebound underneath and was fouled with 1:01 remaining. He made the second of two shots to make it 80-76.

Padgett missed a three-pointer from the left wing and Simon grabbed the rebound. He maintained his dribble and forced Mercer to use his fifth foul on him as he came over midcourt with 41.7 seconds left.

Simon made both foul shots to bump the lead to six. Epps missed a three-pointer, and after a near turnover following an inbounds pass, Simon was fouled again with 13.8 seconds left. He again made both free throws, this time to match his career high.

Mills hit a three-pointer with 6.4 seconds left to cap the scoring.

Arizona took its largest lead of the game at 44-38 with 14:14 to play on a 13-footer by Bibby, but Kentucky responded with a 9-2 run to take a 47-46 edge at the 10:18 mark after Mercer made a reverse layup as he was fouled and falling down.

A 13-footer by Padgett pushed the lead to 54-52, but Terry drained a three-pointer from the left side as Arizona took a one-point lead. Dickerson and Bibby hit two free throws around a six-foot hook shot by Mohammed to give Arizona a 59-56 lead with 5:36 remaining.

Padgett then got hot, stroking a pair of three-point shots around a long-range bomb from Bibby that forged a 62-all tie with 4:48 left.

Mercer was unable to get in any offensive flow throughout the game as he was hounded by Dickerson, Terry and Simon throughout the game. Mercer's favorite move, in which he comes off a screen and curls around for a 15-footer, was denied as Arizona's big man would step around the pick to contest the shot and leave when the quicker defender, usually Terry or Dickerson, caught up to the play.

Mercer finished with 13 points but took only nine shots. He went only 1-of-4 from the floor in the first half.

"You can't take any credit away from them," said Mercer. "They went out and played outstanding defense. Every time I curled around, they had someone waiting for me. They made it tough for me to score."

Kentucky came out strong from the perimeter in the first half, hitting three three-pointers as Arizona scored its first three baskets on layups and putbacks. Mercer was held to just one shot in the final 13:37 from the field after hitting a three-pointer that made it 11-11.

Dickerson and Bibby hit three-pointers around a basket by Simon in an 8-2 run that gave Arizona a 19-13 lead with 9:43 left. But Mills triggered a 9-1 run with an eight-footer and a three-pointer as Kentucky jumped back on top 22-20 after a pair of free throws by Prickett with 7:13 remaining.

As he did in the first game against North Carolina on Saturday, Simon carried Arizona in the first half and scored 15 points -- nine from the foul line -- as Arizona held a 33-32 lead at intermission.

Arizona shot just 38 percent (22-of-58) from the field, but held a whopping 34-9 edge at the foul line. Simon attempted as many free throws as the entire Kentucky team and made 14-of-17 from the charity stripe. Kentucky made only 9-of-17 and Mohammed, who did have 12 points and 11 rebounds off the bench, missed all six of his attempts.

"I think they did a great job of penetrating," said Padgett about the free throw difference. "And we also had a lot of silly reach-in fouls that cost us really a lot of them getting to the foul line. But they were terrific guards and they did a great job of penetrating, and that's what caused a lot of the fouls."

Kentucky shot 42 percent (30-of-72) from the field and made 10-of-30 three-point shots. Kentucky's vaunted press forced 18 turnovers that led to 21 points. In addition to Mercer fouling out, Padgett, Prickett and Wayne Turner also fouled out.

© 2003 SportsTicker Enterprises, LP

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