First Final Four: 30 years later

sean elliot
Arizona Athletics | The Daily Wildcat Sean Elliott led the Wildcats to their first Final Four in the '87-'88 season and was selected as Pac-10 Player of the Year.

Lute Olson made his first men's Final Four appearance in the spring of 1988. The tournament was the Wildcats' first time playing in the national semifinal game. Sean Miller, today's University of Arizona men's basketball head coach, intends to reach his first Final Four exactly 30 years later. 

The 1988 Wildcats had high expectations going into the season, though nowhere near as high as Miller's squad does for the 2018 season. Arizona finished second in the Pac-10 in 1987, but was then knocked out of the inaugural Pac-10 men's basketball tournament in the Wildcats' first game, with a 72-63 loss to the No. 7 Oregon Ducks in the second round, after a bye in the first round. Arizona then limped into the tournament as a 10 seed and fell in the first game to UTEP.

In 1988, the 'Cats returned several key players and welcomed back star guard Steve Kerr, who missing the season prior with a knee injury. Olson stocked his bench with depth and encouraged competition over playing time within the team.

"Sometimes experienced teams tend to ease through the early practices. With our competition within the team, people can't do that or they will lose their positions," Olson stated in the 1987–1988 Media Guide. 

The Wildcats took the NCAA by storm after their disappointing end to the previous season. Arizona lost a single game in Pac-10 play, and three over the course of the entire season. The 'Cats then wiped the floor with the competition in the conference tournament and entered March Madness as No.1. Arizona made quick work of the West Region, winning by an average margin of 26.75. Arizona beat legendary head coach Dean Smith and first team All-American J.R. Reid and the North Carolina Tar Heels 70-52 in the Elite Eight. 

Unfortunately, the ride ended there. Arizona lost to the Southern Region No. 1 seed and eventual national runners up, the Oklahoma Sooners, who featured Big-Eight Conference Player of the Year Stacey King, in the Final Four.

Arizona enters the upcoming basketball season with similar expectations. The Wildcats felt they had a great chance to win the Pac-10 in 1988. The Pac-12 media has tabbed Arizona as the preseason favorite to win the conference. However, Miller's team has much higher aspirations than simply the conference. 

Much like the 1987–88 'Cats, the current team is returning many key players. Also like the '87-'88 team, those returners' last game was a disappointing loss early in the NCAA tournament. And the current Arizona team has just as much, if not more, competition for playing time as the team did 30 years ago. 

Thirty years ago, Arizona was very deep at the point guard position, led by experienced, pass-first senior Steve Kerr. Kerr led Arizona to its first Final Four, led the country in three-pointers made, is Arizona's all time three-point percentage leader and has as many NBA Championship rings as a player as Kobe Bryant. Kerr has led the Golden State Warriors to two championships in three years as head coach. Parker Jackson-Cartwright has very large shoes to fill to match up with Kerr.

The similarities between the two teams are there. Can Miller reach his first Final Four 30 years after the Silver Hair Fox reached his first? Only time will tell.



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