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Remembering Lute Olson: At long last, Olson has reason to smile

daily-wildcat-1997
Karen C. Tully | The Daily Wildcat

UA junior guard Miles Simon shows off the national title trophy to UA basketball fans at Arizona Stadium. An estimated 45,000 fans gathered to celebrate the UA's Monday night victory over the University of Kentucky.

Legendary Arizona men's basketball coach Lute Olson died Thursday, Aug. 27, at the age of 85. As part of its coverage looking back on Olson's life on and off the basketball court, the Daily Wildcat presents this story from our archives. 

Originally written on April 1, 1997, by Arlie Rahn


Indianapolis - After four tries, Arizona head Lute Olson finally established himself as part of the coaching elite.

With last night's 84-79 NCAA Championship victory, Olson finally silenced the tournament criticism he has had to deal with since his first Final Four in 1980, when he coached at Iowa.

"I'm just happy to have been the team to win it for him," UA sophomore center Donnell Harris said. "He's helped us achieve our dreams, and I'm sure this is one of his dreams."

Maybe even more special was that former players like Jud Buechler, Steve Kerr and Sean Elliot were at the RCA Dome to see Olson's big win.

"We were fortunate to have a number of our former players that are special to us, very special to our program, and I'm just so happy they could be here tonight," Olson said. "This is a very special moment and something that belongs to everybody associated with our program."

Buechler, who was a member of the 1988 Final Four team that lost to Oklahoma 86-78 in the national semifinal, said that he felt just as nervous as the players.

"This is just incredible. I felt like I was still playing on the team," said Beuchler, who now plays with the Chicago Bulls. "I was sweating BB's at the end. It was just a great basketball game."

Kerr, who also plays on the Bulls and was a member of the '88 team, said the emotions of the win compared to winning the NBA Championship.

"It's pretty much the same thing. You really can't explain your emotions," he said. "This is great for coach Olson and I'm just so happy that I can be here to share in his joy."

Ironically, of Olson's three previous Final Four teams, this year's squad had the worst season heading into the tournament. Unlike the Pacific-10 Conference champion teams of 1988 (35-3) and 1994 (29-6), the 1997 Wildcats finished fifth in Pac-10 and entered the Tournament as a four seed.

"You really can't measure how tough minded a team is, and this one had a great deal of heart," Olson said.

"These guys have been just a wonderful pleasure for me and the assistant coaches to work with. It's always had a tremendous work ethic, and that is why they're sitting up here right now."

As to the shadow of his first round losses, Olson will leave that to the media.

"Well as I said the other day, that's up to you guys to make that determination," he said. "We've got guys here with a national championship in their hands. I'll go to my grave with some people still talking about my losses, but I feel badly for them."


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