Bibby nonetheless did nothing to dishonor his dad, who was one of the college game's great open-court guards when he played on three national championship teams at UCLA. And at the foul line Bibby showed the same sangfroid as Simon, sinking all six of his shots.
Arizona's victory closes one of college basketball's longest running stand-up acts. The roll call has been an easy laugh line: East Tennessee State. Santa Clara. Miami of Ohio. Since 1992 each had taken out heavily favored Arizona in the first round of an NCAA tournament. It's a legacy that helps explain why last week, in an Indianapolis Star poll of 20 sportswriters, none picked the Wildcats to win the national title, and why several years ago one pundit did pick Arizona to win—the Iditarod, such dogs did he consider the Cats.
If South Alabama swingman Toby Madison hadn't launched an imprudently quick shot with his team up eight on Arizona and barely six minutes to play in their first-round game on March 13, another ignominious loss might have been added to Arizona's list. But since coming back to win that game 65-57. the Wildcats have played like a team from Carefree, Ariz., instead of Tucson. They defeated 12th-seeded College of Charleston, top-seeded Kansas and 1 (Unseeded Providence by a total of 11 points to win the Southeast Regional. And after the Wildcats beat North Carolina in the first of Saturday's semifinals, Olson told his players, "The ghosts are gone now." Suddenly, instead of being a chesty second or third seed from the pantywaist Pac-10 embarrassed by some loose and hungry 15th or 14th seed, the Wildcats were the plucky and aggressive ones.
Arizona had fallen behind North Carolina 15-4 after the Tar Heels converted a series of breakaways and dunks off alley-oop passes. Olson interrupted that run with a 20-second timeout and ordered his guards not to go to the offensive boards so heedlessly. "Once we made them set up in a half-court offense, our defense was pretty stingy," Simon would say later.
Indeed, the Wildcats soon pulled even at 24 and then began to stage an eerily similar reprise of their upset of Kansas. The team that had made the Jayhawks" 6'11" center, Raef LaFrentz, appear slow now made 7'2" Serge Zwikker of North Carolina look downright inert. A tag team of Davison, A.J. Bramlett, Eugene Edgerson and Donnell Harris forced North Carolina forward Antawn Jamison to struggle for each of his 18 points. Soon Zwikker, Ed Cota, Ademola Okulaja and Shammond Williams were short-arming and bricking open shots, and for more than eight minutes the Tar Heels failed to score at all. North Carolina coach Dean Smith had spent much of the week providing exculpatory spin on the elimination of the Jayhawks, who are coached by his former assistant. Roy Williams; here, going down to the same team the same way, Smith seemed to be suffering a sympathy defeat.
Hitting only 33% from the floor, Arizona had suffered through its worst-shooting game of the year, yet won comfortably. The Wildcats' great advantage against the Tar Heels was that they did most of their missing where it mattered least. Arizona shot better from outside the three-point arc (37.9%) than inside it (33.3%), sinking 11 treys overall, including four in a row in the second half by Bibby. One of Bibby's bombs, banked in from the top of the key, caused North Carolina assistant Phil Ford to execute a full pirouette in exasperation.
Setting aside the first four minutes and change, Arizona wound up out-scoring North Carolina 62-43. The Tar Heels' nondunk shooting percentage was just 25%. With the Wildcats quicker across both the front and back lines. only Carolina's midsized sophomore swingman, Vince Carter, who scored 21 often spectacular points, was able to roam free.
"The experts have been picking against us all year," said Davison. "They didn't pick us [in an exhibition] against the Melbourne Magic. When we played our Red-Blue game, they couldn't pick a winner in that."
One of the few people to foresee Arizona's title was UCLA coach Steve Lavin. When guard Jason Terry plays alongside Bibby, Simon and forward Dickerson. Lavin said before the Wildcats beat North Carolina, "they've got four guys who can pass, catch and make decisions at high speed. They stretch defenses because they can all shoot threes, and then they break you down with dribble penetration. Plus, psychologically, they're tailor-made for this Final Four. All the other teams are Number 1 seeds for whom anything less than a national championship would be a disappointment. They've already beaten Kansas. They're young, so they're going to play loose and relaxed. They're a fifth-place Pac-10 team just having fun."
On Thursday four Wildcats jawboned a security guard into letting them into the RCA Dome just to case the joint. "Are you sure you're Arizona players?" the rent-a-cop wanted to know before letting them pass.