Arizona vs. Kentucky, 1997: Seven things you didn’t know about their epic NCAA title game

The 1997 NCAA championship game culminated one of the astounding runs in tournament history. In defeating the Kentucky Wildcats in overtime, Arizona beat a No. 1 seed for the third time in four games. Tournament logistics make it impossible for any squad to defeat all four No. 1s, which means it’s impossible to top U of A’s achievement. 

It was part of a string of three consecutive title-game appearances for Kentucky, which entered the 1997 tournament as reigning champion.

Here are seven things you didn’t know about the Kentucky vs. Arizona 1997 NCAA championship game:

1. Kentucky Wildcats vs. the Arizona Wildcats was not the first NCAA title game in which both teams went by the same nickname. In 1951, the Kentucky Wildcats defeated the Kansas State Wildcats. Those are the only two times this has happened in eight decades of NCAA Tournament finals.

2. Current Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner was in his first year as a walk-on for Arizona. He appeared in eight games that season but did not enter any NCAA Tournament game that year. However, he did manage to crash the midcourt celebration the active Arizona players staged after they’d clinched a victory over Kentucky to claim their school’s first title — and Pastner was clearly visible on the Sporting News cover that included coverage of that game.

3. The Arizona game was the second of three consecutive title-game appearances for Kentucky, but the only player to appear in all three games for UK was wing Allen Edwards. He was a deep reserve in 1996 and 1997, playing only three minutes in the win over Syracuse and six in the loss to Arizona. The next season, he played 24 minutes in a championship victory over Utah.

4. Arizona finished 25-9 after winning the six tournament games required to claim the title. That ties 1985 Villanova for the fewest victories by any champion in the expanded bracket era, and one must go all the way back to 1958 to find a winner (Kentucky, 23-6) with fewer wins.

5. Arizona guard Miles Simon, who earned Most Outstanding Player honors with his 30-point performance in the championship game, went on to play five games in the NBA before launching successful careers in broadcasting and coaching. That’s the least NBA experience any Most Outstanding Player has gained in the past 25 years, save for 2013 winner Luke Hancock, who did not play in the league, and current rookie Kyle Guy, who so far has appeared twice for the Sacramento Kings.

6. The Arizona-Kentucky game was the fifth overtime NCAA championship game in tournament history. There have been only two since, including last season’s Virginia victory over Texas Tech.

7. Forward Derek Anderson was lost for the season with a knee injury in a January game against Auburn. He tore an ACL, which required reconstructive surgery. But when the Wildcats reached the Final Four, Anderson dressed for the national semifinal against Minnesota and coach Rick Pitino promised he would give him a chance to shoot any technical free throws awarded to UK. Sure enough, early in the second half against the Gophers, official Jim Burr T’d up coach Clem Haskins for throwing his sportcoat and other remonstrations, and Anderson entered the game and made both shots.

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