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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Olson inducted into Pac-10 Hall of Honor

    Lute Olson was inducted into the Pac-10 Hall of Honor with four Final Four appearances to his credit.
    Lute Olson was inducted into the Pac-10 Hall of Honor with four Final Four appearances to his credit.

    LOS ANGELES -ÿAt times in the past, when Selection Sunday arrived, legendary coach Lute Olson would take a trip up to Mt. Lemmon in Tucson because he was too nervous to sit around and wait for the infamous selection show on CBS to begin.

    “”That won’t be the case this time around,”” Olson said Saturday before he was one of 10 people inducted into the Pacific 10 Conference Hall of Honor in Los Angeles’ downtown Marriott Hotel.

    Olson’s streak of 23 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances – and Arizona’s 24 straight seasons overall – is in major jeopardy.

    With a 19-13 overall record (9-10 Pac-10) the UA men’s basketball team may not make it into the Tournament. Olson said he isn’t nervous, but he has braced himself for the end of the streak.

    “”I think that first-round loss in the (Pac-10) Tournament (against ASU on Thursday) is going to make it pretty hard,”” Olson said. “”I’m personally not very optimistic about it. But you never know; just keep your fingers crossed.””

    UA athletic director Jim Livengood was at the Hall of Honor banquet, along with Olson’s friends and family, including Olson’s grandson and UA assistant coach Matt Brase. Livengood said “”more than a million”” people have asked him if he thought Arizona would make it into the NCAA Tournament, but he couldn’t say if if the selection committee watching the Wildcats play was a good thing or a bad thing for the UA’s chances.

    “”I think it’s a thing. I’m not trying to be cute with that, but I think it’s a thing,”” he said. “”There’s just so many different factors.

    “”And it’s not an exact science,”” Livengood added. “”It was never meant to be an exact science. If it was going to be that, you would simply go through combining the RPIs, strengths of schedules, all those other things, and just pick 34 teams. But it’s still a human equation, very much.””

    Arizona currently has a 63rd-highest RPI in the country and the No. 32 strength of schedule, but USC defeated ASU in the Pac-10 Tournament championship game, taking another spot in the NCAA bracket away from the Wildcats.

    Both Livengood and Olson praised UA interim head coach Russ Pennell and the rest of the coaching staff for their accomplishments this season, given all the obstacles thrown at the Wildcats during the season.

    “”This has been, really, a good year in a very tumultuous kind of time,”” Livengood said.

    The athletic director confirmed that he has been contacted by other postseason tournaments. If the Wildcats don’t make it into the NCAA Tournament, they will most likely become a No. 1 seed in the NIT.

    “”There’s other opportunities,”” Livengood said. “”We’re trying to be careful about what they are, but this team will be playing somewhere.””

    If the Wildcats don’t make it into the NCAA Tournament, it won’t be the only notable streak to end since Olson became the Wildcats’ head coach in 1983.

    From 1987-1992, Arizona won 71 straight games in McKale Center. UCLA finally beat the Wildcats on Jan. 11, 1992.

    “”I think there’s a sadness anytime there’s a streak that’s been broken,”” Olson said. “”Remember the streak we had at McKale. That was on my watch, and that was very disappointing when that streak ended.””

    Honoring Olson

    Olson was the first Class of 2009 Pac-10 Hall of Honor inductee acknowledged during Saturday’s banquet. He was joined with Royce Youree (ASU player, 1955-58), Nibs Price (California coach, 1924-54), Mike Warren (UCLA player, 1964-68), Greg Ballard (Oregon player, 1975-77), Paul Valenti (Oregon State player, 1940-42; coach, 1965-70), Gus Williams (USC player, 1973-75), Jim Pollard (Stanford player, 1940-42), Detlef Schrempf (Washington player, 1982-85) and Isaac Fontaine (Washington State player, 1994-97).

    Livengood presented Olson with his Hall of Honor award, and the coach received a standing ovation in the Marriott’s Grand Ballroom.

    Kenny Lofton, who has played for 11 Major League Baseball teams, was a member of Olson’s 1988 Final Four basketball team. Lofton, who attended the banquet, said Olson’s longevity is what stands out to him the most.

    “”He’s been around for a long time, and he’s coached a lot of good players,”” Lofton said, “”and its a case where he’s coached guys that have been in the NBA a long time, and his record speaks for itself.””

    In 24 seasons with Arizona, Olson led the Wildcats to 23 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, 11 Pac-10 Conference titles, four Final Fours and a national championship in 1997.

    Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar, who led his Huskies to this year’s regular season Pac-10 title, spoke at the banquet and said he has learned a lot from Olson over the years.

    “”He is the man, he’s unbelievable,”” Romar said. “”I try to learn a lot from him.””

    Ballard, who was the fourth overall pick in the 1977 NBA Draft and played for 10 seasons in the NBA, spoke at the banquet on behalf of all the recipients. He joked that if he went to Iowa to play for Olson instead of UCLA, he would have become a point guard, pointing to the fact that Olson turned the UA into “”Point Guard U.””

    “”Thank you,”” Warren told Olson, “”for your legendary coaching.””

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