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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Bittersweet night for Olson

    Arizona forwards Jordan Hill (43) and Chase Budinger (34) react to point guard Nic Wise fouling out in the final minutes of an 83-77 loss to California Thursday night in McKale Center. The Wildcats dropped to 18-12 overall and in the process put a severe dent in their NCAA Tournament chances.
    Arizona forwards Jordan Hill (43) and Chase Budinger (34) react to point guard Nic Wise fouling out in the final minutes of an 83-77 loss to California Thursday night in McKale Center. The Wildcats dropped to 18-12 overall and in the process put a severe dent in their NCAA Tournament chances.

    As “”1997 National Champions”” flashed across the jumbotron in a dark McKale Center Thursday night, Lute Olson was ushered to a courtside seat where he was greeted with a hug from UA President Robert Shelton.

    When the lights came on, just moments before tipoff between the Wildcats (18-12, 8-9 Pacific 10 Conference) and California (22-8, 11-6), UA interim head coach Russ Pennell came across the court to give the Olson a hug too.

    The Hall-of-Fame coach and the interim coach – along with assistant coach Matt Brase (Olson’s grandson) and associate head coach Mike Dunlap – wore Khaki pants, a white shirt with a red tie and a navy coat.

    The old school and the new school, together with one motive: Bear Down.

    This night was for Lute Olson, but it was a bittersweet night.

    Arizona lost to the Golden Bears, 83-77.

    “”To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement,”” Pennell said. “”… That was a good basketball team that beat us, too.””

    Olson’s courtside perch next to Shelton marked his first time sitting at floor level for a Wildcat game since Feb. 17, 2007. That night UA lost 81-66 to UCLA and wasthe last game Lute Olson coached in McKale Center.

    “”We wanted to win it for him and ourselves,”” said UA point guard Nic Wise, who scored 10 points. “”We always love seeing him. He’s one of the greatest coaches and we wish him the best for his remaining time.””

    UA forward Jordan Hill bounced back from last week’s ankle sprain with a 24-point, 14-rebound performance, complementing Chase Budinger’s 28 points and Jamelle Horne’s 13 points and 9 rebounds.

    In the end, however, the Wildcats’ 3-point defense – or lack thereofÿ- cost Arizona the game.

    The Golden Bears shot 16-for-30 from beyond the arc, thanks in large part to Jerome Randle’s 8-for-11 performance from long range.

    Randle led all players with 31 points and 5 assists.

    “”He played great,”” Wise said. “”When he’s taking shots from deep like that and clock winding down, it’s tough.””

    Randle gave credit to his mother for playing well in McKale Center, which boasted 14,729 fans – the largest crowd since Olson began coaching at Arizona in 1983.

    “”My mom always told me just to not worry about it and go out and play like it’s at home,”” Randle said. “”I just want to silence the crowd and play basketball. So that one goes to my mom.””

    The Bears were 9-for-12 from the charity stripe in the final minutes. The Wildcats scored 11 points in the final 1:02, but it wasn’t enough.

    When the Wildcats went into the locker room leading 38-34, a special halftime ceremony was held for Olson. A five-minute video montage way played to the tune of Billy Joel’s “”These Are the Times.””

    Chairs were set up on Lute & Bobbi Olson’s Court for the coach, his family and former players, including Pete Williams, Harvey Thompson and Steve Kerr – members of Olson’s first Arizona team.

    Shelton, UA athletics director Jim Livengood, Kerr, Pac-10 assistant commissioner and UA graduate Dave Hirsch all spoke about Olson, followed by a pre-recorded video message by Cal head coach Mike Montgomery.

    Hirsch presented Olson with a banner that included the coach’s image on it, as Olson will be inducted into the Pac-10 Hall of Honor on March 14.

    “”Thank you so much. I appreciate a great deal that the university would do this,”” Olson said, facing a standing ovation. “”I appreciate the effort that it took for the players to come back this evening for this occasion, and I really appreciate the fans that have made this the toughest place in American for an opponent to play.””

    Pennell offered Olson an invitation to the other side of the court before the game started. Maybe it would have helped the Wildcats’ chances against the Bears.

    “”I kidded him and said, ‘If you want to, you can come over and help us,'”” Pennell said. “”He smiled.””

    And despite the loss, so did Tucson.

    And 1

    UA guard Garland Judkins was not a part of the team bench. He was suspended indefinitely before the Feb. 22 game at ASU – his third suspension of the season. The Wildcats are 1-5 while Judkins has sat out due to suspensions.

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