Arizona shakes off Bruin defeat

By Craig Sanders
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 19, 1996

LOS ANGELES UA coach Lute Olson knew that Saturday's game against Southern California would be one of the tougher emotional challenges his team would face all season.

After all, they had just lost one of the biggest games of the year against UCLA on Thursday night, the team was playing in front of one of the most lethargic crowds in the Pacific 10 Conference (3,121 were at the Sports Arena), and the Wildcats were playing the first half without starting shooting guard Miles Simon, who not only missed two clutch free throws on Thursday, but also missed the team bus before the game.

But Olson knew that if one word summed up this season's team, it was "resilient."

"When you play that emotional a game on Thursday and have to play an 11:30 a.m. game in a facility without a lot of people, it is one of the hardest things you have to do," Olson said. "I think our guys came out and played well, especially mentally."

A 76-75 loss to conference leader UCLA on Thursday night had realistically ended any chance for Arizona to win a Pac-10 title. If an undermanned USC team ever had a chance to defeat Arizona this season, it looked to be Saturday, when the Wildcats seemed emotionally drained. Yet Arizona, if not emotional in its 86-72 victory, was at least methodical.

"We came out and took care of business," Arizona junior forward Corey Williams said. "That's what we want to do every time we play."

But with just over 10 minutes remaining in the first half, USC was tied with Arizona at 22, and it looked as if the Trojans might be able to steal a game from a flat team. Then the Wildcats went on an 8-0 run and held Southern Cal scoreless for more than five minutes. Arizona never trailed again, and proved that the loss to UCLA wouldn't linger.

"When you wanted to win, you played hard enough to win, and maybe you should have won, but didn't. It's really disheartening," Arizona senior guard Reggie Geary said. "But we've worked too hard to let one game determine the rest of the season. Today's a new day, and who knows, UCLA may lose a couple of more before it's all over."

The players and coaches now know that the fate of the Pac-10 race is out of their hands, but that hasn't changed their goals for the rest of the season.

"From the first day of practice this year we said we have to make sure we are better today than we were yesterday," Olson said. "I think we are making progress and are playing close to our potential."