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Wildcats collapse in first-round loss to Oklahoma

By Seth Doria
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 12, 1999
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Associated Press

Arizona's Ruben Douglas leaps over Oklahoma's Victor Avila as Avila picks up a loose ball during Oklahoma's 61-60 win in a first-round game of the NCAA Midwest Regional on Friday, March 12, 1999, at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.

MILWAUKEE - With 100 seconds left in last Friday's loss to Oklahoma in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Milwaukee, the Arizona men's basketball team had a 60-56 lead.

Thirty seconds later, UA senior center A.J. Bramlett, the team's second-leading scorer with 14 points per game, stepped to the free-throw line with two shots ahead of him to give the Wildcats a six-point lead.

Bramlett missed both and the Sooners rebounded the ball. Ten seconds later, Oklahoma forward Eduardo Najera nailed a three-pointer over Bramlett to close the lead to 60-59.

As UA freshman Michael Wright looked to inbound the ball to Richard Jefferson, Jefferson turned around and started to run the other way. Wright looked to pass instead to point guard Jason Terry, but couldn't because Terry wasn't open.

Wright stepped inbounds still in possession of the ball, turning it over to Oklahoma under the Wildcats' basket.

The Sooners missed their initial shot to take the lead, but Najera, who would lead Oklahoma with 17 points, grabbed one of his seven offensive rebounds and put it back for the layin, giving the 13-seed underdogs a 61-60 lead.

The Wildcats inbounded the ball successfully the next time, but as the clock ticked towards the end of the season, Terry leisurely walked up the court before missing a turn-around jumper.

Jefferson and Bramlett both made attempts at tipping the rebound into the basket but missed and the Wildcats lost, their fourth first-round defeat this decade.

It's a messed up situation," junior forward Eugene Edgerson said. None of us expected us to be in this situation. We didn't show up today."

UA head coach Lute Olson was likewise down after the game, but gave his team credit for putting in the effort despite the fact the shots weren't falling.

"It was a disappointing loss," Olson said. "We played hard, but the thing that killed us were the inopportune moments of our turnovers."

But Bramlett's missed free throws, Wright's turnover and Terry's leisurely pace weren't the sole reasons for the Wildcats' loss. They were just the most noticeable.

Pretty much everything the Wildcats had worked on to take Oklahoma out of its game got thrown back in their faces.

"They stopped every plan we had," Edgerson said. "It was hard for us the entire game."

The Wildcats shot only 33 percent for the game and while they held the Sooners to a similarly anemic 31 percent in the first half, Oklahoma shot 52 percent in the second half.

Of the nine players who got in the game for Arizona, only two players shot 50 percent or above (Justin Wessel went 1 of 1 and Edgerson went 1 of 2).

The other players combined to go 17 for 54 (Terry 4 of 17, Bramlett 4 of 11, Ruben Douglas 2 of 7, Wright 6 of 13, Jefferson 1 of 5 and Rick Anderson 0 of 1).

"For us to go far in the tournament, we knew that we had to be hitting on all cylinders, starting with the seniors," Olson said. "We also knew that Michael Wright had to play well inside, and have the wing guys step up. We could not withstand a poor shooting night from the team and get to the next round."

While Wright's turnover will probably live as his most memorable play of the game, it was his rebounding and inside presence that kept the Wildcats in the game through the first 38 minutes.

And with the struggles from Terry, the Wildcats' leading scorer and emotional leader, Arizona just couldn't find a consistent threat.

"J.T. can't be a superman all year," Edgerson said. "Someone else has to step up. We tried but it wasn't enough."