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Friday March 30, 2001

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Pep rally sends Wildcats to Final Four

Headline Photo

By Keith Carmona

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Spirited fans fill Sancet Field for brief celebration

The University of Arizona men's basketball team's grandeur may have just earned the status of nobility.

As about 1,500 fans gathered yesterday at Frank Sancet Field to send the Wildcats off on their trip to the NCAA Tournament Final Four in Minneapolis this weekend, the cheering and singing proved that Tucson is indeed in a basketball frenzy.

"I am glad that we had an opportunity to wish the team luck because there are so many of us in Tucson that would like to be at the game rooting for them," said Tucsonan Pat McElroy. "It's a shame that the games can't be played here at home, but I was glad that we actually had the chance to see them off."

Basketball officials didn't want to complicate Arizona's departure, so they decided to organize the pep rally in hopes of skirting a frenzy at the Tucson Airport.

After defeating Illinois in the Elite Eight Sunday, the Wildcats landed in Tucson with several hundred fans heralding their homecoming from San Antonio.

"It can get crazy at the airport, so hopefully when we get there, it isn't a zoo," said undergraduate assistant coach Josh Pastner.

For the fans that showed up to wish the Wildcats luck against Michigan State, the team didn't spend much time addressing the crowd.

But the crowd didn't seem to care.

As head coach Lute Olson and senior forward Gene Edgerson approached the microphone, a synchronized, "Luuuuuuuuuute" and "Geeeeeeeeene" came from the audience.

"The entire team and program want to thank everyone for the tremendous support that we've had all year long and not just in the playoffs," Olson said. "We're headed to Minneapolis knowing that it is going to take our very best effort on Saturday. And if we do that, we might as well bring home another ring."

However, junior forward Richard Jefferson riled up the crowd the most.

Soliciting cheer in unison, he aroused the crowd by asking, "Did you watch our last game? Did we win? Are we going to win our next two games? Are we going to have a party when we get back to Tucson?"

After each question, the fans roared, "Yes," in response.

"Richard sure is a character," said McElroy, who followed the Wildcats to San Antonio last weekend but can't miss work to go to Minneapolis. "They really needed someone to get everyone going, and you can rely on Gene and Richard to do that. The fans love him."