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Top 10 Sports Stories

By James Kelley
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
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A look at the best of UA sports from the past decade


Olympic softball team comes to UA

CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Summer Wildcat
Former Wildcat pitcher Jennie Finch pitches against her former team during the USA-Arizona softball game. Finch gave up a homerun to the Wildcats' Kristie Fox in the bottom of the second inning during Team USA's 6-1 win in March at Hillenbrand Stadium.

When the UA faced off against the USA Olympic softball team this March, it truly was a civil war. UA head coach Mike Candrea was on a leave of absence to lead the USA team and - after dominating all its "competition" - was in need of a challenge. The Americans brought four former Wildcats, including their ace and softball's biggest star Jennie Finch, to face off against her successor and the UA's ace Alicia Hollowell. Both were undefeated. While the UA's perfect record was marred in the game immediately before the match, the record crowd was not disappointed as Arizona gave the USA one of its toughest games, losing just 6-1. Two time junior Olympic team member and then-freshman Kristie Fox homered - the only HR given up by Finch on the 53-game tour. Despite an unadvertised Saturday airing, the game was ESPN's most watched program of the day when it was first shown.


Icecats reach eighth Final Four

In 1996-97 the UA celebrated its 100th year of fielding athletic teams with a banner year. The softball and men's basketball team's won national championships and the hockey team made its eighth Final Four. Arizona hockey raced through the season with a 25-3-1 record and earned the No. 2 seed in the national tournament, but lost two games in a row to lower seeded teams, ending the season in fourth place - the Icecats' first Final Four in four years.


Mackovic fired

KEVIN KLAUS/Arizona Summer Wildcat
Former Arizona head football coach John Mackovic tries to motivate his team against Wisconsin in '02. Mackovic was fired as the head football coach and later replaced by Mike Stoops.

The reign of football head coach John Mackovic mercifully came to an end on September 28, 2003. Hired to take the Wildcats to the Rose Bowl, Mackovic's team finished in the toilet bowl. After a decent 5-6 first year, Mackovic went 4-8 in 2002 and nearly lost his job after 40 players met with UA president Peter Likins to speak out about his verbal abuse. The UA won the next game but Mackovic remained in the hot seat right through a four-game losing streak last September. Arizona was routed by LSU 59-13, by Oregon 48-10 and by Purdue 59-7 in successive games. After the loss to the Boilermakers, Mackovic declined to shake hands with PU head coach Joe Tiller, accusing him of running up the score. Another Wildcat insurrection over the player's meals right before his last game likely closed the book on Mackovic.


2001 basketball team reaches title game

Arizona flat-out sacked the Spartans in the 2001 Final Four game, beating Michigan State 80-61. The Wildcats blew open a 32-30 half time lead, capitalizing on 15 MSU turnovers. The preseason No. 1 team took the road less traveled to the title game, losing three of its first five games after the Maui Invitational. After the UA recovered a little, its was struck by the news that Bobbi Olson, wife of head coach Lute Olson had died of ovarian cancer. The Wildcats rallied to go 15-3 in the Pac-10 and earn a No. 2 seed, and after beating No. 1 seed Illinois, Olson returned to Minneapolis, where he and Bobbi Olson were married. Arizona lost to Duke 82-72 in the championship.


Women's golf national championship

Sure, it was the women's golf team's second national championship in five years, but the way the Wildcats won it is the most memorable. The UA's four-round total 23 over 1,175 earned them a 21-stroke victory, the third-largest in the tournament's history. Jenna Daniels took home the individual championship, while freshman Julia Kraschinski finished second and sophomore Cristina Baena finished in the top 10 as well. The championship was the eighth consecutive tournament win for Arizona and was head coach Todd Mcorkle's last tourney.


2001 Softball national championship

The softball team could be listed here several times, but it is the 2001 championship that stands out. The 2001 Wildcats had hitting - they shattered the NCAA record for home runs set by the 1995 UA team - pitching - national player of the year Finch went 32-0 - and fielding - the Wildcats had a UA-best .981 fielding percentage. Everything seemed to go right for the UA, which started the season with a 31-game win streak and ended it with a 26-game win streak. Arizona beat rival UCLA 1-0 for its sixth national championship in 11 years.


Fiesta Bowl win over Miami

Arizona's "Desert Swarm" defense smothered No. 10 Miami 29-0 at the IBM OS/2 Fiesta Bowl in 1994. The spanking was the only shutout in the history of the Fiesta Bowl, as the Hurricanes were limited to 22 rushes for 35 yards and UA tailback Chuck Levy ran for 142 yards, including a 68 yard TD, earning MVP honors. The win gave the UA its first 10-win season.


Kevin B. Klaus/Arizona Summer Wildcat
Arizona baseball playerTrevor Crowe, celebrates Arizona's victory over Long Beach State in game three of the College World Series.

Baseball returns to College World Series

Until softball's rise to prominence, baseball was the sport at Arizona, winning three national championships, finishing second three times and making the College World Series 14 times. But by the time Andy Lopez was hired a couple years ago, those accomplishments were ages past. However, in 2004, the team took an amazing run, including whipping then-No. 1 Stanford, to make the NCAA tournament as the under dogs. Then Arizona went on to avenge earlier losses to Long Beach State and national player of the year Jared Weaver, Notre Dame and UC Irvine to become the only 2004 CWS team to advance on the road within the first two weekends.


Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska

Usually you can't tell how good a season will be based on the first play, but in the 1998 opener at Hawaii, Chris McAlister brought the open kick-off back for a touchdown. Other than a disastrous fourth quarter against UCLA, which led to their loss and the Bruins' loss to Edgerrin James and Miami in a rescheduled game - which kept the UA from the Rose Bowl - the season was perfect. Led by the two-headed quarterback monster of Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins, and McAlister on defense, the Wildcats finished the year with a school-best 12-1 record. Shunned by bigger bowls, the UA capped the dream season by winning a classic Holiday Bowl game 23-20 over perennial power Nebraska to finish the season ranked at an all-time high No. 4.


Basketball national championship

Going into the NCAA tournament losing their last two games and finishing fifth in the conference, the talking heads were predicting another first-round exit for the basketball team in 1997. Down 10 points to South Alabama with 7:34 to go in the first round, it looked like the UA would suffer the fate of the '92, '93 and '95 teams, but led by 1997 Final Four Most Outstanding Player Miles Simon, the Wildcats rallied to win. After a second win over Charleston, Arizona upset everyone's national champion pick, No. 1 Kansas. A win over Providence got the Wildcats into their second Final Four in four years. The magic continued in wins over North Carolina and Kentucky, giving the '97 team the distinction of the only champ to beat three No. 1 seeds. Not bad for a No. 4 seed with no scholarship seniors.

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