By Monty Phan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
On Oct. 15, 1994 Ä in the beginning Ä their motto was "Play on Monday."
The Arizona men's basketball team, coming off its second Final Four appearance in school history, started the season with one goal in mind Ä to make it to the NCAA Tournament's championship game, traditionally played on Monday.
Arizona coach Lute Olson had nothing but praise for the team, which had lost Khalid Reeves to the NBA but had gained two freshmen who would both average double-digits in minutes. But the player Olson couldn't stop talking about was Ben Davis, a 6-foot-8 1/2 inch junior transfer who would add rebounding and size to the Wildcats' lineup.
On March 16, 1995 Ä at the end Ä they could have adopted the motto "No Excuses."
Arizona (23-8 overall, 13-5 in the Pacific 10 Conference), coming off its second double-overtime game in a span of nine days, ended the season with a first-round loss to Miami (Ohio). It was the UA's third first-round loss in four years.
Olson had nothing but praise, all of which was directed toward the Redskins. And the Davis he couldn't stop talking about was not Ben, but Devin, Miami's dreadlocked sophomore forward who scored a game-high 24 points in his team's 71-62 victory.
While Olson expressed admiration for Miami's inspired play, he offered no excuses for his team's lack thereof. In fact, none of the players made excuses, although they easily could have.
Ben Davis was back in Tucson, serving the first of a three-game suspension for NCAA rules violations. Senior point guard Damon Stoudamire served a one-game suspension as a result of other violations in the 15th-ranked Wildcats' season-ending home loss to Arizona State. Those distractions alone would have been enough to hang the blame of a loss on, but that wasn't all.
Starting center Joseph Blair was hampered by a sprained ankle, which he aggravated during the first-round game. With Davis suspended, there was no player of considerable experience to back him up. But still the Arizona players wouldn't give in to making excuses. A loss was a loss.
"An excuse is just a made-up lie," said Stoudamire, as he sat on the locker room bench, facing the lights, tape recorders and cameras for the last time in his collegiate career. "We could sit here and give you a hundred excuses, but we wouldn't be men. We just got to fess up and look at it that we lost. We can sit here and give you a million excuses why we lost Ä Ben didn't play, JB wasn't well, my shot wasn't going in Ä but we just got to face it. We lost."
As usual, senior forward Ray Owes didn't go to the cameras. Instead, he let the cameras find him. He stood outside the Arizona locker room, leaning against the wall, knees bent, head down. This is not the way his last game was supposed to end either.
"I don't think it was distractions. We just got beat," Owes said. "We got our ass kicked. There's no excuse for that."
Though one week may have provided a season's worth of potential distractions, it was just the tip of the iceberg in the Wildcats' case. In fact, Davis ended the season where he started it Ä ineligible. A problem in transfer credits forced Arizona to sit him for the first semester, a total of nine games. That got the ball rolling.
Blair served a two-game suspension in December for violating academic team policy. Starting guard Reggie Geary sprained an ankle at Rhode Island Jan. 7, an injury that would hamper him for six weeks. A week later, freshman Miles Simon, who averaged
26 minutes per game during the season, suffered a finger dislocation against Cal. He would be out four weeks, missing eight games.
Three weeks ago, a Blair elbow to the left eye of Corey Williams forced the junior forward out of two road games in Washington. Then, during practice one week later, Blair landed on Davis' foot, causing him to miss the season finale against the Sun Devils. He would play only 14 minutes against Miami, eight under his average.
"In looking back, it was certainly not a season where things went smoothly throughout," Olson said. "But I thought (to our players' credit) that everyone seemed to handle themselves well in whatever kinds of adversity we had. The inconsistency in terms of continuity during the course of the year Ä the circumstances with ineligibilities, the circumstances with injuries, suspensions, whatever Ä through the whole thing I really think they did a great job of maintaining a pretty even keel. I think that's a compliment to the kids we have in the program."
Olson said Friday that the loss had not sunk in for the Wildcats just yet. But while the seniors are looking back at the last four years, the other members of the team are already looking forward to next year.
"We've got the offseason to put this behind us," Williams said. "You've got to put it behind you, keep working. No matter what, there's always work to be done."
Assistant coach Jessie Evans, comparing the loss to prior years, said it's no different from before.
"It's no tougher than it's always been," Evans said. "The next six months, is it going to be bitter? Sure it's going to be bitter, because we lost the damn game. But I tell you what, it's not going to be much different from when we lost against Arkansas last year in the Final Four, because if you lose the last game, it's bitter. You want to get out and replace that loss with a win.
"I think as coaches, it's been an up-and-down year, but a season is like that, peaks and valleys. You just try not to have very many valleys, and you try not to peak too high either. But it's always going to be an up-and-down year. You try not to have things go wrong or whatever, but they do. Things happen during the course of the year. You're dealing with 13 different players, four or five different coaches Ä things are always going to happen."
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