INDIANAPOLIS -- It is one of sport's delicious coincidences that Lute Olson twice withdrew his name from consideration for coaching vacancies at Kentucky -- only to face the tradition-rich school in his first national championship game.
In 1985 and again in 1989, Olson, a close friend of Kentucky athletic director C. M. Newton, was among the leading candidates to become the Wildcats' coach.
Both times, he chose to stay in Tucson. In 1985, Kentucky hired Eddie Sutton, a move that ultimately led to NCAA sanctions. Four years later, Kentucky hired Rick Pitino, who has the school on the verge of back-to-back national titles.
Yesterday, Olson paid homage to the job Pitino has done in Lexington.
"From a coaching standpoint, that's the epitome of jobs," he said. "I felt honored they would have an interest in talking with me. But it's obvious they've got the right guy at the helm there now. Rick has done a better job, certainly, than I could have and probably a large number of coaches could have. So their choice was the right one."
That 1989 flirtation effectively ended when Olson's wife, Bobbi, picked up two of their grandchildren from school one afternoon.
"On the way home, they said something to her about it's OK if you and Papa Lute decide to go," Olson said. "While they're saying it, they've got tears streaming down their eyes. To go and take a look, not go and take the job. And for those of you who are grandparents, you'll understand how that tugs at you.
"Family has always been very critical to us, and that was why we decided that Arizona would be a good place for us to finish things up."
Olson has a record of 340-110 in 14 seasons at Arizona, and is 533-202 over 24 years.
Making up for lost time
A year after Wayne Turner was little more than a bystander in Kentucky's championship game victory over Syracuse, he'll get to run the offense as a major force in the Wildcats' scheme.
When Pitino made Turner the starting point guard for the Southeastern Conference tournament earlier this month, it launched the Wildcats on an eight-game winning streak in the postseason.
Turner's addition to the lineup moved last year's point guard, Anthony Epps, to shooting guard.
"Anthony was necessary for that team last year," Pitino said. "That team had Tony Delk, Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty, Mark Pope, Derek Anderson, Ron Mercer, Jeff Sheppard, and what was needed was total sacrifice from the point guard and just get the ball to the right players.
"We found out from the South Carolina loss [on March 2] that we don't have that type of team anymore. We need a point guard now that's going to create, get in the lane and then turn around and get in your face defensively."
Turner has filled the bill handsomely. In a 78-69 semifinal victory over Minnesota, he had just one turnover and five steals in 39 minutes.
He appreciates the chance to be a key participant in this year's championship game.
"I wanted to get into the game [last year], but Coach told me before the game there was a good shot I wouldn't play," Turner said. "Every time he walked down the sideline, I was hoping he'd put me in, but I knew either way that I'd get to be part of the national champions."
Blowing in the wind
The air conditioning in the RCA Dome was operative for Saturday's semifinals and created a noticeable breeze that became a topic of discussion yesterday.
"Both teams have to shoot with the breeze, so it shouldn't affect anything," Epps said. "But those Kentucky fans got hot the other night [over officials' calls], so maybe it'll be good if the a.c. was on."
Arizona's Michael Dickerson hit only one of 10 shots, but declined to use the "breeze" as an alibi. "I felt it, but it didn't bother me," he said. "My shots just weren't falling."
Mike Bibby, Arizona's freshman point guard, said he didn't notice it when he was hitting six of 11 three-pointers, but did feel it while sitting on the bench. "It was kind of a hard breeze," he said.
Terry on the mend
Reserve guard Jason Terry, Arizona's single-season leader in steals, rejoined the team yesterday after requiring intravenous treatment for dehydration after the Wildcats' 66-58 win over North Carolina Saturday night.
"We were going to put him in late in the game," Olson said. "And I called for him, and Ed Orr, our trainer, said 'Coach, he can't go.' He was feeling very faint and just very, very ill at that point."
Terry, who had three steals to run his season total to 82, was taken to a hospital after the game.
"When I called Ed Orr [Sunday morning], he said [Terry] was feeling fine, looked good," Olson said.
Taking the dare
Maybe they're too young to know better, but Arizona's youthful Wildcats have shown no fear this season -- and sometimes, not much common sense. Like the time 6-foot-8 forward Bennett Davison rode the baggage carousel in the terminal at the Eugene airport on a dare.
Teammates bet Davison $10 that he wouldn't get on the carousel. He did, and when he was caught, he was threatened with a fine of $10,000 by airport personnel.
Did Davison collect on the bet? "I made $2," he said. "Nobody paid up."
Pub Date: 3/31/97