INDIANAPOLIS -- Mike Bibby agreed with the masses. Next year, he thought, would be Arizona's year. And then the Wildcats staged their brilliant run through the NCAA tournament this season to turn college basketball on its axis.
"No, we thought we had a chance [to win the national title] next year, but not this year," Bibby said after Arizona outlasted Kentucky in overtime, 84-79, last night in the championship game. "Still, we had nothing to lose."
If the fourth-seeded Wildcats (25-9) made history by knocking off their third No. 1 seed of the tourney, Bibby made some himself. He became the first freshman point guard to win a national championship. And he did it with one of the strangest lines for a point guard, at that.
Dealing with Kentucky's pressure defense, Bibby committed eight turnovers, but made up for it with 19 points, nine rebounds, three steals and four assists.
In two Final Four games, he had 39 points and 16 rebounds -- 14 on the defensive boards. His nine three-pointers in two games here tied for second-most in Final Four history.
But it was his ball-handling and Miles Simon's floor leadership against the Kentucky press that helped Arizona gain the upper hand in a magnificent final.
"We've been working on the press since Day One when we came to practice," Bibby said. "I think the greatest competition is what we see every day, and that's in practice. And our team is just so quick out there."
Bibby was named to the Final Four's all-tourney team, and Simon was the Most Valuable Player. Also on the team: Kentucky's Ron Mercer and Scott Padgett, and Minnesota's Bobby Jackson.
"I thought it was in trouble last year, and I still do to a certain degree," he said.
What to do about it? Concentrate on the kids who stay, not the ones who go, he suggests.
"Some people think if you give a loan of $50,000 that [players] could pay back, that's a solution to the problem," Pitino said. "That's not a solution. Fifty thousand to them is not going to stop them from making millions. They're concerned about injuries and concerned about other things.
"The solution to me is to try and make my ballclub the best it can be by improving Nazr Mohammed's skills, Wayne Turner's skills, and trying to make the players the best they can be so they're future stars. Through their hard work, that can happen."
Both Pitino and Arizona coach Lute Olson agreed they'd rather not recruit a player if he plans to stay only one year.
"I don't think I would like to recruit somebody who says they're going to stay just one year," said Olson. "I think if a kid comes into your program, I think you deserve at least two years from him."
Bibby, Arizona's highly regarded freshman point guard, said he'll return to Tucson next season, but beyond that left open his timetable for departure.
Pitino said that when he recruited Jamaal Magloire, the 6-foot-10 center already had set up a timetable.
"Jamaal said to me, 'I'd like to spend a year or two in college and go to the pros,' " Pitino said. "And I left the house laughing hysterically. But I said, let him have his fantasy. And we'll work him hard and maybe someday after his four years are up, he'll be a pro. So I don't make the decision, I let the players make the decision."
"I think some players have that mind-set about staying one year. I'm not sure what Stephon Marbury accomplished by going to Georgia Tech for one year. I think if that's what you're looking for, the college is better off without you and I think the player is better off going into an NBA system."
Smelling their second straight title, Kentucky fans overran Indianapolis. Tickets with a face value of $50 were selling for $1,000 a pair back in Lexington.
One Kentucky fan drove to Indiana to take his chances on tickets, and got two for $700.
"Anything to see the Big Blue play," he said.
The RCA Dome was awash in Kentucky blue. One fan held up a banner that read: "My wife didn't have this in mind when she said get two seats for Cats."
Wave of the future
It is hardly a coincidence that quickness and up-tempo are the dominant characteristics that both Kentucky and Arizona brought to last night's game.
Olson said it's a sign of the times, and recalled the philosophy of Hall of Fame coach, John Wooden.
"I think back to the thing that he told coaches forever: 'Give me the quickest player that you can give me, because quickness will outdo size any day of the week,' " Olson said. "Of course, not 5-5 guys that are quick. I'm just talking about the quickest post guy that you can get.
"I think the game has really changed. I think the days of the 7-foot, 7-1, 7-2, 6-11 slow guys, I think those days are numbered. Right now, I think the toughest people to contend with are the 6-9, 6-8, 6-7 athletes because they don't restrict what you do defensively. They don't restrict what you do offensively."
As a lottery pick in this year's NBA draft, departing Kentucky forward Mercer figures to make between $1.6 million and $2.2 million his first season. Whatever changes that windfall brings, it will not bring a new house in Nashville, Tenn., for M. L. and Birdie Mercer, his parents.
"For my mom, I know definitely it won't change much," Ron said. "One day I said, 'I want to get you a house,' and she told me we have too many memories in this house, that she wasn't moving for anything."
Anthony Epps' three three-pointers gave him 155 for his career, moving him past Jeff Brassow for fifth on Kentucky's career three-point list. Epps, also second in career assists, had four to give him 544, still more than 100 behind Dirk Minniefield's record 646.
By the numbers
Last night's final was the sixth overtime championship game in NCAA history, and the first since Michigan defeated Seton Hall, 80-79, in 1989. Arizona's 34 made free throws is a title-game record, breaking the record of 32 (Bradley, 1954), and the Wildcats' 41 attempts ties for the second-most in a championship game. A. J. Bramlett's six blocked shots in two Final Four games is second-most in history. Kentucky's 30 three-point attempts is the most in a title game, and their 10 made three-pointers ties for second. Kentucky's four player disqualifications was another title-game record, as was the total of five players who fouled out.
Pac-10 a winner
Arizona's victory last night capped a big tournament for the Pacific-10, which compiled the best record of any conference that sent more than one team to the NCAA tournament. !c Conference records (number of teams in parentheses):
Conference .. .. .. .. W-L .. .. Pct.
Pac-10 (5) .. .. .. .. 13-4 . .. .765
WAC (3) .. .. .. .. ... 5-3 . .. .625
Big 12 (5) .. .. .. ... 7-5 . .. .583
ACC (6) .. .. .. .. ... 8-6 . .. .571
Big East (4) ... .. ... 5-4 . .. .556
Conference USA (4) . .. 5-4 . .. .556
Southeastern (5) ... .. 5-5 . .. .500
Big Ten (6) . .. .. ... 7-6 . .. .538
Atlantic 10 (5) ... ... 4-5 . .. .444
Pub Date: 4/01/97