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Surprise! Arizona top 'Cats Kentucky comes back to force overtime, but loses title, 84-79; Simon's 30 key No. 4 seed; Long-maligned Olson gets first championship

THE BALTIMORE SUN

INDIANAPOLIS -- Miles Simon is not a student of college basketball history, recent or otherwise. The Arizona guard had no clue who "Danny and the Miracles" were when former Kansas star Danny Manning and the 1989 Kansas Jayhawks were mentioned to him on the eve of last night's NCAA championship game.

But Simon is now part of that history, and so is Arizona.

Just call them "Miles and the Miracles, Part II."

With Simon outplaying Kentucky star Ron Mercer, and with the underdog Wildcats outshooting their more famous and favored nickname-sakes here at the RCA Dome, Arizona beat the defending national champion in overtime, 84-79, and give long-maligned coach Lute Olson his first national championship.

Actually, Arizona (25-9) won the first overtime final in eight years at the free throw line, scoring all 10 of its overtime points on 14 foul shots. Simon had the last four to seal the victory and finish with 30 points, to 13 for Mercer. Despite a mostly Kentucky crowd of 47,028 turning the building into Rupp Arena North, Simon did his best to silence them.

Arizona, seeded fourth when the NCAA tournament began, became the lowest seed to win since the sixth-seeded Jayhawks beat Oklahoma in the 1988 final in Kansas City. The Wildcats also became the first team ever to finish fifth in their conference to win the title. The loss prevented Kentucky (35-5) from becoming the second team to repeat this decade.

After seeing a four-point lead with a minute left in regulation turn into a 74-74 tie on a pair of late three-point shots by Kentucky, Arizona went up by five, 79-74, by hitting five of eight free throws in the first three minutes of overtime. After Anthony Epps cut Kentucky's deficit to three on a drive with 1: 40 to go, reserve center Donnell Harris rebounded the miss by freshman guard Mike Bibby and was fouled with 1: 08 to play. He made the first of two for a four-point lead with a minute left in overtime.

But Cameron Mills missed a three for Kentucky, and Simon was fouled as he raced up court. He calmly made both free throws for a 82-76 lead with 41.7 seconds to play.

"I think we just wanted it more," Simon said.

With his team leading by one, 65-64, at the end of regulation, Bibby rebounded a badly missed jumper by Simon and was fouled by Wayne Turner, who picked up his fourth personal with 2: 33 to play. Bibby hit both free throws. But Turner cut Kentucky's deficit to one with a drive with 2: 15 to go.

Bibby then made one of his few mistakes of the game when he lost control of the ball and pushed off trying to get it back. Padgett, whose three-point shooting had brought his team back from a six-point deficit earlier in the half, made both free throws to give Kentucky the lead at 68-67.

But Simon, who was clearly the best player on the court last night, hit a runner in the lane with 1: 50 remaining. Kentucky called timeout. Padgett then threw a pass away with 1: 34 left as Epps went the other way. Bibby then found Simon in the clear.

On the play that seemingly turned the game finally in Arizona's direction, Simon was intentionally fouled from behind with 1: 27 to go by Jared Prickett, who fouled out on the play. Simon missed the first and hit the second, with the ball returned to Arizona. But Bibby's inbounds pass was stolen by Epps. Turner drove the right side with a little over a minute left, but the ball hit too hard off the backboard and Bibby was fouled going for the rebound with 1: 01 to play. His two free throws gave Arizona a 72-68 lead.

Kentucky refused to fold. First Mercer hit a three with 51 seconds left. Then, after Bibby fed Bennett Davison for a layup, Epps hit another three to tie the game at 74 with a little over 11 seconds remaining to force the overtime.

Things seemed to fall apart for Kentucky on the first possession of the second half. Turner, the team's point guard throughout the postseason, was called for his third personal 22 seconds into the half and took a seat on the bench for the next five minutes.

After Mercer scored to give Kentucky a 34-33 lead, a three by Bibby started a 9-2 run that included another basket by the freshman, one by Simon and a steal and tip-in by reserve center Donnell Harris that gave Arizona a 42-36 lead with 15: 18 left.

Leading 44-36 after yet another jump shot by Simon, Arizona got a little sloppy and, with Turner back to key Kentucky's defense, a bit flustered. Kentucky cut its deficit to 44-40 on a drive by reserve center Nazr Mohammed and later to 44-42 on a drive by Turner.

After an offensive foul called against Davison with 11: 41 to go, Mercer tied the game with a tip-in of a missed three by Epps. After Simon returned the lead to Arizona, Mercer made the kind of play that will make him a lottery pick come June.

Cameron Mills missed a three, but Mercer got the rebound, came down and went up with an over-the-head, double-pump scoop that banked in as he was fouled. He made the free throw to give Kentucky a 47-46 lead. But Arizona answered as Harris was fouled and made a pair.

Mohammed then missed a pair of free throws for Kentucky. After an Arizona turnover, a three by Epps gave Kentucky a 50-48 lead, but Arizona answered with a drive by Harris. Padgett hit a 15-footer, and Simon answered in kind. Padgett hit another jumper.

After the teams traded misses, reserve Jason Terry buried a rainbow three from the corner for a 55-54 lead with 6: 40 to go. Prickett, who got fouled going for an offensive rebound, then missed the front end of a one-and-one. Prickett then fouled Michael Dickerson, and the senior forward hit both ends of a one-and-one for a 57-54 lead with 5: 55 to go.

Despite the overwhelming number of Kentucky fans, Arizona came out unbothered. It also helped that Kentucky came out cold, and seemingly a bit flat.

Kentucky missed 13 of its first 18 shots, including three of four by Mercer. Arizona managed only six of its first 15, but it included a three-point play by A. J. Bramlett as well as three-point shots by Dickerson and Bibby, the latter giving his team a 19-13 lead with 9: 40 left in the first half.

But Kentucky responded with a 7-0 run, as Mills came off the bench to follow in a miss by Mohammed and hit a wide-open three.

Then Simon began to carry Arizona on his tattooed shoulders. His free throw started a personal run of nine straight points to help his team stay even with Kentucky, which got a pair of free throws by Prickett, two rebound follows by Mohammed and another long jumper by Mills to tie the game at 28 with 3: 37 remaining in the half.

After Simon missed a wide-open 15-footer, Prickett was fouled inside and hit both free throws. Mohammed then blocked a drive by Terry, but Prickett missed a drive down the lane on a beautiful feed from Mercer. Terry, who spent Saturday night hospitalized here with dehydration after the semis, hit a three for a 32-31 lead.

Mohammed answered with an easy dunk when Arizona had a defensive mix-up. Arizona took a 33-32 lead on a pair of free throws by reserve forward Eugene Edgerson with 57.4 seconds left and, after Mohammed missed his second straight layup try with 32 seconds to go, had a chance for one more score. But Mohammed blocked Simon as time ran out.

It was another horrendous half of shooting, especially inside. Despite hitting four of its nine threes, Kentucky finished the half 12 of 34 overall. Arizona didn't get off nearly as many shots, but finished an equally dismal nine of 25, three of seven on threes. Mercer took only four shots, hit one, and finished the half with three points. Simon had 15, including nine of 11 from the free-throw line.

Pub Date: 4/01/97

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