Arizona Basketball's history in the NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen

Arizona V Kansas
Arizona V Kansas / Jonathan Daniel/GettyImages
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Best win: 1988 vs. Iowa

The 1988 edition of the NCAA Tournament was the third year of the 64-team field and also the third time Arizona reached the Sweet Sixteen. Head coach Lute Olson was in just his fifth season at the helm and was coming off of three straight first-round tournament exits. He led the Wildcats to an astounding 28-2 (17-1 in Pac-10) record in the regular season and a conference title.

Dec 2, 1988; Charlotte, NC, USA, FILE PHOTO; Arizona Wildcats guard Sean Elliott (32) in action
Dec 2, 1988; Charlotte, NC, USA, FILE PHOTO; Arizona Wildcats guard Sean Elliott (32) in action / Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

1988 was arguably one of Arizona's most dominant postseason runs. In the Round of 64 against No. 16 Cornell, the No. 1-seeded Wildcats delivered a 40-point, 90-50 beatdown. In the Round of 32, No. 8 Seton Hall fell victim to a similar — albeit not so brutal — fate when they fell by 29 points 84-55. The 'Cats won their first two games by a combined 69 points, and it set up a clash with No. 5 Iowa.

This was a special matchup for Olson. Arizona lured him away from Iowa, where he led the Hawkeyes to a Final Four appearance three years before his hiring. The Wildcats absolutely thrashed the No. 5-seeded Hawkeyes en route to a 99-79 win, which propelled Arizona into the Elite Eight against North Carolina. The moment came full-circle when Olson made the Final Four by leading Arizona past No. 2 UNC in a convincing 70-52 win and winning over the program that he previously captained.

Most consequential win: 1997 vs. Kansas

No list of Arizona Basketball postseason accomplishments would be complete without at least one reference to 1997's National Championship squad. Olson led the 'Cats to a relatively uninspiring 19-9 (11-7 in Pac-10) record in the regular season to finish 5th in the conference standings. Despite this, No. 15 Arizona was the second-highest ranked team in the conference in the AP Poll behind No. 7 UCLA.

Mar 21, 1997; Birmingham, AL, USA; FILE PHOTO; Arizona Wildcats forward Eugene Edgerson (33) dunks
Mar 21, 1997; Birmingham, AL, USA; FILE PHOTO; Arizona Wildcats forward Eugene Edgerson (33) dunks / RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

The Wildcats earned the No. 4 seed in the Southeast Region and immediately got to work. In the Round of 64, Arizona dashed No. 13 South Alabama's hopes 65-57. Two days later against No. 16 Charleston, Arizona played it even closer and escaped with a 73-69 win. A pair of close calls appeared to not bode well for Arizona, but they were ready to rise to the occasion.

The Sweet Sixteen saw Arizona matchup up against No. 1-seed Kansas — the first of three No. 1 seeds Arizona would take down. The Wildcats and the Jayhawks battled it out for the entire game: Arizona was up by only 2 points at the intermission (38-36) and only outscored the Jayhawks by 1 point in the second half. Nonetheless, a last-second 3-pointer by Kansas didn't ring true, and Arizona moved on to the Elite Eight with a statement 85-82 win in the pocket. This game battle-tested the Wildcats and set up an improbable run all the way to knocking off Kentucky for the title.

Worst loss: 2009 vs. Louisville

The 2008-09 Arizona Basketball team looked vastly different than the postseason squads that have come through the McKale Center doors. It wasn't a very dominant regular season; in fact, it was pretty underwhelming. Arizona went 19-12 (9-9 in Pac-10) in the regular season and was quickly shown the door in the conference tournament by rival Arizona State.

Earl Clark, Jamelle Horne
NCAA Sweet 16: Arizona Wildcats v Louisville Cardinals / Andy Lyons/GettyImages

The Wildcats earned the No. 12 seed in the Midwest Region and started off the big dance looking strong. In the first round, Arizona won in convincing fashion — 13 points — over No. 25-ranked and No. 5 seed Utah 84-71. In the Round of 32, Arizona got a fantastic draw in No. 13 Cleveland State, and the 'Cats logged a 14-point victory to send them into the Sweet Sixteen.

After getting a great draw against Cleveland State, the Wildcats faced the worst possible draw in No. 1 Louisville. In all the NCAA Tournament games Arizona has played to date, they have never lost by more than 25 aside from this one time. The Cardinals put on a clinic and Arizona had zero answers in a horror-show that ended with Arizona on the receiving end of a 39-point loss, 103-64.