March 31, 1997: Arizona Basketball knocks off Kentucky to win the NCAA Championship

Lute Olson
Lute Olson / Brian Bahr/GettyImages
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Toppling the Blue Bloods

The Final Four had an interesting makeup, where Arizona was an obvious odd man out:

  • No. 1 seed Minnesota: Big Ten champions, 31-3 (16-2 in Big Ten), No. 3 in AP Poll
  • No. 1 seed North Carolina: ACC champions, 28-6 (11-5 in ACC), No. 4 in AP Poll
  • No. 1 seed Kentucky: SEC champions, 34-4 (13-3 in SEC), No. 5 in AP Poll
  • No. 4 seed Arizona: 4th in Pac-10, 23-9 (11-7 in Pac-10), No. 15 in AP Poll

The Final Four saw Arizona paired up with North Carolina, the No. 1 seed from the East Region. The Tar Heels, led by future Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith, were looking to exact revenge for Arizona winning the season opener 83-72. As fate would have it, this wasn't the Tar Heels' year, and Arizona became the only team to sweep North Carolina that year with the 66-58 win. Arizona was the last team that Smith every drew up a game plan against, and he retired following the tournament.

The Final Four win sent Arizona to its first-ever National Championship game, and the opponent was a Kentucky squad coming off a 78-69 win over Minnesota. Rick Pitino was in his eighth and final year at the helm for Kentucky before leaving to take the job with the NBA's Boston Celtics. It was a hard-fought slugfest that went into overtime after a 3-pointer from Kentucky with 12.3 seconds left in regulation. A pair of clutch free throws from Mike Bibby all but salted the game away as Arizona won 84-79 and crowned themselves National Champions.


Not only was this the last time Arizona won the National Championship, but it was also the last time any Pac-10/12 team won the NCAA Tournament. Since then, it's only been the SEC, Big East, ACC, and the Big 12. However, with the Pac-10/12 as it's been known set to dissolve at the start of the 2024-25 academic year, the lasting memory of West Coast schools winning it on the biggest stage will forever be Arizona's improbably run to the top of the mountain.

Here's to hoping Lloyd delivers another one to Tucson soon enough.

Tommy Lloyd's impressive start with Arizona Basketball outshines Olson and Miller. dark. ICYMI. Lloyd

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