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Hey, give Elite Eight Arizona a break

SHARE Hey, give Elite Eight Arizona a break

Maybe it's time to quit nagging Arizona about those three first-round losses in the NCAA tournament over the past five seasons.

Sure, they lost to East Tennessee State, Santa Clara and Miami of Ohio. But let's not forget those trips to the Final Four in 1988 and 1994. Or a decade that has seen the Wildcats make six appearances in the round of 16."Yeah, I get frustrated," coach Lute Olson said Saturday, a day before his fourth-seeded team will meet No. 10 Providence in the finals of the NCAA Southeast Regional. "The first question isn't, `What's it like to be in the Final Four?' The first question is always `What about Santa Clara?' or somebody else."

Even now, with the Wildcats (22-9) just one victory away from a third appearance in the Final Four, Olson wonders if his program will ever play down those embarrassing first-round losses.

"There will always be people to keep it alive," he said sourly. "Like death and taxes, that's going to be something we'll have to deal with. If we get to the Final Four, I don't think being in the Final Four three times in the last 10 years will be focal point. Three losses in the first round, that will be the focal point."

Olson's gloomy prognosis may simply be a motivating tool, an us-against-the-world tactic that has worked well so far in the NCAA tournament. Arizona feels like it doesn't get enough respect and seems to pay particular attention to headlines like the one in the local newspaper that declared that Southeast Regional to be "Kansas and Everybody Else."

Arizona took care of the top-seeded Jayhawks with a shocking 85-82 upset on Friday night. That moved the Wildcats into the regional finals against a team that also craves respect - now that it has stop bickering with each other.

Tenth-seeded Providence (24-11), which defeated Tennessee-Chattanooga 71-65 in the regional semis, was on the verge of missing the tournament all together after losing its final three regular-season games.

The key matchup Sunday will come at the point guard position, where Arizona freshman Mike Bibby goes head-to-head with God Shammgod, Providence's exciting sophomore.