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Wild About '88 Chapter 38: Cats face tough Big East foe in the NCAA 2nd Round.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of one of Tucson’s most beloved teams of all time, the 1987-88 Arizona Wildcats that finished 35-3 and went to the program’s first Final Four. We will celebrate that team by recapping each game during that unforgettable season by referencing newspaper archives and interviews conducted during the making of the upcoming documentary film ‘Wild About ‘88: The Rise of Arizona Basketball.’ (Some interview quotes in this series have been edited for clarity.)
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March 20, 1988, vs. No. 8 seed Seton Hall
With Cornell out of the way, there were no more gimmes left for the Wildcats.
Next up was a tall task against the No. 8 seed Seton Hall Pirates from the rough and rugged Big East.
Their secret weapon was future NBA first-round draft pick, big man Mark Bryant.
“This guy(Bryant) was built like Hercules, and he had the biggest arms. His arms were as big as our legs,” Joe Turner said in 2016.
Arizona center Tom Tolbert would be responsible for helping contain Bryant, but after suffering a back injury against Cornell would Tolbert be ready to face the Pirates?
“I remember thinking 'Of course, he's going to play’,” Arizona assistant coach Kevin O’Neill said while laughing in 2014.
“He didn't play 30 some games already to not play in a second-round game vs. Seton Hall. Now his back was bad and he was hurt, but to me, there was never a doubt that Tom was going to play in that game and I don't think Tom ever doubted it either,” O’Neill added.
“I’m going to play, that’s all there is to it. They could put the Marines on me and I’ll still play,” Tolbert said before the game.1
“We fell behind early in that game and there was a little tension for maybe 10 minutes or so and then we turned it on and I think Tom Tolbert made the key play,” Kerr said in 2013.
“Tom drew a charge on him and that was Bryant’s third foul in the first half. He(Bryant) went to the bench and we rolled them after that,” Kerr added.
Tolbert outscored Bryant 13-11 in the game and Arizona’s zone defense helped keep the Pirates frustrated.
Anthony Cook led all Wildcats with 20 points.
Early in the game Cook emphatically blocked Mark Bryant’s shot in the paint. It was an obvious goal-tend but it helped show Arizona would not be an easy pushover.
“The Big East plays tough basketball, but in the West, we can play tough, too. We’re not a bunch of wimps. We’re not going to back away from any team…. We are not ranked because we are soft,” Cook said after the game.2
The Cats’ domination would allow the Gumbies to see game action at the end of the game and they would extend the already large lead.
The Wildcats walked away with an 84-55 victory. Their season-best 13th victory in a row.
The Sweet Sixteen awaited a familiar foe known well to Lute Olson.
Next Up: March 25, 1988, vs. the No. 5 seed Iowa Hawkeyes.
Blog content and original interview quotations © Waterfoot Films 2023.
Corky Simpson, “Tolbert vows to see action,” The Tucson Citizen, March 19, 1988, Page One —Section B.
Corky Simpson, “Cats out to conquer Seattle: UA beats back Eastern bullies,” The Tucson Citizen, March 21, 1988, Page One—Section B.