When writing down the list of reasons why Arizona looks like serious championship material--and the Wildcats put all of them on display against Maryland Thursday night--start with Mike Bibby.
Arizona Coach Lute Olson says his frontcourt gets overlooked too much because of the great backcourt of Bibby and Miles Simon. To be honest, he's much more accurate saying that than when he carries on in his eternal crusade about the lack of respect for his and other teams in the West.
But someone has to get the big guys the ball. Bibby does that. And he scores and he defends and he does whatever else you can think up.
Bennett Davison and A.J. Bramlett combined for 27 points in Arizona's 87-79 victory in the West Regional semifinal. Bibby scored 26 on his own.
Davison and Bramlett totaled four blocked shots and three steals. Bibby had four steals and a block.
Bibby is a white-collar kind of basketball thief. You don't see him diving all over the court, you just see him emerging from the pack with loose balls.
On offense, for a game that requires so many quick reactions, Bibby sure seems to put a lot of thought into every move he makes.
But he's so quick he can afford to think his plans through and still beat his defender to a spot. He starts and stops in spurts, like traffic on the 405 Freeway--only he moves faster and is more enjoyable to watch.
"Obviously, he dribbles well, he handles the ball well, he shoots it well, and he's intelligent," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "He does what he's supposed to, whether it's shoot the ball or pass it to [Michael] Dickerson or someone like that. He knows when to do that, and that's what separates him from a lot of guards. He makes very few mistakes in terms of their team.
"A point guard, he's got to control the team. And I think Bibby does that as well as anybody."
Bibby is the best point guard in college basketball. More impressively, he's the best point guard in the state of Arizona, better than the Phoenix Suns' trio of Jason Kidd, Kevin Johnson and Steve Nash. (Tell Kidd he can apply for the title as soon as he makes more than 40% of his shots.)
And Bibby was easily the best point guard of the four teams playing in the West Regional at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim.
Utah's Andre Miller has quarterbacked his team into the Sweet 16 for three consecutive years, but Thursday night he had the kind of game that can get your team bounced from the tournament. He committed turnovers. He missed plays. One time down the court he overlooked a wide-open Michael Doleac two or three times. Doleac ought to be the only person Miller is looking for whenever he has the ball.
With less than two minutes to play, Miller was called for a five-second violation when he couldn't inbound the ball. In the last 30 seconds and Utah clinging to the lead, Miller tried an ill-advised 25-foot pass that was almost intercepted.
Utah Coach Rick Majerus blamed Miller's miscues on fatigue. If Miller was tired Thursday, wait until he tries to run around with the Arizona guards Saturday afternoon.
West Virginia's Jarrod West had an off night with four-for-13 shooting. He missed a jumper in the last minute and a three-point shot just before the buzzer that could have tied the game. Bye-bye, Mountaineers.
West and Miller lost only in comparison to Bibby. Poor Terrell Stokes had to face Bibby head-to-head.
You almost felt sorry for Maryland and Stokes, trying to race against a Ferrari with a Chevy Chevette.
Stokes tried his best, finishing with one point and seven assists, but he just didn't have enough under the hood.
Bibby dominated the first half. He made all four of his three-point shots, scored 18 points (10 in a row in one stretch).
He scored only eight more points in the second half, but he never let the game slip out of Arizona's hands.
Did Maryland really think it would give Bibby problems when it went to a full-court press late in the game? When someone asked Olson if he was worried after Maryland made a run to cut what had been a double-digit lead down to one point, Olson said, "Why should we worry?"
Part of that remark is from that smugness that oozes from every corner of the Arizona team. A bigger part of it is Bibby.
"It doesn't make much of a difference to us what someone's trying to do," Olson said. "Mike, if we get it in his hands, he's going to make the best decision. It's next to impossible to press our team, because he splits the trap and creates openings for us."
Arizona faces a big test in Doleac and Utah's frontline in the regional final Saturday. Pass it and beat the Utes and the Wildcats' championship hopes will look even better.
But you'll notice that none of the questions have to do with the point guard.
That area isn't even open for discussion.