No coach has been to more consecutive NCAA tournaments than Lute Olson. The same year he started that run, Matt Painter started high school.
Both coaches are somewhat fortunate to be here, Olson for the 23rd straight time and Painter for the first as eighth-seeded Arizona meets ninth-seeded Purdue on Friday in the Midwest Regional at New Orleans.
Some lopsided losses, including one by the Wildcats (20-10) in their only Pac-10 tournament game, were not enough to keep these teams out of the field of 65. Three straight road wins before a 69-50 defeat to Oregon in the conference quarterfinals helped Arizona wrap up an at-large berth.
“As far as our team is concerned, we are probably as healthy as we’ve been all year,” Olson said. “In reviewing the Oregon tapes, we probably played as well defensively as we have all year long. They hit some tough shots from long range, but they obviously did that against everyone in the (Pac-10) tournament.
“But overall, I think we’re ready for the (NCAA) tournament. I think our guys will play very well.”
Olson’s run of 23 consecutive tournament appearances ties him with Dean Smith for the all-time record.
“Just to be mentioned in the same sentence with him is a great compliment,” said Olson, who first took Arizona to the NCAAs in 1985.
That was four years before Painter began his playing career at Purdue and 20 years before he took over as the program’s coach. Following a 9-19 debut, the school’s second straight season failing to reach 10 wins, Painter has brought the Boilermakers back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003.
“It’s a great honor to be selected,” Painter said. “It’s something we don’t take for granted at Purdue. With the struggles we’ve had the last couple of years, and with the adversity we faced, we kept our heads up.”
Purdue had six losses this season by at least 16 points, including one against lowly Indiana State, but a late four-game winning streak garnered the program an NCAA bid. The Boilermakers had a much stronger conference tournament showing than Arizona, beating Iowa 74-55 before losing to top-ranked Ohio State 63-52 in the Big Ten.
One weekend after losing to one top seed—the Buckeyes are No. 1 in the South—Purdue hopes to play another top seed on Sunday. The winner of this game will likely face defending national champion Florida.
Another No. 1 seed, North Carolina, handed Arizona the worst home loss of Olson’s tenure, 92-64 on Jan. 27. That defeat was part of the Wildcats’ 2-6 slump following their 12-1 start, which had put the team as high as No. 7 in the rankings.
Arizona bounced back to win six of eight games to close the regular season, thanks largely to its frontcourt. Marcus Williams, Chase Budinger and Ivan Radenovic each averaged more than 15 points and combined to grab more than 20 rebounds per game.
The key for the Wildcats, however, may be Mustafa Shakur. The senior point guard averaged 12.0 points and led the Pac-10 with 6.9 assists per game, but had nearly as many turnovers (19) as points (20) over the last four games while going 4-of-22 from the field.
Shakur also had an inconsistent finish to the 2005-06 regular season, but went on to score 38 points in the Wildcats’ two NCAA tournament games and nearly led them to an upset of top seed Villanova.
“He played better in those two games than he did all year long,” Olson said. “I think he’s looking forward to repeating that this time.”
Purdue gets its senior leadership from top scorers Carl Landry and David Teague. Landry averages 18.9 points and 7.1 rebounds while Teague adds 14.3 points and 5.1 boards per game.
“This is Carl and I’s last chance to play in the postseason and have a chance to play for a national championship,” Teague said. “We hope to progress our team and our season as long as we can.”
Landry and Teague are the only double-figure scorers for the Boilermakers, whose focus is more at the defensive end, unlike their opponent. While Purdue allows an average of 63.0 points, Arizona led the Pac-10 in scoring with 78.5 per game.
These teams have split 10 all-time meetings, with the most recent being Arizona’s 79-66 win in 2001.
“It will be very competitive, obviously, as it is anytime you have an 8-9 matchup,” Olson said. “You are going to have two teams that are very evenly matched.”