Birmingham, Ala. Every time Arizona seemed destined to fade like a cheap shirt in the desert sun, up stepped Mike Bibby.
"Mike Bibby does not play like a freshman," Arizona coach Lute Olson said following the Wildcats' stunning 85-82 victory over No. 1-ranked Kansas in the NCAA Southeast Regional.
When Kansas closed within two points of the Wildcats with seven minutes remaining, Bibby nailed a three-pointer from the corner to ignite, and another trey from the side to conclude, an 11-0 run.
"If we have an open shot, we're going to take it," Bibby said. "I knew I could spot up."
Bibby wasn't through. With Kansas raining three-pointers in the last two minutes, Bibby nailed a runner with 44 ticks showing to extend a three-point lead to five.
Finally, the 6-foot-1 freshman from Phoenix hammered the final nails in the Jayhawks' coffin with a pair of free throws at :18.2.
Bibby led the Wildcats with 21 points and five assists. He also chipped in with a couple of steals and rebounds in a head-to-head dual with veteran Kansas point guard Jacque Vaughn.
"It was a great challenge," Bibby said. "I like playing against All-American point guards. It makes me learn. I wasn't going to back down."
Neither were the Wildcats' big men, notably 6-11 A.J. Bramlett who posted a dozen in both the points and rebounds column. Notably, Kansas counterpart Scot Pollard failed to score and had only five boards.
Arizona coach Lute Olson said he and his staff were "needling them about whether they'd stand in with a guy like Pollard and bang in there."
During Friday's shootaround, Olson said he placed four towels on the floor under the basket.
"I put them down as surrender towels," the UA coach said, "and asked them to step up if they wanted to surrender. Our inside people have improved as much as any group of inside people I've ever had."
Yet it was guards Bibby, Michael Dickerson and Miles Simon who did the most damage, combining for 58 of the 'Cats' 85 points.
"The message we sent was we weren't intimidated at all," said Simon who had 17 points. "We read in the Birmingham papers that it was Kansas and those other guys, and we thought that was disrespectful. We had something to prove tonight."
Dickerson scored 14 of his 20 points in the first half as the 'Cats nursed a 38-36 lead.
"Coach Olson said we didn't have room for error," said Dickerson, a 6-5 junior. "We got loose baslls and long rebounds. I thought that was the key to the game, us making the scrappy plays."
As scrappy as they were, the 'Cats seemed to be in trouble at the end as Kansas unleashed a three-point barrage that cut a 10-point lead to just one with 21 seconds left.
"It's certainly not difficult to see why Kansas has been No. 1 all year," Olson said. "They battled back, knocking down threes. They were magnificent down the stretch. We were hanging on by our fingernails."
Those fingernails were long and thick.
"We've been through so many close games," noted Simon. "We never felt panicked or rushed. We had the lead and it was our game to lose. They made a great run, but we were able to sustain."
Arizona will meet Providence at 4 p.m. Sunday for the right to go to the Final Four.
"We didn't have a senior on the court so we're tremendously proud," Olson said. "We don't want this to end."