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Criticize Arizona's Olson, but never his young ones

Great hair. Lute Olson has forever had it. Through well-dressed, mostly victorious Olson coaching stops at Long Beach State and Iowa, his rooftop was prematurely gray. Perfectly trimmed, styled and sprayed.

Lute would've made a model GQ cover. Somewhere along the Olson journey, he also should've won a college basketball national championship. At 62, the debonair Arizona coach still has that imposing hair, which now could be called senatorial white. He continues combing the NCAA Tournament in search of ultimate glory.

"My critics are severe, even downright nasty, managing to characterize our past 10 years as some sort of huge failure," Olson said. "All we've done is average 26{ wins a seasons and get to the Final Four three times. I don't see that as failure.

"I've developed a pretty tough hide. It won't tear me apart if some of America's media choose to continue downgrading a career of which I am personally proud.

"But my critics shouldn't take it out on this current Arizona team. It's horribly wrong for anybody to even hint that these Wildcats are anything but an extremely young bunch that has accomplished some remarkable things."

Objection sustained!

Lute's right. Even if Olson is a career 0-3 as a Final Four coach, including a 1980 chance back at Iowa. Even if his Wildcats were embarrassed by first-round NCAA Tournament losses in 1992 to East Tennessee, in 1993 to Santa Clara and in 1995 to Miami of Ohio.

This season, Arizona's silver-haired slicker finished third in the Pac-10 Conference with a baby-faced lineup of three juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen. They have lost nine games. Olson has nonetheless steered them all the way to a Final Four opportunity against North Carolina.

"This isn't about history, it's about now," said Miles Simon, a demonstrative 6-foot-5 guard who is unquestionably Arizona's leader. "We're planning to win it all."

Simon's sister is married to baseball player Darryl Strawberry. "I rooted him and the New York Yankees to a championship in the World Series," said the bright, cocky junior from Fullerton, Calif. "I'm sure Darryl is returning the favor, pulling hard for Arizona."

While it'll be Simon who is the loudest, most demanding force in Olson's lineup, a bigger Saturday key could be freshman point guard Mike Bibby.

"When you understand the offensive and defensive load Mike is carrying," said Arizona's coach, "it's amazing the way he's playing, especially in the NCAA Tournament.

"Mike controls tempo, sets up our big guys and has been scoring 20 points a game. His mom, Virginia, deserves great credit for the maturity we see from Mike."

Bibby's dad, Henry, starred for Wooden-coached national championship teams as a UCLA point guard. Played nine NBA seasons. Now is basketball coach at Southern California. They barely speak.

Word is, the 18-year-old Arizona sensation has deep, unsubsiding anger toward Henry, who left Virginia and seldom was around to participate in raising Mike. "Mom's the hero," he said.

Arizona's best scorer is Michael Dickerson, a 6-5 swingman who can be an erratic shooter. A.J. Bramlett, a 6-11 sophomore, gives Olson a mobile center who defends well but averages only 8.4 points.

Most underrated Arizona starter is junior Bennett Davison, 6-8 son of a San Francisco cable car operator. A dogged defender, Davison stopped All-American Raef LaFrentz of Kansas as the Wildcats were eliminating the country's No. 1 team in the Southeast Regional.

"Bennett is typical of this Arizona team," said Olson, whose 24-year coaching record is 531-202. "Not many people know about him out of our neighborhood. Davison plays much better than most opponents expect.

"Like I said, Lute Olson can take the criticism of Arizona's coach, but it's dead wrong for anybody to say that my players haven't accomplished something really special this time."