Our Greatest Games series is a look back at some of the most memorable single game performances by some of the best players in Arizona basketball history. Make sure to check PGU for the next installment.
Over the course of his four years at Arizona, Channing Frye transformed into one of the most prolific centers to ever play at a school not traditionally known for its big men. The Phoenix product played an integral role in the Wildcats’ postseason success between 2003-2005 as he displayed dominant performances on the game’s biggest stage, the NCAA Tournament.
In these two games – one in which ended in heartbreak and the other where Arizona was the heartbreaker, Frye showed why he would eventually have a long and prosperous career in the NBA.
March 22, 2003, Arizona 96, Gonzaga 95 (2OT); NCAA Tournament 2nd Round
22 points (9-17 FG), 12 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals
One of the most memorable NCAA Tournament wins in school history, top seeded Arizona and perennial cinderella Gonzaga battled back and forth through two overtimes. After Salim Stoudamire hit a go-ahead floater with 2:03 remaining, the Zags missed chance after chance to take the lead in the final seconds.
While Stoudamire and Jason Gardner provided most of the game’s heroics, Arizona wouldn’t have been in a position to even send it into overtime without the play of Frye. The freshman center played 43 minutes altogether, including the final five minutes of regulation plus both overtime sessions with four fouls. He had to play much of the game with a tentative awareness defensively yet led the team in rebounds.
Offensively, he had not developed the bombs away mentality from three point range that makes him so valuable in the NBA (he attempted 23 three pointers his entire college career) but took advantage of his height by scoring repeatedly in the post.
March 26, 2005, Illinois 90, Arizona 89 (OT); NCAA Tournament Elite Eight
24 points (11-14 FG), 12 rebounds, 6 blocks
Contrary to popular belief in Wildcat country, the basketball game that took place between Arizona and Illinois in March of 2005 has not been wiped out of memory.
Although no one likes to revisit this game in their minds, Frye’s remarkable performance helped propel him to the 8th overall pick in the NBA Draft a few months later.
Frye did everything he could – he played 44 out of 45 minutes – and was quite close to unstoppable offensively, defensively, and on the boards. However, his three pointer with six minutes to go was the last field goal Arizona made in regulation and on the final play of overtime, Hassan Adams was unable to get the ball to him inside.
It’s incredibly unfortunate that one of Frye’s best game in an Arizona uniform was one that nobody likes to remember or much of the time even acknowledge. Nonetheless, Frye used the Elite Eight match-up to show the NBA just how talented a player he was and still is, when he returns from indefinite absence due to heart issues.