As we move to the 1990s on Pac-12 Friday, the Conference of Champions earned its name in college basketball: Two different schools won it all in March Madness, while a third school made a Final Four appearance. All in all, it was a pretty impressive decade for hoops on the Best Coast, and the same three schools dominated this time period.
Here’s our list of the best teams in the Pacific-12 Conference during the 1990s!
Honorable Mention: 1998 Stanford Cardinal (30-5)
Ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press poll before March Madness, the Cardinal went on a stellar run through the NCAA Tournament before coming up one point short of the title game against the eventual champions from Kentucky. The big miracle was the Regional Final against Rhode Island, where Stanford overcame a six-point deficit in the final minute to win and advance to the Final Four. An 18-0 start launched the season on the right pathway, for sure.
10. 1992 UCLA Bruins (28-5)
With a No. 4 finish in the AP poll, the Bruins seemed primed to reach the Final Four as the top seed in the West Regional. But they shot just 39 percent from the floor in the regional final loss to No. 5 Indiana. UCLA started the season 14-0 and won the conference with a 16-2 league mark. The Bruins had beaten the Hoosiers by 15 points to open the season, but they couldn’t repeat the feat at the end of the season.
9. 1993 Arizona Wildcats (24-4)
This team suffered one of the biggest upsets ever in the first round of March Madness, losing to 15-seed Santa Clara and point guard Steve Nash. However, that should not detract from the Wildcats’ great season. Arizona posted a 17-1 conference record, winning 19 straight games at one point and rising to No. 3 in the AP poll before ending up fifth in the eyes of the voters. Strangely, it was the second year in a row for the Wildcats to bow out in the first round of the tourney (see below).
8. 1990 Arizona Wildcats (25-7)
The program in the Southwest started the 1990s right where it left off in the 1980s, that’s for sure. A 15-3 conference record was enough to claim the league title, and the Wildcats won the conference tournament, too, in its last year before going on hiatus for a long time. Ranked No. 14 in the country, Arizona lost in the Round of 32 to No. 23 Alabama, however, cutting the season short sooner than expected.
7. 1997 Arizona Wildcats (25-9)
Entering the NCAA Tournament as an afterthought, these Wildcats ran the table and won the national title. They were ranked just 15th after losing their final two regular-season games to finish 19-9. The 11-7 conference record placed them fifth in the league, too. However, Arizona beat three No. 1 seeds—Kansas in the Sweet 16, North Carolina in the Final Four, and defending champion Kentucky in the National Final—to claim its first NCAA title in basketball.
6. 1999 Stanford Cardinal (26-7)
One year after reaching the Final Four, expectations were high in Palo Alto. The Cardinal didn’t disappoint, winning the conference with a 15-3 league mark and finishing No. 7 in the AP poll. But overall, Stanford posted just a 5-4 mark against ranked teams, and it ran into the emerging phenomenon known as Gonzaga in the Round of 32 (played in Seattle, no less), losing early in March Madness to end the season on a sour note.
5. 1994 Arizona Wildcats (29-6)
One year after the first-round flameout noted above, Arizona made another Final Four run after conference title (14-4 mark in league play). Ranked No. 9 in the country, the Wildcats beat No. 10 Louisville and No. 5 Missouri in the West Regional to advance to the national semifinals. There, Arizona lost to eventual champion Arkansas, but it was an excellent season of redemption for the Wildcats after some disappointing finishes.
4. 1995 UCLA Bruins (31-2)
This is the second national champion of the decade for the conference, and these Bruins finished No. 1 in the AP poll and second in the SRS overall. The only two losses came in conference play; otherwise, UCLA posted a 12-0 record against ranked teams throughout the season—including the last five straight in the NCAA Tournament. Why is this team only #4 on our list? Well, good question. See below, as sabermetrics sometimes tell a surprising story.
3. 1991 Arizona Wildcats (28-7)
These Wildcats reached the Sweet 16 before losing to No. 13 Seton Hall. Arizona was ranked 8th itself, and it won the conference with a 14-4 mark. Victories over Top-10 squads from Arkansas, Duke, and UCLA fueled the Wildcats’ success during the regular season. This was an Arizona team that blew out its opponents, while losing four games by single digits—including the March Madness loss to the Pirates.
2. 1992 Arizona Wildcats (24-7)
This was another first-round upset ending for the school in Tucson, as the No. 3-seed Wildcats lost to No. 14-seed East Tennessee State. In truth, Arizona underperformed all season, despite being in the Top 5 for most of the year. Six of the seven losses were by single digits, including five defeats in conference play by a combined 27 points. Perhaps it was no surprise then as the Wildcats fell from No. 2 in the AP poll on March 9 to the first-round, single-digit defeat to ETSU on March 20.
1. 1998 Arizona Wildcats (30-5)
These were the defending national champs, with all five starters returning, and they finished the regular season No. 4 in the AP poll as winners of the conference with a 17-1 league mark. The one loss came in overtime and dropped the Wildcats from No. 2 in the poll to No. 4 right at the end of the regular season. Alas, Arizona shot just 28.3 percent from the floor in the Regional Final against No. 7 Utah, and no team—no matter how talented—can overcome that kind of dreadful shooting exhibition.