Saturday, March 24, 2001

Arizona 66, Mississippi 56

Wildcats take away Bulldogs' strength

AP Sports Writer

        SAN ANTONIO — Loren Woods and the Arizona Wildcats went out of their way to stop Mississippi's Rahim Lockhart.

        Woods, towering over Lockhart at 7-foot-1, helped contain Mississippi's wide-body center and send the second-seeded Wildcats to a 66-56 victory Friday night in the Midwest semifinals.

        “It was a huge part of our game plan to double-team Lockhart,” said Woods, who had 16 points and three blocks to 11 points and one block for Lockhart.

        “We definitely wanted to try to get the ball out of his hands as much as possible, or if he did take a shot make sure there were a lot of guys around him.”

        Arizona (26-7) will play top-seeded Illinois on Sunday. The Illini beat Kansas 80-64 in the second semifinal.

        The Wildcats survived a 16-0 first-half punch to trail by only one point at the half, then took the lead for good early in the second half.

        Despite a year of sorrow and tumult that included player suspensions and the death of Bobbi Olson, wife of coach Lute Olson, the Wildcats are headed for their first regional final since 1998.

        Since their coach returned following the loss of his wife, they have been as hot as any team in the country, going 16-2 and winning their first three tournament games by a total of 56 points.

        The Wildcats also will be joined in the final eight by two other members of the Pac-10, Stanford in the West and Southern California in the East.

        Lockhart, who had 24 points against Notre Dame last week as the Rebels (27-8) won their first second-round game ever, was constantly harassed down low and just 1-of-5 in the first half.

        “They came out with a great game plan to double-team me,” he said. “In the first half, I was very tentative and I let them attack me. In the second half, I started to attack. But they have a really good defense.”

        Richard Jefferson had 15 points for the Wildcats, who went ice-cold early in the first half when the third-seeded Rebels wnt on a 16-0 spree, taking an 18-6 lead on Jason Holmes' 3-pointer with 10:11 to go.

        The Wildcats had four turnovers in a dry spell of 7:11 that did not end until Richard Jefferson banked in a 4-footer with 9:50 to go, cutting the lead to 18-8.

        But then the Rebels went cold and scored only six points in the final 10:11 while Arizona staged runs of 7-0 and 8-0 and trailed at halftime by only one point despite going 0-for-6 from 3-point range.

        “I thought we had an opportunity to go up by 20,” Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes said. “They missed some shots and then we missed some shots. They're a sound defensive team and they sustained their defensive intensity.”

        The Wildcats, after making only five of their first 21 shots, hit 19 of their final 36 against the rugged Ole Miss defense, which held them to their second-lowest total of the season.

        “Their reputation preceded it,” said Woods. “It was probably the best defense I've ever seen.”

        The Wildcats had just three assists in the game and were 0-of-8 behind the 3-point line.

        Justin Reed had 16 points for Mississippi, which won the SEC West despite being picked to finish last.

        The Wildcats got their lead up to 11 points when Woods dropped in a pair of free throws to make it 48-37 with 8:59 to go. Aaron Harper's bucket cut the lead to 56-52 with 4:03 left, then Woods, when Lockhart picked up his fourth foul, hit a pair of free throws at the 3:48 mark for a 58-52 lead.

        The Wildcats took a 31-26 lead early in the second half with three quick, impressive buckets. Woods put down a monster slam off an alley-oop pass and then Gilbert Arenas and Richard Jefferson snatched away Ole Miss passes on consecutive possessions and went coast-to-coast for uncontested layups.

        But instead of fading in the face of the 12-point favorites, the Rebels stopped the surge with a softly banked 10-footer by Justin Reed and a pair of free throws by David Sanders.

        “There is no doubt in my mind that we earned respect,” said Sanders. “Making it to the Sweet 16 was a great experience for everyone in this room.”

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