Thursday, January 23, 2003

No. 1 Arizona 71, Arizona St. 63

TUCSON, Ariz. - Slow starts have been No. 1 Arizona's problem most of the season. On Wednesday night, it was a slow finish. The Wildcats nearly blew a 26-point second-half lead before holding off Arizona State 71-63.

Jason Gardner scored 19 points for Arizona, including going 6-of-6 from the free throw line over the final 2:49 to finally seal the victory.

"It was kind of embarrassing in the second half to let our rivals do that," Arizona's Rick Anderson said. "We took quick shots and didn't play any defense, that's it."

The Sun Devils trailed by 20 points at halftime and were down 51-25 with 14:26 to play, but they outscored Arizona 31-10 to cut the lead to 61-56 on Kenny Crandall's second consecutive 3-pointer with 5:09 to play.

"The second half, we came out ready to fight," Crandall said. "We took it to them."

After missing five straight free throws, the Wildcats (14-1, 7-0 Pac-10 Conference) finally put the game away by going 8-for-8 at the foul line.

Anderson made two free throws that made it 67-60 with 49 seconds remaining.

Anderson went to the line after colliding with Arizona State's Shawn Redhage under the Sun Devils' basket while going for a rebound. Redhage was elbowed in the jaw on the play, and Arizona State coach Rob Evans was livid about the call.

He and Arizona coach Lute Olson both verbally assaulted the officials after the play, with Olson having to be restrained by assistant Jim Rosborough.

"He got elbowed in the side of the head. That's what happened," Evans said. "Nobody saw it, so it's not a foul if nobody sees it."

Luke Walton and Channing Frye each added 13 points for Arizona.

Curtis Millage scored 20 points and freshman Ike Diogu had 15 for Arizona State (12-6, 4-3). Crandall added 12 on 4-for-7 3-point shooting, while Redhage scored 10.

Arizona State lost at Arizona for the 15th time in its last 16 tries but the Sun Devils made it extremely interesting after an awful start.

"In the past, the Sun Devils would have folded," Evans said. "This basketball team never folds. As I told them, this is a long distance race. This is not a sprint, and we've got a lot of games left to play. If we play with the kind of passion that we played with in the second half, we'll be OK."

The Wildcats, who play at No. 6 Kansas on Saturday, led 40-20 after their best first half of the season, then played one of their worst second halves.

"You know, the other team played really well in the second half," Olson said. "Sometimes we forget that the other team wants to win, too. And I think it was a case with our guys, with that kind of lead, you take quick shots and you don't step to the line with pressure on you to knock free throws down."

Arizona took its biggest lead, 51-25, on Frye's inside basket with 14:32 remaining. But the Sun Devils scored the next 10 points to cut it to 51-35 on Diogu's two free throws with 11:36 remaining.

Arizona State kept coming against a suddenly listless Arizona team. The Sun Devils made four consecutive 3-pointers, three by Crandall, to cut the lead to 61-56 with 5:09 remaining.

With Arizona usually employing a tight zone defense, Arizona State shot 25 percent (8-for-32) in the first half and committed 11 turnovers. The Wildcats, meanwhile, shot 53 percent (16-for-30) in the first 20 minutes, 5-for-9 from 3-point range. It was the Sun Devils' lowest-scoring half since Dec. 16, 2000, a span of 69 games.

Redhage started in place of forward Donnell Knight, who sat out the game because of academic problems.

Arizona State's Tommy Smith was scoreless and fouled out with 12:19 to play.

Arizona is 7-0 in the Pac-10 for the fourth time in the school's history.

The Wildcats' best shooter, Salim Stoudamire, scored three points in 20 minutes and was on the bench down the stretch.

When asked why Stoudamire didn't play more, Olson said, "I just wasn't happy with a couple of things that happened."

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