SALT LAKE CITY-Arizona became the first No. 1 seed to be knocked out of the NCAA Tournament with a 66-59 loss in the second round to Wisconsin Saturday. For the second year in a row, the Wildcats failed to make it past the first weekend of the tournament.
„It hurts a lot,š said sophomore forward Michael Wright, who finished with two points on 1-for-4 shooting and nine rebounds. „Wisconsin played a real good game. They outhustled us and outplayed us. I‚m just real sad.š
Wisconsin, the No. 8 seed in the West Region, focused on defense and slowing down the tempo, and they frustrated the Wildcats into forced shots and missed opportunities.
With the victory, the Badgers are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1941, when they won the national championship.
„I‚m not sure I could adequately describe how good we feel,š Wisconsin head coach Dick Bennett said. „They accepted the game plan and employed it as close to the letter as was humanly possible. To defend a great offensive team like Arizona is something I‚ll remember for a long, long time.š
Mark Varshaw led the Badgers with 15 points, followed by Maurice Linton with 14 and Jon Bryant with 12.
UA freshman guard Gilbert Arenas had a game-high 21 points, with sophomore forward Rick Anderson the next-highest scorer for Arizona with 12 points.
„It‚s very obvious that the better team won this, from a standpoint of just their maturity and toughness,š UA head coach Lute Olson said. „I told the team in the locker room that this is a difficult lesson to learn, but it‚s very obvious Wisconsin‚s maturity and their toughness is something every one of our freshmen and sophomores have to be aware of if we want to get where we want to be as a team.š
Wisconsin built a nine point lead with 10:40 remaining in the first half, as UA freshman guard Jason Gardner shot 0-for-4 from 3-point range and sophomore forward Richard Jefferson was on the bench with three fouls.
After leading 28-23 at the half, the Badgers continued to deny Wright the ball inside and shackle the Wildcats into a half-court game, extending their lead to 17 points with 8:05 remaining in the game before Anderson sparked Arizona to a 7-0 run.
Despite clawing back, the closest Arizona would get was five points after an Arenas three-pointer with 18.2 seconds left. Wisconsin sealed the victory at the free-throw line, like it had all game, shooting 17-for-20 from the stripe.
„They did a great job, played very physical and made us play out of our game,š Jefferson said.
Olson and Jefferson denied that Arizona looked past Wisconsin and ahead to a possible rematch with LSU in the Sweet 16. The Tigers defeated the Wildcats 86-60 earlier in the season.
„Don‚t even respond to that question,š Olson told Jefferson at the post-game press conference after a reporter asked if the team had overlooked the Badgers.
„For anyone to even begin to make that statement is absolutely ridiculous.š
Gardner finished with 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting, and Jefferson had seven points and four fouls.
„I was really excited for this game,š Jefferson said. „I came off the bench to curb my nerves, then I had some silly fouls. I came out of the game with two fouls, then went back in and got a silly foul.š
Arizona outrebounded Wisconsin 37-26, but had more turnovers, 17-13.
„We came in with a lot of confidence today,š said Wisconsin guard Mike Kelley, who sat out most of the first half with two fouls. „I have confidence in my teammates, myself and Coach Bennett‚s system. We felt we could come out here and beat Arizona.š
Wisconsin, which was fourth nationally in scoring defense, allowing 55.8 points per game, held Arizona to a season-low 56 points. Arizona‚s previous low was 60 against LSU.