Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wright, Jefferson, Arenas lead balanced team effort
The UA men's basketball team may have defeated Gonzaga by 14 points last night at McKale Center, but the final score was hardly an indication of how closely fought the game was.
"That was a pretty good college basketball game," Arizona head coach Lute Olson said. "That final score surely is one of the most misleading final scores you'll ever see."
The 101-87 victory by the No. 5 Wildcats (4-1 overall) was a testament to steady defense and key performances by sophomore guard Gilbert Arenas and junior forwards Michael Wright and Richard Jefferson.
Wright did most of his damage in the first half, scoring 16 points on a variety of low post moves.
The junior forward finished the contest with a game-high 25 points in addition to grabbing eight rebounds.
Wright and Bulldog forward Casey Calvary - both Wooden Award nominees - battled until Calvary fouled out with 5:31 left in the game, leaving UA with a significant height advantage.
"I just try and go into every game and try as hard as I can," Wright said. "If it's to shut down Calvary, then that's what I will do."
Without Calvary for the final five minutes of the game, Gonzaga was still able to out rebound the Wildcats, 35-33. Bulldog forward Mark Spink and guard Blake Steep led their team with seven rebounds each.
Though Arizona had the upper-hand in the post, it was the play of Jefferson and Arenas that lifted UA to victory in the waning moments of the game.
Arenas hit two key three-pointers late in the second half to give the Wildcats an emotional lift and put distance between UA and Gonzaga.
"I think he had a great game," Wildcat sophomore guard Jason Gardner said. "He is a good player - he's one of our go-to guys and today, he was hitting."
Arenas finished the game with 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting with three steals despite starting the game on the bench because of a leg injury.
Jefferson gave his best all-around performance of the season with 20 point, eight rebound and seven assist effort.
"He did great tonight," sophomore forward Luke Walton said. "He had on off-game against Purdue (zero points on 0-for-6 shooting) and that just shows how strong mentally he is. To come out and play the way he did..."
Jefferson capped his performance with a windmill dunk as time expired, much to the pleasure of the 14,514 fans at McKale Center.
The game might have ended on a dunk, but the Bulldogs put on a battle throughout the game, continually hitting big shots to pace themselves with UA.
Arizona held a nine point halftime lead but saw it quickly evaporate as the resilient Bulldogs battled back and refused to give in to repeated UA attacks.
The Bulldogs shot 52.5 percent from the field, including a blistering 47.8 percent from behind the three-point arc. "We played solid at times, we played softly at time," said Walton, who had 10 points and a game-high nine rebounds. "They came out and shot the lights out tonight."
Gonzaga (3-1) had a lead as late as 6:25 in the second half, but a three-pointer by Arenas tied the game and UA quickly took the lead on two free throws by senior forward Eugene Edgerson. It was a lead Arizona would never relinquish.
"It was a close game and I think we needed a game like that," said Gardner, who finished with 11 points and five assists.
"I think Gonzaga is a good team. We made runs, they made runs and at the end of the game they made a couple of mistakes and we just capitalized on them."
Chris Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org