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Sweetness in Salt Lake

KEVIN KLAUS/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Isaiah Fox embraces Rick Anderson after top-seeded UA held on in dramatic fashion, defeating No. 9 seed Gonzaga in double-overtime. The win propelled UA into the Sweet 16 for the sixth time in eight years.
By Brian Penso
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday March 24, 2003

SALT LAKE CITY Joy, exhilaration, jubilation, relief, exhaustion. Describing in a single word how the Arizona Wildcats felt as the final horn sounded is nearly impossible.

Bottom line, the Wildcats move on.

Gonzaga guard Blake Stepp had a chance to ruin the UA dream of winning a NCAA National Championship, but missed an eight-foot bank shot with four seconds remaining as Arizona survived in 96-95 double-overtime against Gonzaga Saturday in the Huntsman Center.

Senior Luke Walton rejoiced on the floor while the rest of the Wildcats celebrated.

"That was as good a team as I've played in my five years here," Walton said.

The win moves the Wildcats into the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive season and lines up a Thursday night game with the West's No. 5 seed Notre Dame in Anaheim, Calif.

Arizona players and fans held their collective breath as Stepp, who had brutalized the Wildcats in the second half, pump faked and then leaned into the shot.

As the ball went long after the backboard, Walton grabbed the Stepp miss and fell to the floor as his teammates followed.
KEVIN KLAUS/Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA's Channing Frye shoots over Gonzaga's Richard Fox during Arizona's one-point win on Saturday in Salt Lake City.

"I didn't know how much time was left and I just grabbed it," Walton said. "When the horn went off my body just collapsed."

Both teams were on the floor showing their physical exhaustion, but it was the Wildcats that were in each others' arms celebrating.

"I think it was one of the best games of all time," UA senior Jason Gardner said. "It's definitely an ESPN Classic. Double-overtime. All of these minutes. It was one of the best coaching jobs on both parts and one of the best playing jobs on both parts."

Senior Rick Anderson knew how close it was to being the end of his season and UA career.

"It was the greatest game I've ever played in," Anderson said. "Everybody on the floor wanted to win, I could see it in their eyes. We got lucky in the end and came out victorious. It was unbelievable."

Despite the loss, Gonzaga head coach Mark Few remarked on the extraordinary effort given by both teams.

"It was an awesome game," Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. "You have to tip your hat to Arizona. They are a No. 1 seed and we thought if we could keep it within one or two possessions that they would tighten up down the stretch. They didn't."

Stepp's miss in the final four seconds was preceded by a wide open 3-point miss by the Zags' Tony Skinner, who was 5-of-10 from behind the arc before taking the shot. Skinner played all 50 minutes of the game.

UA's five starters each played a minimum of 40 minutes and each had their individual moments of outstanding play.

In second overtime, it was the play of sophomore guard Salim Stoudamire. Stoudamire scored five of the seven points in the second overtime period, including the game-winning shot with 2:04 remaining.

Stoudamire would not have had a chance to hit the game winner, were it not for Walton.

In the first overtime, the Wildcats trailed 87-89 with 14 seconds remaining. Gardner dribbled the ball up the floor and passed off to Walton. Walton took the ball to the hole and with four seconds remaining, hit a season-saving shot over Gonzaga forward Cory Violette to send the game into double overtime.

Game Notes

Gardner became the third leading career scorer in Arizona history with 1,942 points. Gardner passed former guard Khalid Reeves. Gardner is the UA all-time leader in career points by a guard The Wildcats will practice today and tomorrow. After practice tomorrow the team will depart for Anaheim The Wildcats' bench scored a season low four points. Arizona's bench played a combined 33 minutes, which was seven less then any of the five starters Former NBA greats Elgin Baylor, Jeff Hornacek, and Bill Walton were in attendance, along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Matt Goukis, who helped call the game for CBS Gonzaga had a strong student showing compared to the Wildcats, who had a considerably smaller following than their opponents.

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