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Game Analysis: Wild victory could push 'Cats to top

By Maxx Wolfson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday March 24, 2003

SALT LAKE CITY As Blake Stepp pump faked and went up to shoot, Rick Anderson's heart stopped.

If Stepp's last-second shot in double-overtime had gone in, it would've been over.

All of it.

The season; the career; basketball as Anderson knows it.

His parents in the stands Saturday night sitting halfway up couldn't bear to watch; they were as emotionally involved as their son.

When the shot went up, Anderson was helpless. All he could do was stand there and watch it.

Stepp, who was the best player on the floor for the final 30 minutes of the game, was making shots from everywhere on the court.

But this shot didn't fall, Stepp's 8-footer banked long and Anderson's heart started beating again.

Then, in unison, every player on the court from both teams dropped to floor, some in shock, but most in exhaustion.

Isaiah Fox ran toward Anderson. The slick-haired senior met and grabbed sophomore as tears began to roll down his cheek.

It's not over, not just yet.

For UA, it was a sense of relief. Anderson called it a little luck.

"This puts things in perspective that this isn't going to be a cakewalk," UA sophomore Salim Stoudamire said.

Maybe some of that St. Patrick's Day luck from a few days earlier carried over. Call it the luck of the Irish, or just the luck to get a chance to play the Irish, Notre Dame that is, Thursday in Anaheim, Calif.

"I can't even really explain it," said Anderson about his emotions after the game. "Something like that a lot of people can't understand. I just played in one of the greatest games of all time."

This was scare number one in the Wildcats' quest for a National Championship.

If history is any indication about long tournament runs, no team cruises, as there is always a squeaker along the way (refer to UCLA in 1995 against Missouri).

In 1997, Arizona escaped two last-second games; one, a Sweet 16 nail-biter against No. 1 Kansas where Mike Bibby hit two free throws with 18 seconds left, and the other an overtime thriller against Providence. That doesn't even include what UA associate head coach Jim Rosborough calls the greatest game he has ever seen; the NCAA Championship game against Kentucky as UA went on to win its first-ever title.

Saturday's game, he said, ranks in his top three, the other being the Iowa-Georgetown game in 1980 when he was an assistant with the Hawkeyes.

Will a similar result for UA happen this time?

"A close game like this helps us mentally and physically," said Anderson, who scored 17 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in 40 minutes. "Our confidence and our experience now in a big game situation is going to be better."

As the Wildcats were leaving the locker room in a hurry to catch the shuttle to the airport, all the UA players looked as if all they wanted to do was sleep. And no one had that look more than Luke Walton.

Walton, sick with the flu for three days, and hardly able to eat over the last couple of days, could barely keep his eyes open after playing 45 minutes.

Maybe the best news for the UA team now is this game came in the second round, not the first. Instead of having 48 hours to play their next game, the team now has around 120 hours.

"All I want to do is sleep," Walton said.

Rest up now, because the games are only going to get tougher.

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