Preseason NIT Championship: Wildcats can't exorcise Demons, fall 63-60 to Wake in New York

By staff and wire reports
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, November 29, 2004

The Arizona men's basketball team was successful in its attempts to thwart standout Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul in Friday night's Preseason NIT championship.

But it was the other member of the top-ranked Demon Deacons' backcourt that stole the show, leading Wake Forest (5-0) to the Preseason National Invitational Tournament 63-60 championship game victory over No. 18 Arizona (3-2) in New York's Madison Square Garden.

Justin Gray, often overshadowed by Paul, scored 21 points for the second straight game en route to earning tournament most valuable player honors.

"I don't get wrapped up in MVPs and things like that, I'm happy for our team," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said. "But he has a courage that's contagious."

UA junior forward Hassan Adams scored 19 points to lead the Wildcats, while also pulling down eight rebounds in the loss, Arizona's second in three games.

The loss ended a 15-game winning streak in the Preseason NIT for Arizona (4-2) and it was the first loss in 12 games at Madison Square Garden for Wildcats coach Lute Olson, a run that started in 1973 when he was at Long Beach State.

The Wildcats won the Preseason NIT the last three times it participated - 1990, '95 and '99.

It was the first Preseason NIT title for Wake Forest, which finished second in 2001.

Olson said he was happy with the play of sophomore point guard Mustafa Shakur - given the task of stopping Paul, the leading vote-getter on The Associated Press' preseason All-American team - despite Shakur connecting on just one of 12 shots from the floor.

"Mustafa played 34 minutes with no turnovers and six assists and that's a solid game. He didn't shoot the ball well, but his floor game was good," Olson said. "Justin Gray is a handful. He does a great job of moving without the ball and getting himself open for good looks."

Arizona, who returns home to play Wyoming tomorrow at 7 p.m. in McKale Center, couldn't hold onto a 37-29 halftime lead, as Wake Forest spent the early part of the second frame chipping away at the deficit.

The Demon Deacons went on a 13-2 run to go up 59-51 with 5:28 left, but the Wildcats rallied back to close the lead to 61-60 with 1:26 remaining.

After Gray missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 24 seconds left, the Wildcats got the ball to Shakur who drove the lane with seven seconds left. Shakur's jumper for the lead fell two feet short, with Wake Forest's Eric Williams pulling down the rebound before getting fouled.

"I got a piece of it," Williams said of Shakur's shot. "Then I got the rebound and waited for the whistle."

The Wildcats had another chance to tie it in the game's final seconds, but Adams' 3-point attempt bounced off the rim after Williams made two free throws for Wake Forest.

"It's disappointing, but it isn't because our guys didn't play hard," Olson said. "It wasn't a case of our coming out and not being ready to play. I thought we played with a lot of passion."

UA senior center Channing Frye was held to just eight points and three rebounds. Senior shooting guard Salim Stoudamire collected 16 points while freshman Jawann McClellan added 11 of his own.

Arizona won the turnover battle, 16-17, and held serve on the boards, trailing 46-44 at the final buzzer.

Wake Forest did, however, hold a large advantage at the free-throw line, hitting 15 of 25 attempts while the Wildcats attempted only three in the game, connecting on two.

-The Associated Press contributed to this report.