Wildcats Run Through Spartans
March 31, 2001
Michigan State Post-Game Press Conference
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A five-minute barrage of can't-miss shooting andsmothering defense helped Arizona move one win away from ending its bittersweetseason with a title.
Jason Gardner ignited the Arizona offense and Michael Wright finally camealive to lift the Wildcats to an 80-61 victory over defending champion MichiganState in the NCAA tournament's semifinals Saturday.
Using a 21-3 run to start the second half, Arizona earned a spot in thefinal Monday against the winner of the Duke-Maryland semifinal. The Wildcatsare seeking their first championship since 1997.
Despite the loss of Mateen Cleaves and two more seniors from last year'stitle team, the Spartans became just the ninth team to make three straightFinal Fours. But against the preseason No. 1 - the team center Loren Woods saidmight be the best ever - Michigan State was outmanned.
Thus continued a heartwrenching journey for the Wildcats, still mourning theloss of coach Lute Olson's wife, Bobbi, who died of cancer Jan. 1.The team has had other difficulties, too: Woods and Richard Jefferson weresuspended early in the year for violating NCAA rules. Coaches sent seniorEugene Edgerson home for a few days in January after he complained too loudlyabout the role he was playing.
But nobody seemed upset with their role in this game, especially Gardner, a5-foot-10 guard who played at the Indianapolis high school where Arizonapracticed for the Final Four in 1997.
All Gardner wanted was a glimpse of practice, but security guards keptshooing him away. Four years later, he was at the center of Arizona'sdominating performance, scoring 21 points on 6-for-11 shooting.
He stepped in front of a pass - one of 12 Arizona steals - then glided infor a layup and a three-point play with seven minutes left to give the Wildcatsa 15-point lead and essentially end Michigan State's brief comeback.
Before that, Wright was at the center of the 21-3 run that gave Arizona(28-7) a double-digit lead. The junior forward, who didn't take a single shotin last week's victory over Illinois, opened the half with a short jumper, andhad a pair of layups during the run that gave Arizona a 53-33 lead. Wrightfinished with 13 points.
By EDDIE PELLS
AP Sports Writer