Wildcats Pac-10 Tourney Champs!

March 9, 2002

By BETH HARRIS
AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES - Luke Walton stepped out of his father's long shadow, andtook his Arizona teammates with him.

Walton had 23 points and eight assists playing all 40 minutes and the No. 15Wildcats beat No. 22 Southern California 81-71 Saturday to win the Pacific-10tournament.

The tournament didn't exist back in the early 1970s, when Walton's father,Bill, helped UCLA win two NCAA championships.

The younger Walton, the tournament MVP, was cheered on by his father, wholeaped to his feet several times during the second half. They are one of onlythree father-son duos to play in a Final Four.

Luke Walton's performance completed a renaissance that began at the start ofthe season, when the Wildcats were in need of a dominant presence after losingfour starters. The junior was a reserve last season, averaging 5{ points.

Walton got better as the season wore on and so did the Wildcats, culminatingin Arizona's fourth consecutive Pac-10 tourney title.

'He's a tremendous competitor and also has an unbelievable feel for thegame,' Arizona coach Lute Olson said. 'What Luke does, you don't teach. Hisreactions are in his genes.'

What the Wildcats did in the second half was break USC's fullcourt press andfind Walton in the middle.

'Luke is like our eyes on the court. We just move around and Luke will findus,' said freshman Channing Frye, who had seven defensive rebounds.

'Any time you can have a player like Luke, who's multidimensional - canscore, pass, dribble, shoot - it's just impossible to guard him. It's justamazing to watch him.'

The Wildcats also got a big performance from freshman Salim Stoudamire, whoscored a career-high 29 points. Rick Anderson added 12 points and ninerebounds.

The Wildcats (22-9) earned the Pac-10's automatic berth to the NCAAtournament, where they'll be making their 18th consecutive appearance.

Arizona has been no lower than a No. 5 seed in the last 12 years, whichincludes the 1997 national title and a runner-up finish to eventual championDuke last year.

'Given our strength of schedule, I would anticipate our being a secondseed, if not a third, but certainly no lower,' Olson said.

USC (22-9) owns a much more modest NCAA resume, having played in 11tournaments and advancing past the second round only last year, when it lost toeventual champion Duke in the regional final.

'We're not done yet,' said USC's Sam Clancy, the league's player of theyear.

Arizona's fourth consecutive Pac-10 tournament title came after a 12-yeargap. The Wildcats won three of the first four tournaments, then the event wasdropped after 1990. They extended their tournament winning streak to 12 games.

David Bluthenthal led USC with 16 points and eight rebounds. Desmon Farmeradded 15 points and Brandon Granville 13 points.

The Trojans came out of halftime looking nothing like the team that led by13 and spent the first 20 minutes in Arizona's face on defense.

'We backed off a little too much,' Granville said.

Clancy, Bluthenthal and Errick Craven each picked up their third fouls inthe first 5 minutes of the half.

'We broke their press. Every time they got into it, we broke it, so theyhad to come out of it eventually,' said Stoudamire, the cousin of formerArizona star Damon Stoudamire.

The Wildcats regained the lead with a 19-4 run, including 11 in a row.Stoudamire hit two 3-pointers and Walton scored six points as Arizona went up50-43.

The Trojans went on an 11-6 run that drew them within two with 7:17remaining. Farmer hit a 3-pointer and then scored on a putback after two missesby Craven to trail 56-54. Craven was fouled, but missed the front end of a1-and-1 that could have tied it.

Arizona responded with a 3-pointer by Anderson, launching a 13-5 spurt.Jason Gardner hit consecutive 3-pointers and Isaiah Fox slammed down a miss byWalton to give the Wildcats their largest lead of the second half, 69-59, with4:06 left.

The Wildcats committed just two turnovers after having 10 in the first halfagainst USC's smothering defense.

'In the first half we looked like we didn't have our poise, didn't do agood job of spacing the court to handle the press,' Olson said. 'We did agreat job of taking care of the ball in the second half.'

USC coach Henry Bibby was called for a technical foul by referee CharlieRange with 1:50 remaining and the Trojans down by seven points.

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