Woods Plays Biggest Game In Toughest Loss

April 2, 2001

MINNEAPOLIS - Loren Woods buried his reputation as a pushover in hisfinal college game. The 7-foot-1 stringbean center didn't get enough help towin a national title, though.

There would be no storybook ending for Arizona.

Duke spoiled that with an 82-72 victory over the Wildcats on Monday night.

No one could blame the oft-criticized Woods for this one.

In a display of heart and effort, Woods scored 22 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked four shots.

'I was really proud of the way that Loren competed,' Olson said. 'This isa huge game, and he came out and gave a huge performance.'

Soft? Not on the biggest night of his tumultuous career.

Woods didn't make the all-Pac-10 team, but he was on the all-Final Foursquad, an effort that ended a string of strong games at the end of theconference season and through the tournament.

His four blocked shots were a championship-game record. His 24 in thetournament also were a record, one more than David Robinson had in 1986.

'It's not how you start, it's how you finish,' said Woods, who began theseason with a six-game NCAA suspension for accepting improper benefits from afamily friend. 'Today I did a great job, defensively especially. Offensively,I couldn't get it as much in the second half because they made someadjustments, but it really is about the team.'

Woods was guarded most of the night by Shane Battier, a 5-inch heightadvantage for the Arizona big man, and he took advantage of it.

Woods kept his team close with a 13-point first half, then soared with thoseincredibly long arms to block two shots in a 20-second span as Arizona ralliedfrom a 68-59 deficit.

Woods' two free throws with 3:57 to play cut the lead to 73-70.

But he drew his fourth foul on Chris Duhon's three-point play with 4:59remaining. He had to temper his aggressiveness on defense. There were no moreblocks.

Richard Jefferson came on to score 15 of his 19 points in the second half.But Arizona's guards were no help for the workhorse Woods. Jason Gardner andGilbert Arenas were a combined 6-for-28, 0-for-12 from 3-point range.

'If Jason hits half his shots, it's a completely different ball game,'Jefferson said.

Gardner was 2-for-11 and missed eight 3's. Arenas, nursing a sore shoulderthat was the result of a nasty collision with Zach Randolph in Saturday night'ssemifinal victory over Michigan State, was 4-for-17 and 0-for-4 from 3-pointrange.

Olson said it was obvious the sore shoulder bothered Arenas. Arenas said itwas mostly a mental problem because he thought too much about the injury whenhe shot.

'I was 4-for-17 and I missed four easy layups,' Arenas said. 'I makethose and we could have won the game.'

Jefferson said he planned to return for his senior season. Arenas, asophomore, said he would make his decision later.

Just a month ago, Woods called his game 'a joke' and said his play was anembarrassment to Arizona and to his family. In the NCAA tournament, though, heseemed to play better every night.

It was a season where the lessons learned were far bigger than a basketballgame.

'It's just about growing up,' Woods said. 'All of us, the seniors thisyear, we came to college as boys and we're leaving as men. You know, coachOlson has taught us so much. ... He's taught us courage, patience, dignity foryourself and dignity for your family.'

Until Duke's Mike Dunleavy unleashed his 3-point barrage, Arizona seemed ateam of destiny. Olson, in his fifth Final Four and fourth with Arizona, hadbeen a picture of grace and gratitude as he brought his team back after thedeath of his wife Bobbi of ovarian cancer on Jan. 1.

She had been the mother figure for the Wildcats players for his 18 years atArizona.

In the first half, the big screen showed her at her husband's side, blowingkisses to the crowd.

She was known to wink and encourage players in their toughest moments. Woodsand his teammates could have used her after this one.

AP Sports Writer

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