No. 1 Wildcats Hold On To Beat No. 8 Longhorns

Dec. 15, 2002

AP Sports Writer

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - Without his buddy Luke Walton to share the load, Jason Gardner took over down the stretch in No. 1 Arizona's first big test of the season.

Gardner scored six of his 13 points over the final 2:03 as the Wildcats survived a rough afternoon to beat No. 8 Texas 73-70 on Sunday.

The point guard who has started all but one game since he came to Arizona four years ago made two 15-footers that put Arizona ahead for good, and drew a crucial offensive foul on counterpart T.J. Ford.

'He's a big-time player,' Ford said. 'He's their leader, and that's what he did. When it got down to the crunch, he stepped up and hit some tough shots. It was great defense, but he still hit the shot.'

Salim Stoudamire led the Wildcats with 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting from 3-point range and two free throws that put the Wildcats up 72-67 with 20 seconds to go.

Brian Boddicker's only 3-pointer of the game cut it to 72-70 with 14 seconds left. Gardner, who entered the game shooting 92 percent from the line, made one of two free throws to give Texas a chance to tie, but Ford's 3-pointer was short. The Longhorns got the rebound, but Brandon Mouton inexplicably took a 2-point attempt, missed and Arizona escaped with the victory.

Arizona (5-0) has beaten Texas (5-2) in seven consecutive years, but this one was a struggle as the Longhorns matched the Wildcats' quickness, defensive intensity and depth.

Gardner and Ford are two of the nation's top point guards, but neither shot well. Ford was 5-for-15 and had 13 points and nine assists. Gardner was 5-for-14 with eight rebounds and seven assists. But Ford had six turnovers compared to one for Gardner.

Gardner was coming off a 1-for-10 shooting performance against San Diego State.

'I've been through games where the shots are not falling,' he said. 'Fortunately, the guys kept telling me to shoot the ball. That kept my spirits up during the game.'

The game was rough, with the Big 12 officiating crew allowing players to play the physical style that Texas loves, where Pac-10 officials often call games frustratingly close. Gardner was bounced around like a pinball at times.

'If this had been a couple years ago, he would have gotten emotionally involved in the game and let that affect him,' Wildcats coach Lute Olson said. 'Here, he took the physical play and played through it.'

James Thomas, who had 20 points and 12 rebounds, tied it for Texas at 65-65 on an off-balance inside shot with 3:26 to play, the eighth tie of the game. He was fouled on the play but missed the free throw.

Gardner, just 3-for-12 from the field to that point, made a 15-footer to put Arizona ahead 67-65 with 2:03 remaining. After Texas' Sydmill Harris threw the ball away, Gardner hit the second 15-footer to make it 69-65 with 1:20 to go.

Gardner made one of two free throws to make it 70-65 with 57 seconds remaining. Thomas' two free throws cut the lead to 70-67 with 51 seconds to go.

Gardner then drew an offensive foul on Ford and again went 1-for-2 from the line for a 70-65 lead.

The Wildcats were without Walton, a preseason all-American and the team's assist leader who sprained his right ankle in practice on Monday. Arizona missed his passing ability and unflappable approach. Gardner knew he had to provide the lift down the stretch.

'It puts so much more of a load on him when Luke's not in there,' Olson said. 'Luke provides a lot of help in terms of the leadership, but Jason really stepped up big-time.'

The game was tied eight times and there were 12 lead changes.

'I figured coming in after watching their tapes it was going to be a real war,' Olson said, 'and it was that exactly.'

The Wildcats shot just 39 percent for the game, but was at 45 percent in the second half. Texas, which has lost consecutive games to Notre Dame and Arizona after climbing to No. 2 in the poll, shot 36 percent, 33 percent in the second half. In both losses, the Longhorns couldn't come through late in the game.

'What I told the team was close enough's not good enough,' Texas coach Rick Barnes said. 'I told them that right now we should be the No. 1-ranked team in the country, because we've had two games that we haven't finished in the last four minutes.'

Harris had 12 points.

Isaiah Fox scored 11 points and had eight rebounds as Arizona won the battle of the boards 46-41, 24-17 in the second half.

'Games like this will help both teams,' Olson said. 'I'm sure that Rick and his guys are disappointed that they didn't get the win.

'But I'm sure Rick would tell you that they're a whole lot better as a result of having played this game than they would have been playing Podunk Center and blowing them away.'

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