Freshmen Jason Gardner and Gilbert Arenas scored 14 points apiece in an impressive debut as the 10th-ranked Wildcats routed Kansas State 88-69 Tuesday night in the first round of the Preseason NIT.
The points only begin to tell the story of how good they were.
``I can't imagine two freshman guards playing better in an opener anywhere than what those two did tonight,'' Arizona coach Lute Olson said. ``Eight steals, 15 assists. They were outstanding.''
Gardner scored 10 points in the first half and finished the game with nine assists and three steals. Arenas, who had narrowed his college choices to Kansas State and Arizona before deciding to come to Tucson, scored 12 points in the first half and finished with six assists and five steals. Gardner had two turnovers, Arenas one.
``We are the youngest guys on the team,'' Gardner said. ``We have a lot of fun. We had a great opportunity to move the ball. We got things moving, and then the momentum just flowed for us.''
Gardner, Indiana's Mr. Basketball last season, follows Damon Stoudamire and Mike Bibby as great freshman point guards at Arizona.
``There is no question in my mind that the player of the game was Jason Gardner,'' Olson said. ``He did everything a good point guard needs to do. It's pretty obvious he's not a freshman. I mean he is a freshman and he isn't. I'm not sure we have ever had a freshman point guard come in and have a first game like the one he had tonight.''
Arizona took control with a 22-0 run late in the first half and led by as many as 32 in the second half to win its 33rd consecutive home game and goes for No. 34 against New Mexico State, which beat Hofstra 69-55, in the second round Friday night.
All five starters scored in double figures for Arizona.
Loren Woods, a 7-foot-1 transfer from Wake Forest, scored 15 points. Richard Jefferson had 15 points and 10 rebounds and Michael Wright had 11 points and 10 boards.
``I think all five will play in the NBA some day,'' Kansas State coach Tom Asbury said. ``When they go is not my call, but that is a distinct possibility.''
Galen Morrison and Cortez Groves each scored 13 points for Kansas State, which committed 24 turnovers against the quick Arizona defense, including a zone that has rarely been used by Olson. Tony Kitt and Quentin Buchanan each added 11 points for KSU.
Asbury was disappointed in his team's lack of poise, especially from his seniors. For example, Groves, the point guard, had no assists and seven turnovers.
``We need to improve on every conceivable aspect of the game you can think of,'' Asbury said.
Arizona built its biggest lead at 69-37 on Gardner's layup with 11:59 to play. Kansas State scored 11 straight points to cut the lead to 70-50 with 7:55 to play. An 11-4 Arizona spurt ended any faint KSU comeback hopes.
Arenas and Gardner each hit 3-pointers in their first collegiate shots as Arizona took a 20-5 lead. Kansas State made four 3-pointers, two by Morrison, in a 19-9 run that cut the lead to 29-24 with 6:04 left in the half.
Arizona buried the visiting Wildcats with 22 consecutive points to go ahead 53-26 on Luke Walton's two free throws with 33 seconds left in the half. After KSU's Kelvin Howells scored, Gardner used a head-fake to get open for a long jumper that he hit at the buzzer to put Arizona up 55-28 at halftime.
The first half featured two lobs from Arenas to Jefferson, one for a slam and the other for a soft layup. Jefferson also had a slam dunk on a lob from midcourt by Gardner with 6:20 left in the game.
Kansas State turned the ball over five straight times during the outburst, and 14 times in the first half.
Arizona shot 59 percent in the first half, compared with 29 percent for Kansas State.
Arizona last lost at home on Feb. 13, 1997, 66-64 to UCLA.