Arizona's Richard Jefferson (44) and Michigan State's Charlie Bell (14) battle to gain control of a loose ball. (AP Photo/John Miller)
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - Arizona's Loren Woods was late for second-ranked Wildcats' game with No. 4 Michigan State because of a car wreck Saturday. But his second-half surge couldn't have been more timely.
The 7-foot-1 center scored the first six points in a crucial 12-2 run as Arizona (7-1) stretched its homecourt winning streak to 36 games with a 79-68 victory over the Spartans.
With Mateen Cleaves still out with a stress fracture in his right foot, Michigan State (7-2) couldn't contain Arizona's freshman point guard Jason Gardner.
Gardner, who struggled against Khalid El-Amin in Tuesday night's 78-69 loss to No. 6 Connecticut, had a career-high 20 points, six assists and six rebounds for Arizona.
The Wildcats outscored the Spartans 20-9 over the last 8:20 after Michigan State (7-2) had rallied from an early 19-point deficit to tie it at 59-59.
Arizona sealed the victory by going 10-for-10 at the foul line over the last 4:04. Richard Jefferson, who scored 18 points, had six of those free throws down the stretch.
Gilbert Arenas, who didn't start because of a hip flexor, scored 13 points for Arizona. Woods added 12.
Morris Peterson scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half for Michigan State, but was only 5-for-15 from the field. Charlie Bell led the Spartans with 20 points. Michigan State shot 40 percent, compared with Arizona's 53 percent.
Michigan State caught Arizona at 59-59 on Jason Richardson's reverse stuff on a rebound after Jefferson blocked Bell's layup attempt.
Woods hit an 8-foot hook, followed with a stuff, then scored inside on a pass from Michael Wright and Arizona led 65-59. Justin Wessell added a short jumper to make it 67-59, and the Spartans never got closer than six again. Two free throws apiece by Jefferson and Arenas capped the spurt and made it 71-61 with 3:19 to play.
At first, it looked like a runaway in front of the loud McKale Center crowd.
Arizona went on a 24-4 run highlighted by Jefferson's steal and swooping one-handed stuff. Arenas' baseline dunk on a pass from Woods capped the outburst and put the Wildcats up 31-12 with 8:23 to play in the first half.
But Michigan State responded with a 17-2 outburst that cut the lead to 33-30 on Andre Hutson's two free throws with 2:51 left in the half. Arizona's only basket during the run came when what was supposed to be a pass into the low post from Gardner was deflected off the backboard and into the hoop.
Gardner's 3-pointer ended the Spartans' surge, and Arizona held a 37-32 lead at the break.
No one was hurt in the car accident involving Woods. But four minutes of the game had passed before he arrived on the Arizona bench. He entered the game with 14:17 left.
Wright, bothered by a hyperextended right knee suffered in the loss to Connecticut in the Great Eight, started but played only six minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.
Arizona also was without backup point guard Lamont Frazier for academic reasons.
The Wildcats' last home loss was 66-64 against UCLA on Feb. 13, 1997.