June 3, 2002
SYDNEY, Australia - Jason Gardner scored eight of his team-high 34 points in overtime to lead Arizona to a 115-113 win over the Sydney Kings Saturday night at the Sutherland Basketball Stadium.
Gardner tallied eight of the Wildcats' 16 points in the extra session to give the team the two-point win and an 8-2 record on its 10-game tour of Australia. His basket following a Luke Walton steal at 3:04 gave Arizona its first lead in overtime at 107-106. He actually scored 19 points in the fourth quarter and overtime combined.
"I've been looking forward to this game for a week," said Gardner. "Luke and I kind of had to carry the scoring late in the game, but everybody stepped up late to help us get the win."
Walton was outstanding in the contest as well, finishing with 25 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists. He was responsible for the game's last four points, tying the contest with a field goal at 1:01 and assisting on the game-winning basket, a perfect feed through traffic to Andrew Zahn, with 22 seconds remaining. The Kings missed three shots in the final 22 seconds to tie or win the game.
"I was just in the right place at the right time," said Zahn. "Luke gave me a perfect pass and I was able to put it in. There was no way I could have scored if the pass wasn't absolutely perfect."
In addition to Walton's and Zahn's efforts, Arizona received solid play from Dennis Latimore, who tallied 15 points and 12 rebounds. He also put in a strong defensive effort on Sydney's Matthew Neilsen in the extra session. Neilsen scored a game-high 57 points, but notched just two in the overtime period.
"This was not an easy win," said assistant coach Josh Pastner, who handled the head coaching duties. "I'm proud of the way the guys played down the stretch, especially Dennis and Andrew. They were a big key for us tonight. This was a great way to end the tour."
Early on, it appeared that overtime wasn't going to be necessary as Arizona jumped out to an early 25-17 lead after one period. That continued in the second when the Wildcats reeled off a 19-1 run over the last 4:33 to take a 54-35 lead at the break. The Wildcats hit 11-of-22 field goals in the quarter and saw four different players score in the run.
Then Neilsen took over and led a furious Sydney comeback. He was virtually unstoppable in the second half by scoring 31 of his team's 64 points after the break in regulation. Neilsen was 6-of-10 from the floor in the third quarter and scored 17 points as the Kings outscored the Wildcats, 38-20, in the period.
"I was just in the right place at the right time, Luke gave me a perfect pass and I was able to put it in. There was no way I could have scored if the pass wasn't absolutely perfect."
It was somewhat miraculous that Arizona was actually able to stay in the game in the fourth quarter. Due to a pair of foul-outs and injuries, Arizona was left with just five players for the last six minutes of the fourth quarter and the overtime session. To make matters worse, Walton played the last nine minutes of the game (including overtime) with five fouls.
"For a while there, it looked like we were going to be playing four against five out there," said Arizona head coach Lute Olson. "The guys did a good job of giving us a chance to win it in overtime."
Arizona's best play of the day may actually have happened before Saturday's tour finale, as UA Coordinator of Basketball Operations Ryan Hansen sang the Star Spangled Banner before the game...and he sang it well.
It seems as though the only copy of the Star Spangled Banner at the Sutherland Basketball Stadium somehow disappeared prior to the game, leaving the public address announcer to actually ask if there were any volunteers willing to sing the U.S. national anthem. That's when Ryan stepped forward and knocked it down cold.
"That's a hard song to sing in the first place," Hansen said. "And I was really worried to step up and sing it cold."
He sang it so well that he received a standing ovation from the standing-room-only crowd of 554 (Well, it was the national anthem...they were standing already, but it really was much deserved). After receiving congratulations from the team and staff, Hansen quietly took his place on the UA bench.
For those of you that are wondering, Hansen does have a bit of a singing background. He is actually an accomplished vocalist who has recorded several albums and toured the country as part of a singing group.
And we thought he was all about basketball.
Mass chaos was the only way to describe the scene at the Sutherland Basketball Stadium Saturday. That doesn't even include the action during the game. In another interesting taste of Australia, children like to come out and shoot baskets on the court whenever possible.
Not just after the game, but during pregame warm-ups (some actually shot baskets with the players), halftime, quarter breaks, and even timeouts. There was never a time when the court was empty.
"This is unbelievable," said video manager John Castles. "It looks like an elementary school recess. "It's a madhouse out there."
While every stoppage of play brought out someone, it reached its zenith at halftime when what seemed like hundreds of kids swarmed the floor to get a few shots in. It was a sight to behold.
That's just another difference here in Australia. For these kids, this is their home court. They play on it every day. So why should something like a scheduled exhibition game keep them from playing whenever they get the chance?