March 28, 2003
GAME: No. 2 Kansas (28-7) vs. No. 1 Arizona (28-3)
REGIONAL: West, final.
TIME: Saturday, 7:05 p.m. EST.
SITE: Arrowhead Pond; Anaheim, Calif.
After surviving a second-round scare, Arizona looked overpowering in the regional semifinal. That's good news for a Wildcats team getting set to face Kansas, which will be looking to settle a two-month-old score.
Looking to reach their second Final Four in three years, the Wildcats face the No. 2 Jayhawks for the West Regional championship.
The Wildcats hung on to defeat Gonzaga 96-95 in double-overtime in the second round, and they appeared determined to avoid another close call in the round of 16.
Senior forward Luke Walton had 16 points, seven rebounds and eight assists as Arizona routed Notre Dame 88-71 on Thursday night. Point guard Jason Gardner scored 19 points, and Channing Frye and Hassan Adams each added 14 for the Wildcats, who lost to Duke in the 2001 national championship game.
"It was obvious in the early going it was going to be a track meet," said Arizona coach Lute Olson, whose team took command with a 22-3 run that gave it a 47-29 lead with 5:56 remaining in the first half.
"Both teams came out ready to go. We shot the ball well, they shot the ball well, then all of a sudden, theirs weren't going and we continued to shoot the ball well."
Arizona should be in good shape if it can put together similar runs against Kansas. The Wildcats did just that Jan. 25, when they came storming back from a 20-point deficit to defeat the Jayhawks 91-74 at Allen Fieldhouse.
The Wildcats, then ranked No. 1, shifted the momentum of that game with a 10-0 spurt to start the second half in a contest that at the time featured the two highest-rated teams to meet this season.
Arizona's Salim Stoudamire scored a career-high 32 points against then-No. 6 Kansas in that game, the Jayhawks' most lopsided home loss since 1989.
To beat Kansas again, Arizona will likely have to find a way to slow down forward Nick Collison, who carried the Jayhawks past Duke with a career-high 33 points and 19 rebounds. Coach Roy Williams effectively exploited the Blue Devils' lack of size, as Kansas repeatedly forced the ball inside to Collison, who had little trouble establishing good position throughout the night.
"With it all on the line, if you lose you're done, I'll be proud of this one for a long time," said Collison, who played all 40 minutes and scored 21 of his team's 34 points in the second half - including 12 straight at one point.
"In the first half, they started out trying to keep me from getting the ball. I think the best thing I did was I just kept moving. Eventually, there were some openings down there."
Kansas needed Collison at his best with Kirk Hinrich struggling with foul trouble, an errant shot and an apparent wrist injury he suffered in the first half. The senior guard finished with two points and went 1-for-9 from the floor.
Williams, who had been 0-3 in matchups with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, is looking to guide Kansas to a second consecutive Final Four appearance. The Jayhawks lost to eventual champion Maryland in the Final Four last year.
"We're going to enjoy the dickens out of this one tonight," Williams said Thursday. "We'll start working on Arizona tomorrow."
Kansas and Arizona's only two meetings in the NCAA tournament came in 1996 and '97. The Jayhawks beat the Wildcats 83-80 in the '96 regional semifinals, but Arizona got revenge one year later. The Wildcats stunned Kansas, the heavy tournament favorite, 85-82 in the round of 16 on the way to winning their only national championship.
Kansas boasts four players averaging at least 14.8 points per game, but the Jayhawks will have to contend with an Arizona squad that is significantly bigger and more experienced than the young Blue Devils.
"I think we're sitting in a great situation," Gardner said.
Saturday's winner will face either Kentucky or Marquette in next week's national semifinal.
PROBABLE STARTERS: Kansas - F Jeff Graves, F Collison, G Keith Langford, G Hinrich, G Aaron Miles. Arizona - F Walton, F Rick Anderson, C Frye, G Stoudamire, G Gardner.
TEAM LEADERS: Kansas - Collison, 18.9 ppg and 9.6 rpg; Miles, 6.5 apg. Arizona - Gardner, 14.5 ppg; Frye, 8.1 rpg; Walton and Gardner, 5.0 apg.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Kansas - At-large bid, Big 12; beat No. 15 Utah State 64-61, first round; beat No. 10 Arizona State 108-76, second round; beat No. 3 Duke 69-65, regional semifinals. Arizona - At-large bid, Pac-10; beat No. 16 Vermont 80-51, first round; beat No. 9 Gonzaga 96-95, 2 OT, second round; beat No. 5 Notre Dame 88-71, regional semifinals.
ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Kansas - 68-31, 32 years. Arizona - 37-20, 22 years.