Feb 8, 2003
By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS
Associated Press Writer
PULLMAN, Wash. - Arizona knew a victory would most likely send them back to No. 1. That pressure might have been responsible for the Wildcats' poor start against lowly Washington State.
"It was in the back of our heads, and all the guys knew it," said Jason Gardner, who scored 19 points to lead the second-ranked Wildcats to a 75-62 victory Saturday night. "That's why we were struggling. We were playing not to lose."
Top-ranked Florida lost to Kentucky on Tuesday, opening the door for Arizona (18-2, 10-1 Pac-10) to become No. 1 in The Associated Press poll for the third time this season. The Wildcats were the preseason No. 1 and dropped following losses to LSU and Stanford.
Washington State (5-15, 0-11) put up a tremendous fight before losing to Arizona for the 36th straight time dating to January 1986.
The Cougars tied the game at 54-54 on Jerry McNair's 3-pointer with 7:12 left. But Arizona went on a 13-2 run over the next 5˝ minutes to pull away.
Milton Riley scored 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting to lead the Cougars to one of their best performances of the season. But he fouled out with under three minutes left.
"When a guy like that goes out, it hurts," said Thomas Kelati, WSU's leading scorer, who missed all eight of his shots and failed to score.
Washington State lost its 11th consecutive game and 18th consecutive Pac-10 contest dating to last season. But the Cougars played with emotion, losing the rebound battle just 41-40 and forcing 21 Arizona turnovers.
"We all made a concerted effort to leave it all on the floor," Riley said. "It's unfortunate we came up a little short."
Chris Schlatter added 15 points for the Cougars, who shot 37 percent.
Arizona, which escaped with an overtime win at Washington on Thursday, swept the Washington schools for the fourth consecutive season.
"People think the Washington trip is real easy, but nothing is easy in the Pac-10," Frye said.
While much of the game was close, Arizona went on a late spurt to take a 34-27 halftime lead, and the Wildcats did the same to pull away at the end.
"This shows we can win close ballgames and keep our poise in close ballgames," Gardner said. "Overall, this was an off night for us."
Arizona shot just 41 percent but made 18 of 21 free throws in the second half to thwart Washington State rallies. That was a key stat, Arizona coach Lute Olson said.
"They do a nice job against us," Olson said of the Cougars. "They need to play that way against everybody else."
The Wildcats' 17-year winning streak against Washington State is the longest currently in the Pac-10.
Washington State has now lost 37 consecutive games to ranked opponents, dating to 1997. The Cougars are 1-63 against top-five teams dating to 1980.
The Cougars are playing without Marcus Moore, the second-leading scorer in the Pac-10, who is out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury. Moore scored 35 points, the most by any Arizona opponent this season, when the Cougars lost 82-69 at Arizona.