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Cats Start Fast, Race to 21-point Victory
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 02/26/2006
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- The Arizona Wildcats hope the NCAA tournament selection committee was watching Saturday's 68-47 rout of Arizona State.

"It was a must-win," Arizona guard Daniel Dillon said. "Every game from now on is a must-win."

Arizona (17-10, 10-6 in the Pac-10) is seeking to extend its 21-year string of NCAA tournament appearances, the nation's longest active streak.

Most years, Arizona has locked up a berth by late February. But while Arizona coach Lute Olson scoffed last week at suggestions that his team is on the "bubble," the Wildcats clearly needed to strengthen their resume in the regular season's final three games.

Enter the Sun Devils, Arizona's favorite opponent over the last two decades. The Wildcats have won 22 of the last 23 meetings with their in-state rival.

Arizona quelled any ASU upset hopes by jumping out to a 12-2 lead eight minutes into the game. After ASU (10-15, 4-12) cut the deficit to 14-7, the Wildcats blew the game open with an 18-0 run, shutting out the Sun Devils for seven minutes.

"They took the fight to us," said ASU guard Bryson Krueger, who led the Sun Devils with 14 points. "There wasn't much we could do."

Ivan Radenovic led Arizona with 14 points. But his game-high six steals were more important.

The Wildcats harassed the Sun Devils into a season-high 26 turnovers while allowing only 18 field goals. Arizona had 16 steals and scored 30 points off turnovers.

"We created a lot of problems for them with our defense," Arizona coach Lute Olson said.

Arizona needed a strong defensive effort on a day it shot only 40.6 percent from the floor and 18.2 percent from beyond the three-point arc.

Arizona State entered the game ranked eighth in the Pac-10 in scoring offense (65.1 points per game), and the Sun Devils struggled against Arizona's active, pressing defense. With Wildcat defenders contesting every pass, ASU made only one of its first eight shots and didn't score its second field goal until the game was nearly nine minutes old.

The Sun Devils had seven turnovers in the first eight minutes. The Sun Devils shot 25 percent (5-for-20) from the floor in the first half and went to the dressing room trailing 38-13.

"It's not a matter of effort," said Arizona State coach Rob Evans, who is 1-16 against Arizona. "We just turned the ball over too many times."

Arizona's best defensive effort came against ASU guard Kevin Kruger, who came in averaging a team-high 14.7 points per game. Arizona limited Kruger to two points on 1-for-10 shooting from the floor; he missed all nine of his three-point shots.

Arizona's best defensive sequence came late in the first half. First, Radenovic stripped guard Kevin Kruger of the ball and threw a 50-foot bounce pass to Adams, who dunked to put the Wildcats up 21-7. Three possessions later, Adams blocked a lay-up by Sun Devil guard Antwi Atuahene, setting up a 16-foot jumper by Fendi Onobun to give Arizona a 27-7 lead.

Radenovic punctuated Arizona's dominant first half by stealing the ball and dribbling the length of the floor for a dunk as time expired. Radenovic pumped his fist at the frenetic McKale Center crowd of 14,611 as he ran toward the dressing room.

"We needed this win," Radenovic said.

Arizona finishes the regular season with home games against Washington State March 2 and Washington March 4. A split of the two games will probably be enough to extend Arizona's tournament streak.

"We're very focused now," Onobun said. "Our playing did the talking for us."

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