March 9, 2002
By JOHN NADEL
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES - California improved by 34 points in a span of six days. It wasn't nearly enough.
Jason Gardner scored 25 points and Luke Walton added 20 Friday night to lead No. 15 Arizona to a 90-78 victory over the 25th-ranked Golden Bears in the semifinals of the Pacific-10 Conference tournament.
The triumph wasn't nearly as one-sided as Arizona's 99-53 victory over Cal last Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., but that was the second-worst loss in school history and didn't figure to be repeated, especially on a neutral court.
The second-seeded Wildcats (21-9), who have won 20 or more games in 15 straight seasons, face No. 22 Southern California in Saturday's championship game at Staples Center.
The fourth-seeded Trojans (22-8) beat No. 9 Oregon, the tournament's top seed, 89-78 in Friday night's opener.
The Pac-10 tournament champion earns an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, although it's a good possibility six conference teams will be invited for the first time.
Arizona brings an 11-game Pac-10 tournament winning streak into Saturday's game - the Wildcats won the competition from 1988-90 before it was disbanded until this year.
Arizona has won seven straight and 10 of 11 over Cal including a 68-58 win at Haas Pavilion on Jan. 31 - the Bears' only homecourt loss in 18 games - and the 46-point victory last weekend.
Joe Shipp scored 25 points and Brian Wethers added 22 for the Bears (22-8).
Three-pointers by Gardner and Walton sandwiched around a layin by Will Bynum gave the Wildcats a 61-46 lead with 13:45 remaining, and it was 74-63 after Walton made two free throws with 6:42 left.
However, the Bears battled back, and two straight baskets by Shipp capped an 8-3 run, cutting Arizona's lead to 77-71 with 3:35 to play.
But that was as close as the Bears would get. Two baskets by Walton another by Bynum made it 83-72 with 1:58 remaining, and the Wildcats had more than enough points to win. Arizona outscored Cal 13-7 to finish the game.
Gardner made a 3-point shot and a three-point play in the first two minutes as Arizona, which never trailed, took a 10-4 lead.
Cal drew within one point before baskets by Gardner and Channing Frye and a 3-pointer by Salim Stoudamire made it 19-11 just 4:45 into the game - certainly not the way the defensive-minded Bears wanted to play.
Cal rode the hot shooting of Wethers to stay within striking distance, and when the 6-foot-5 junior scored five straight points to give him 15, the Wildcats' lead had been cut to 35-33 with 4:50 left before halftime.
But Arizona went on a 12-6 run to finish the half for a 47-39 lead, with the final points coming on a 3-pointer by Bynum with two seconds left.