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Wake Forest Defeats Arizona, 63-60
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 11/27/2004
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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By JIM O'CONNELL AP Basketball Writer

NEW YORK (AP) _ Wake Forest's ``other guard'' had a pretty good Preseason NIT.

Justin Gray scored 21 points for the second straight game and the top-ranked Demon Deacons beat No. 18 Arizona 63-60 on Friday night in the championship game of the 16-team tournament, a game that had a March feel to it in late-November.

Gray, overshadowed in his own backcourt by sophomore sensation Chris Paul, was selected as the tournament's most valuable player. He could have earned a red badge of courage as well, having received five stitches over his right eye in the first half of the semifinal win over Providence and then he was kicked near the same spot again in the first half against Arizona.

``I don't get wrapped up in MVPs and things like that, I'm happy for our team,'' Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said. ``But he has a courage that's contagious.''

Paul laughed when he was asked about Gray's injuries.

``He gets hurt all the time. I don't even look any more because I know he's coming back in,'' Paul said. ``He's just Justin.''

The loss ended a 15-game winning streak in the Preseason NIT for Arizona (4-2) and it was the first loss in 12 games at Madison Square Garden for Wildcats coach Lute Olson, a run that started in 1973 when he was at Long Beach State.

``It's disappointing, but it isn't because our guys didn't play hard,'' Olson said. ``It wasn't a case of our coming out and not being ready to play. I thought we played with a lot of passion.''

Gray was almost all the offense for the Demon Deacons (5-0) during the first 10 minutes of the second half.

When his teammates started to find their stroke, the Demon Deacons went on a 13-2 run to go up 59-51 with 5:28 left. Arizona rallied to get within 61-60 with 1:26 left on a 3-pointer by Hassan Adams.

Gray missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 24 seconds left. Arizona had one timeout left but Olson didn't call it. Shakur dribbled the ball at the top of the key and started his move with 7 seconds left. His jumper from about 8 feet was short.

Eric Williams made two free throws for Wake Forest with 1.2 seconds left and Arizona's chance to tie ended when Adams' turnaround 3-point attempt at the buzzer bounced off the rim.

``I got a piece of it,'' Williams said of Shakur's shot. ``Then I got the rebound and waited for the whistle.''

The Wildcats won the Preseason NIT the last three times it participated _ 1990, `95 and `99.

It was the first Preseason NIT title for Wake Forest, which finished second in 2001.

``Coach always says this a big-time game and it has to have big-time players, so I just try to step up,'' said Gray, who was first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference last season as a sophomore. ``There is no jealousy in this locker room even if we do have our magazine cover boy. We know we get the attention because of him.''

Taron Downey had 11 points and 10 rebounds for Wake Forest, which became No. 1 this week for the first time in school history earlier this week, while Jamaal Levy had eight points and 12 rebounds.

Paul, the leading vote-getter on the AP's preseason All-America team, had four points on 2-for-11 shooting as he was hounded all game by Arizona's Mustafa Shakur. Paul had four assists, three during the Demon Deacons' run that gave them the lead in the second half.

``I just missed some shots I usually hit,'' Paul said. ``I was trying to be aggressive and I can do that because I know I have teammates who step up.''

Adams had 19 points and eight rebounds for Arizona, while Salim Stoudamire had 16 points.

Arizona opened the game with an 11-2 run and was up 37-29 at halftime. The Wildcats kept the lead until Wake Forest tied it at 46 with 12:48 to go. A 3-pointer by Stoudamire gave Arizona its last lead, 49-46 with 12:09 left.

That's when Wake Forest went on the 13-2 run and the last three baskets all came on assists by Paul.

He threw an alley-oop pass to Trent Strickland for a dunk, found Williams for a dunk with a pass inside and then threw a long pass on the break that Levy dunked for a 59-51 lead with 5:28 to play.

Wake Forest was just 2-for-15 from 3-point range, but shot 42 percent overall. Arizona wasn't able to capitalize on a 23-16 edge on the offensive boards, shooting just 31 percent from the field.

Shakur, who did such a good job on Paul, was 1-for-12 from the field.

``Mustafa played 34 minutes with no turnovers and six assists and that's a solid game. He didn't shoot the ball well, but his floor game was good,'' Olson said. ``Justin Gray is a handful. He does a great job of moving without the ball and getting himself open for good looks.''

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