March 6, 2002
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Arizona won the championship the last time the Pac-10 had a tournament. Considering how good the Wildcats looked in their last game, they look capable of also winning this one.
Coming off their most complete effort of the season, the No. 15 Wildcats open the tournament Thursday at Los Angeles against Arizona State.
Second-seeded Arizona (19-9) has plenty of momentum after routing California 99-53 in its season finale.
It was the fewest points allowed this season by the Wildcats, who opened the second half with a 30-4 run and finished with their highest point total of the season. They also equaled their season best with a plus-21 rebound margin.
Arizona now looks to win the Pac-10 tournament for the fourth straight time, having won the last three tournaments from 1988-90.
Wildcats guard Jason Gardner, one of the Pac-10's best players, has been superb down the stretch. He averaged 23.5 points on 59.3 percent shooting in two games last week and has made 53.6 percent of his shots in the last five games. He leads Arizona with 20.6 points per game.
While the Wildcats head into postseason play with some momentum, the seventh-seeded Sun Devils struggled down the stretch thanks to a difficult schedule.
Arizona State (14-13) finished 7-11 in the league after losing its final three games. The Sun Devils closed the regular season by playing a school-record five straight ranked teams, going just 1-4 in that span.
Still, Arizona coach Lute Olson thinks Arizona State could be a dangerous opponent.
"I think ASU is a very good team. They had problems getting over the humps," Olson said. "They've lost some games that they could have easily won. They are a good, experienced team."
Arizona State needs big games from Chad Prewitt and Curtis Millage. Prewitt averaged 18.9 points and 7.3 rebounds in conference play, while Millage totaled 46 points in two games against Arizona this season.
"When we played them, we had a problem stopping Millage," Olson said. "Prewitt has a lot of experience and plays intelligently. ASU will be a tough matchup for us."
The rivals will be meeting three times in a season for the first time since 1979-80. They split two games in the regular season and Arizona leads the series 127-73.
The winner advances to face California or UCLA in Friday's semifinals.