March 16, 2002
Get your Wildcat gear here!
By BEN WALKER
AP Sports Writer
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Amid hooting fans and a harassing defense, Cool Hand Luke kept his composure.
Luke Walton hit a couple of one-handed push shots in the clutch, and third-seeded Arizona staved off Wyoming 68-60 Saturday in the second round of the West Regional.
The son of basketball great Bill Walton scored 21 points and made several nifty passes. Equally important, the junior forward steadied the young Wildcats in front of a crowd that began booing them well before tipoff.
"A hostile environment isn't really going to affect us," Walton said.
Walton stood near halfcourt dribbling out the final seconds as Arizona (24-9) advanced to play the Xavier-Oklahoma winner next Thursday in San Jose, Calif.
The Wildcats reached the round of 16 for the seventh time in the past 12 seasons. They lost last year's NCAA championship game to Duke, and won the 1997 national title.
"We don't care if they're cheering for us or against us," said Arizona coach Lute Olson, who doesn't like playing at The Pit. "As you can see, that's what our guys enjoy."
Walton had nine assists, and freshman center Channing Frye added 18 points and 11 rebounds for Arizona.
Wyoming (22-9) could not duplicate the drama it pulled in toppling Gonzaga in the opening round.
Josh Davis and Marcus Bailey each scored 17 points for the 11th-seeded Cowboys.
"We established that Wyoming basketball is going to be around for awhile," coach Steve McClain said.
Wyoming has won at The Pit more than any other visiting team - 16 times - but Walton would not let it happen again.
After Davis scored to pull the Cowboys to 58-55 with five minutes left, Walton used his soft touch for a pair of baskets from in close on the right side.
"Coach told me if they are not going to come up and attack me, then take the shot," Walton said.
While he shot only 8-for-20, those key baskets were enough to settle down his team and send them deeper into the tournament.
Jason Gardner, who had 14 points, stood with Walton as the clock ticked down. Soon, the team that sometimes had three freshmen on the court at the same time was celebrating.
The big cheers began for the Cowboys when they walked down the steep ramp from the locker room midway through the second half of Missouri's 83-67 win over Ohio State. Getting high-fives from fans, the Wyoming players sat in the stands for a few minutes.
"It was nice to have the support from the other Mountain West schools," Davis said. "It shows that our conference is a classy conference, that we have other teams' fans cheering for our team."
Olson drew an even bigger reaction when he came on the court before the game. He's never made it a secret that he's not a huge fan of The Pit, and the New Mexico fans showed him the feelings were mutual.
With the boos reaching a crescendo, Olson had the slight hint of a smile as he shook hands with McClain. They had met long ago, too - as a junior in high school, McClain attended Olson's basketball camp.
Wyoming's partisan support included Gov. Jim Geringer, who was supposed to talk to the team before the game but arrived late.
"You can just tell by going to Albuquerque and being in the crowd, Wyoming is a favored underdog," he said at halftime.
Geringer was among the Cowboys' most enthusiastic rooters. He was so excited after the first-round victory that when he spoke to the team in the locker room, he described No. 6 Gonzaga as "overrated."
Walton hit a 3 as Arizona took an 8-0 lead. Freshman Salim Stoudamire, cousin of NBA guard Damon Stoudamire, hit a rainbow 3 during a 14-0 run that put the Wildcats ahead 29-19.
At that point, Arizona also was getting the job done on defense. Aware that Wyoming wanted to drive to the basket, Frye blocked four early shots without committing a foul.
Donta Richardson, a key Cowboys' defender, had his problems. After shadowing All-American guard Dan Dickau all night in the win over Gonzaga, he picked up his third foul in the first half while checking Gardner, and got his fourth foul soon after the break.
Arizona went 20-of-28 on free throws, while Wyoming shot only 4-of-7.
"It happens. People take it to the rack," McClain said. "Things get called and things don't."