March 22, 2003
By BOB BAUM
AP Sports Writer
SALT LAKE CITY - Those ever-lovin' Zags almost did it again, this time in a double-overtime thriller against top-seeded Arizona.
If the Wildcats win the national championship, they will always know that this was the one that came a few missed shots by Gonzaga from ruining it all.
Salim Stoudamire, quiet most of the intense evening, scored five points in the second overtime as the Wildcats held off the ninth-seeded Bulldogs 96-95 Saturday in a game that ranks with the best in NCAA tournament history.
"That," Arizona's Jason Gardner said, "was definitely an ESPN Classic."
"We played in all sorts of games in all sorts of places. We're not about to get rattled if it's close at the end."
-- Luke Walton
Gonzaga nearly pulled off an upset that would have dwarfed anything the Bulldogs did during their exhilarating tournament runs in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
"Of all the teams I've had at Gonzaga, I've never been more proud," coach Mark Few said.
Stoudamire's floater in the lane with 2:03 left in the second overtime were the game's final points. Gonzaga (24-9) had numerous chances to take the lead but failed.
"That's the greatest game I ever played in," Arizona's Rick Anderson said. "I could see it in their eyes. Everybody on the court wanted to win."
Tony Skinner, whose career-high 25 points included 5-of-11 shooting on 3-pointers, missed an open 3 with 4 seconds to play for the Zags.
Blake Stepp, who scored 19 of his 25 points after halftime, missed a 5-foot follow-up bank shot just before the buzzer sounded.
"It just didn't go in for me," Stepp said. "That's probably the hardest game I've been a part of in terms of two teams fighting it out."
The Bulldogs collapsed to the floor in disappointment, and Arizona (27-3) advanced to the West Regional semifinals against Notre Dame, a winner over Illinois on Saturday.
All five Wildcats starters reached double figures. Gardner scored 22. Channing Frye had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and played the final five minutes and both overtimes with four fouls.
Anderson had 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Luke Walton 16 points, nine assists, two blocked shots and three steals. His basket with 4.1 seconds to go forced the second overtime.
With starters Ronny Turiaf, who scored 16, and Winston Brooks fouled out, Gonzaga's offense finally wilted. The Bulldogs went scoreless the last 2:10 after Skinner's two free throws put them ahead 95-94.
"If you did not care who won, it was a great college basketball game," Arizona coach Lute Olson said. "That was not a game for people who weren't willing to lay it out on the floor."
Stoudamire's 3-pointer put Arizona up 94-93 before Skinner's free throws.
"My teammates just showed confidence in me, and forgot all about the earlier shots," Stoudamire said. "They said we needed some big shots, and I hit 'em."
Arizona had the ball with 20 seconds to go, but lost it out of bounds. One official signaled possession to the Wildcats, but another overruled him and gave Gonzaga its last shots.
Turiaf, who fouled out with 2:16 left in regulation, could only watch.
"I know I could bring something to the table for my teammates," he said. "I'm sitting there on the bench and I can't do anything about it. One stop, and we get a win. It didn't happen, and it's too bad."
Gardner made three of four free throws in the finally 25.1 seconds of regulation, but missed the fourth. Stepp missed his second consecutive 3-pointer but Skinner put in the rebound at the buzzer to tie it at 78 to the delirious delight of the vast majority of the capacity crowd at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
Arizona built an 87-84 lead on Gardner's two free throws and Anderson's inside basket on a pass from Walton in the first overtime. But Stepp sank a 3-pointer from the top of the key to tie it at 87 with 1:10 to play.
Walton threw the ball away on Arizona's next possession, then Few called timeout. Gardner tied up Richard Fox for a jump ball, the possession arrow went to the Bulldogs and Fox scored on the inbounds play to put Gonzaga up 89-87 with 14.5 seconds to go.
Fox finished with 13 points.
Walton powered the ball inside to tie it at 89, and Stepp's 3-pointer from just inside midcourt was off the mark at the buzzer, bringing on the second overtime.
"We played in all sorts of games in all sorts of places," Walton said. "We're not about to get rattled if it's close at the end."
Trailing 44-41 at the half, the Wildcats scored the first seven points of the second half, four by Frye. The run reached 13-4 on Frye's two free throws that put Arizona ahead 54-48 with 14:17 remaining.
But the team that topped the national rankings for 13 weeks couldn't shake the cool, aggressive Bulldogs.
The Zags went to the round of 16 three of the last four years, and to the regional finals in 1999. They were anything but flustered by the Wildcats, who shot 52 percent in the first half and still found themselves trailing by three at the break.
Skinner, who averaged just under nine points a game in the regular season, scored 15 in the first half. Turiaf added 12.
Gardner had 12 points, including 2-of-2 3-pointers. He went 0-for-17 on 3-pointers in his previous three games.