Solace in a job mostly well done

Arizona positioned itself for win, but takes being No. 2 in stride

April 03, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS - After six months, the truth finally hit home for players on the Arizona men's basketball team last night. They weren't No. 1.

Duke didn't need a catastrophe from Arizona to win the school's third national championship in the past 11 seasons. The Wildcats got open shots. In most cases, they defended well, took care of the ball and got plenty of rebounds, both offensive and defensive. They even got a big game from center Loren Woods.

Still, it was No. 2 for the Wildcats, who really didn't seem to mind a whole lot. Two of their best players - Woods and Richard Jefferson - were suspended. Then Bobbi Olson, wife of Arizona coach Lute Olson and a guiding force for many Wildcats over the years, died of ovarian cancer on Jan. 1. So, a few missed shots and defensive breakdowns weren't going to get them down.

"For a team to get this far, this is a tremendous accomplishment," said Olson, who was in his second championship game, having won in 1997. After stumbling early, the Wildcats won 18 of its past 20 games before last night. "Our guys played really well. ... They practiced hard, played hard and had an enjoyable time."

"We don't have as much satisfaction as if we'd won," said Woods, who finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots. "But you have to have some sort of self-dignity. I have so much respect for these guys."

Woods' performance - from his hook shot a minute into the game to his volleyball-like block of Jason Williams' layup attempt late in the second half -- was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Wildcats, who had their one major advantage in the pivot.

It was also one of several requirements for victory that Arizona seemed to meet. The team out-rebounded Duke, 45-42, and had 17 offensive rebounds. After committing 18 turnovers a game in the first four game of the tournament, the Wildcats took care of the ball, turning it over only nine times against a team that exerts considerable defensive pressure.

Yet, Duke seemed to always have an answer. As good as Woods played, the Blue Devils' big men -- Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer and Casey Sanders -- didn't come close to being intimidated by the 7-foot-1 center, who set an NCAA tournament record for blocks in a tournament with 23.

Instead, Duke's big men -- and several of the smaller ones, too -- took the ball to Woods. Boozer and Battier combined for 30 points and 23 rebounds and eventually got Woods in foul trouble.

"They did a great job," said Woods. "They came at me from the beginning. ... In the first half, I was able to avoid contact. But, in the second half, it seemed that four fouls just snuck up on me."

After doing a solid job of defending the three-point stripe - Duke made only four of 15 attempts beyond the arc - a different story started the second half.

As the Wildcats tried to deter penetration by Chris Duhon and Williams, they somehow forgot to account for forward Mike Dunleavy. Arizona paid for its negligence as Duke got three-pointers from Dunleavy on three straight possessions during a 14-4 run that forced the Wildcats into permanent comeback mode.

That put the Blue Devils up by 50-39 with 16:00 left in the game.

Gilbert Arenas said the top priority was to contain Williams, but "once he gets in the lane you have to stop him, and once you do that, they start hitting jump shots."

Arenas, Arizona's top scorer heading into the game, shot only four of 17 and finished with 10 points in a performance he said was not affected by the shoulder injury he suffered on Saturday.

Instead, the team thought it played well enough to win if not for the squandered opportunities down the stretch. Jefferson, who'd played well throughout the second half and finished with 17 points, missed two open three-point attempts after his team got within three points over the last three minutes.

When it had a chance to steal the ball from Duke with about 90 seconds left, Arizona bobbled the ball out of bounds. And with the ball went the last of their chances of being No. 1.

"If we'd knocked down our shots, the game could have gone either way," said guard Jason Gardner, who wasn't much of a factor with seven points and two assists. "We got beat by 10 points. Free throws were missed when we were down five and three. It was just one of those days."

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