Arizona survives in 2 OTs

Top-seeded Wildcats move to Sweet 16 with 96-95 win over Gonzaga

`It doesn't get any better'

No. 9 seed Bulldogs miss 2 shots in final 4 seconds

Ncaa Tournament

March 23, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

SALT LAKE CITY -- They played 50 minutes at 4,600-foot altitude with their respective seasons on the line, but neither Arizona nor Gonzaga staggered to the finish of their spectacular, double-overtime classic last night at the Huntsman Center, making play after play after unbelievable play.

There were no losers in this NCAA West Regional second-round thriller, just one survivor -- the top-seeded Wildcats.

When Gonzaga's two heroes, junior guards Blake Stepp and Tony Skinner, each missed shots in the last four seconds and the buzzer sounded, Arizona had emerged a 96-95 winner to advance to its third straight Sweet 16. Players from both teams fell to the floor as the crowd offered a standing ovation.

It continued for a couple of minutes and, after dragging themselves to their feet, the players applauded the crowd.

"When you look at it that this came in the tournament, it doesn't get any better than that. The Kentucky game would have to be No. 1," said Arizona coach Lute Olson, referring to his team's 1997 national championship victory over Kentucky in overtime. "But this one was No. 2."

Stepp and Skinner each finished with a game-high 25 points, but on the final, frantic possession, neither could make shots he had seemed to make all night. Skinner missed a wide-open three-pointer, and after grabbing a long rebound, Stepp missed a short bank shot.

The winning basket, as it turned out, was scored by Arizona guard Salim Stoudamire, whose 10-footer from the right side with a little more than two minutes left in the second overtime were the final two points of this wild game. All five Wildcats starters finished in double figures, led by senior guard Jason Gardner, with 22, and sophomore center Channing Frye, who also scored 22 to go along with 12 rebounds.

Arizona (27-3) will move on to Anaheim, Calif. for next week's West Regional semifinals. The Wildcats will play fifth-seeded Notre Dame, which earlier in the day defeated No. 4 seed Illinois. Ninth-seeded Gonzaga (24-9) will go back home with only the memories of one of the most exciting games in the recent history of the NCAA tournament.

"Gonzaga is not a team that's going to beat itself. Someone is going to have to beat them, and we were fortunate to do that tonight," said Frye. "I'm pretty much exhausted and I'm sure they are, too. If you're going to have to go out in the tournament, that's the way to do it. We were just determined not to lose."

So was Gonzaga.

Despite seeing forward Ronny Turiaf foul out with 2:16 left in regulation and point guard Winston Brooks leave the game the same way in the first overtime period. Skinner had forced the first overtime with a rebound follow at the buzzer to tie the game at 78, and center Richard Fox the second with a layup off an inbounds pass with five seconds left.

There were one tie and four lead changes in the second overtime, the last coming after Stoudamire (15 points) followed two free throws by Skinner with what turned out to be the game-winning jumper. Only then did the teams seem a bit tired, and the play a bit ragged.

But after Stoudamire dribbled the ball off his foot and out of bounds with 22 seconds left in the second overtime, Gonzaga got its last shot. Or shots. As the Arizona defense gravitated toward Stepp, who had scored 19 points after halftime, the ball was swung to Skinner, who had made four of his first seven three-pointers, most of them tightly guarded.

This time, he was wide-open.

"Honestly, I thought it was good," said Skinner. "The guys on the team always kid me how I miss open shots and how I hit tough ones. I guess I'm going to go to the gym myself."

After Stepp grabbed the rebound, Frye got worried. He had seen the rugged Stepp hit difficult shots in traffic and open jumpers throughout the second half and in the first overtime. He had also made two passes for baskets in the second time. Knowing Stepp had to shoot as time was unwinding, all Frye could do was watch.

"I definitely thought it was in," Frye said in the Arizona locker room. "When he pump-faked and one of our guys went in the air, I thought, `Oh my God.' When he missed, I must have thanked God a bunch of times. He made shots like that all night. Maybe it was too close."

Said Stepp: "I had an 8-foot shot. It just didn't fall for me."

When it didn't, and the buzzer sounded, it appeared as if all 10 players on the court fell in unison. There were no hysterics by Gonzaga, no huge celebration by Arizona. Instead there was a mutual appreciation of what they shared, a game for the ages, a night of wonderful college basketball on its biggest stage.

"There aren't too many teams in the country that could take the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the country to two overtimes," Fox said, leaning against a wall outside the Gonzaga dressing room. "I can appreciate how good a game that was. As far as being satisfied, there won't be a day the rest of my life when I won't think about what if."

Asked if he had ever played in a better game, Frye smiled.

"Not in my life," he said. "I always see stuff like that on TV."

GONZAGA--Skinner 8-17 4-4 25, Turiaf 7-12 2-3 16, Gourde 0-1 2-2 2, Brooks 2-3 0-0 5, Stepp 9-24 3-3 25, Bankhead 1-2 0-0 3, Violette 2-9 2-4 6, R.Fox 5-9 3-5 13. Totals 34-77 16-21 95. ARIZONA--Walton 6-13 3-4 16, Anderson 7-11 3-4 17, Frye 9-17 4-6 22, Stoudamire 5-15 2-3 15, Gardner 6-15 8-9 22, I.Fox 0-0 0-0 0, Rodgers 0-1 0-1 0, Adams 0-0 0-0 0, Iguodala 1-2 1-2 4. Totals 34-74 21-29 96. Halftime--Gonzaga, 44-41. End of regulation--78-78. End of 1st overtime--89-89. 3-point goals--Gonzaga 11-30 (Skinner 5-11, Stepp 4-15, Bankhead 1-2, Brooks 1-2), Arizona 7-24 (Stoudamire 3-10, Gardner 2-5, Iguodala 1-1, Walton 1-6, Anderson 0-2). Fouled out--Brooks, Turiaf. Rebounds--Gonzaga 43 (Violette 8), Arizona 47 (Frye 12). Assists--Gonzaga 20 (Stepp 8), Arizona 18 (Walton 9). Total fouls--Gonzaga 25, Arizona 20. A--14,627.

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