Phoenix To say Arizona coach Lute Olson is surprised by his young team's start this season is an understatement.
"Somebody said after our first game in New York that I looked shocked," Olson said after his seventh-ranked Wildcats held off No. 5 Illinois, 87-82, Tuesday night. "I am shocked."
Arizona, unranked in the preseason after losing four starters from its NCAA runner-up team, has beaten Maryland, Florida, Texas and now Illinois. The lone loss was 105-97 in Tucson Saturday against No. 4 Kansas. Every game has been against a ranked team.
Jason Gardner scored 18 of his 23 points in the second half, including six consecutive free throws over the final 54 seconds, as Arizona beat the Illini for the third time in four tries over the past 13 months.
Their last meeting was an 87-81 Arizona victory in last season's Midwest Regional final.
Frank Williams scored 16 of his 30 points over the last 4:19 as the Illini (6-2), who trailed by as many as 19 points early in the second half, narrowed the gap to four.
"I think Will's ready to turn the corner," Illinois coach Bill Self said. "He showed a great effort."
Rick Anderson scored a career-high 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 21 minutes for the Wildcats (4-1) before fouling out with 57 seconds to play. Freshman Isaiah Fox added 12 points, nine in the first half as Arizona built a 16-point lead.
The Wildcats had four freshmen on the floor with Gardner when they took the big lead.
"People can't believe we're 4-1 with the schedule that we've played," Luke Walton said, "but like I've said, the freshmen we have are capable of doing this all the time."
Williams' third three-pointer in his late rush cut the lead to 84-80 with 36 seconds to go.
Gardner lifted Arizona out of danger with his final two free throws that made it 86-80 with 32 seconds remaining, then Fox made one of two from the line to put the Wildcats ahead 87-80 with 16 seconds to go. Sean Harrington, fouled by Fox on a three-point attempt, made two of three free throws with 7.8 seconds to play for the final margin.
Gardner made 12 of 15 free throws, while Williams was 9-for-9 at the line.
The Illini made four of 20 3-pointers. Corey Bradford was 0-for-8 from three-point range and 3-for-15 overall.
"We just don't have the way we really want to play down yet," Self said, "but we're showing improvement."
The teams met for the fourth time over the last 13 months. The Wildcats won three of the four, including an 87-81 victory in last season's Midwest Regional final.
Illinois went inside in a 20-6 run that cut the lead to 64-59 on Damir Krupalija's two free throws with 7:31 to play.
"In the second half, we were getting into a rhythm," Williams said. "I think the second half showed us if we just run our stuff and execute, we can get about any shot we want."
Arizona freshman Will Bynum's three-point play boosted the lead to 67-59 with 7:19 remaining. Illinois cut it to five again, but Anderson grabbed teammate Luke Walton's missed free throw and was fouled. Anderson made both free throws to make it 70-62, then Dennis Latimore scored inside to put Arizona up 72-62 with 4:38 to play.
No. 9 Syracuse 91, Hofstra 65
Syracuse, N.Y. DeShaun Williams had 23 points and seven assists as No. 9 Syracuse, without head coach Jim Boeheim on the bench for the first time in 26 years, beat Hofstra. It was the first meeting between Hofstra (4-2) and Syracuse (9-0), and the scene inside the Carrier Dome certainly was different without Boeheim, who had coached 816 straight games since taking over the program in 1976. Boeheim was recovering from prostate surgery performed Monday in St. Louis.
Northern Iowa 78, No. 12 Iowa 76
Cedar Falls, Iowa Robbie Sieverding scored 30 points and Octav Morariu had a key offensive rebound and basket late in the game as Northern Iowa beat No. 12 Iowa.
David Gruber added 22 points and 12 rebounds for Northern Iowa (5-2), which constantly came up with loose balls and offensive rebounds by outhustling the taller Hawkeyes (6-3).
The Panthers outshot the Hawkeyes too, beating them for just the fourth time in 32 games. The final buzzer sent dozens of Northern Iowa fans swarming onto the court to join the celebrating players.
No. 13 Boston College 90, Morris Brown 65
Boston Troy Bell scored 22 points and Ryan Sidney added 19 as No. 13 Boston College protected its perfect record. The Eagles (6-0) opened the game with a 15-4 run and led 41-22 late in the first half. Sidney had seven rebounds and six assists and went 7-for-7 from the field, scoring 17 points in the first half to stake BC to a 45-30 lead. Amien Hicks had 20 rebounds, and Joseph Dunn scored 19 points for Morris Brown (1-6). BC has won 22 consecutive home games.
Iowa State 66, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 43
Ames, Iowa Tyray Pearson scored 21 pints, 14 in the first half, as Iowa State beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Marcus Jefferson added 17 points and Shane Power came away with 12 as Iowa State (5-3) never trailed.
Pearson scored the Cyclones' first eight points and added another basket and a free throw as Iowa State opened up a 15-4 lead with the game less than eight minutes old. The Cyclones led 39-14 at halftime.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-7) finished the half with just six field goals in 26 attempts and was guilty of 12 turnovers.