Archive for Sunday, January 26, 2003

Wildcats answer challenge

January 26, 2003


We're No. 1, we're No. 1.

The chant echoed from the southwest corner of Allen Fieldhouse in the closing seconds of Saturday's showdown and carried outside where Wildcat fans continued to celebrate after top-ranked Arizona pasted Kansas University, 91-74.

Earlier in the afternoon, the tightly nestled, red-clad group of UA fans was drowned out by the cacophony built by the ThunderStix-wielding Jayhawk student section.

Not now.

Not after all-but-certain Jayhawk jubilation wilted into the second-worst blowout in Lawrence during Kansas coach Roy Williams' 15-year career.

"I'm not going to say that we're the No. 1 team in the country right now," said Arizona's All-American candidate, Jason Gardner, who helped guide the Wildcats to their 15th victory with 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists. "Once we can put two halves together, then maybe we can say that."

The Wildcats needed just one superior stretch Saturday to steal victory from sixth-ranked Kansas.

Arizona matched Kansas' 52 first-half points with 52 of its own in the second 20 minutes, and the Wildcats held the Jayhawks to just 22 points on 29 percent shooting in the second half.

"The second half, they really had a problem shooting the ball, and our balls were going in," Arizona coach Lute Olson said. "In the first half, they beat us every way they could beat us. The first half, Kansas was the No. 1 team."

But almost as quickly as Kansas built a 20-point lead Saturday in the game featuring the two highest-ranked teams to play each other this season, Arizona snatched it away.

The Wildcats whittled at Kansas' lead in the last five minutes of the first half, then axed away in the first five minutes of the second half.

Behind a 15-1 run, Arizona regained the lead it held briefly in the opening minutes. The Wildcats closed the game with another 10-0 spurt.

"Coach questioned our manhood and how tough we were," Arizona's Salim Stoudamire said. "We wanted to prove that we were a tough ball club."

No one did a better job than Stoudamire, a sophomore who scored 20 of his career-high 32 points during the Wildcats' sizzling second half.

"Salim's one of the leaders of this team," Gardner said of Stoudamire, who scored just three points Wednesday against in-state rival Arizona State when Olson benched him because of his attitude. "He stepped up tonight and hit some big shots. I feel like he's the best shooter in the country."

After shooting a woeful 2-of-19 against the Jayhawks last season at Arizona's McKale Center, Stoudamire scorched the nets in a 12-of-18 effort from the field -- including 6-of-9 from three-point range.

Stoudamire was equally effective on the defensive side.

Arizona senior Luke Walton said the win in venerable Allen Fieldhouse would boost the Wildcats' confidence even more.

"A lot of us grew up basketball fans, we all know what a great basketball program this is and what a great atmosphere they have here," said Walton, who scored 11 points in only 23 minutes of play. "Not too many people could come in and do what we did."

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