Anaheim, Calif. — Down three. Seven seconds left. Who would Arizona go to? Seniors Jason Gardner and Luke Walton, of course.
"No question when it gets late," Arizona coach Lute Olson said, "that Luke and Jason have tremendous confidence in one another. So many times they've made a big play that helped us win."
Not this time. Kansas University knocked off the No. 1 seed in the NCAA West Region final, 78-75, Saturday night at the Arrowhead Pond.
Walton had set a pick for Gardner's three-point attempt with about three seconds left, but KU's Kirk Hinrich deflected the shot to Walton, who tossed it back to Gardner in the left corner.
As the buzzer sounded, the ball was in the air.
"I thought I had a good look," Gardner said. "It just went off the back of the iron."
And Arizona, a team that had lost three of its 31 games and was considered one of the two best teams in the country -- Kentucky the other -- was denied a trip to the Final Four. Curiously, Kentucky, playing with standout guard Keith Bogans nursing an injury, had been dispatched by Marquette a few hours earlier.
"I've said for a long time you have to be very, very good and very, very lucky," Olson said. "Kentucky was not lucky with Bogans. But in our case, we got beat by a better team today."
Kansas outscored UA, 29-17, off turnovers. Arizona was guilty of 19 turnovers and 13 of those were Kansas steals.
"29 points off turnovers," Olson said rhetorically. "That's certainly a credit to the effort Kansas put in."
And KU had 22 fast-break points. Arizona had two. Just two.
"We've seen tough defenses before," Walton said, "and theirs is one of the better ones, but we had mental lapses and made bad decisions."
At the same time, the Wildcats were outscored, 36-16, in the paint, even though Nick Collison posted only eight points. Collison did have nine rebounds, though, and unheralded teammate Jeff Graves collected a career-high 15 boards to go with 13 points.
"They both did a good job," Walton said. "Nick was in foul trouble and didn't play as much. We focused on stopping him, but together they were great down there."
Hinrich's block of Gardner's late three-point attempt may have saved the Jayhawks' bacon, but it was Hinrich's offense that really impressed UA's backcourt standout.
"Today he stepped up for his team," said Gardner, who led the 'Cats with 23 points. "He kept his team in it. Every time they needed a basket, he stepped up and hit a big three."