UA blew 15-pt. lead
Senior leader Gardner 2 of 20 from the field
By STEVE RIVERA
LOS ANGELES – It must be March because the madness has begun.
Nothing seemed to work yesterday for top-ranked Arizona, especially for senior guard Jason Gardner, against UCLA, a team the Wildcats had beaten by a combined 71 points in the previous two meetings this season.
Fortunes turned – in a matter of 15 minutes, no less – as the Wildcats fell in overtime 96-89 at Staples Center in the first game of the Pac-10 Conference Tournament.
It perhaps was the biggest upset of the college basketball season. UCLA had an RPI of 156; Arizona was No. 1 in the RPI entering the game.
Arizona, one of the hottest teams going into next week’s NCAA Tournament, looked more like the UCLA team everyone expected to see – disjointed, hapless and helpless.
And UCLA looked more like Arizona, poised and confident.
UCLA had it all. And by the end, it appeared to show it, playing to the crowd in victory.
“I thought they came out a lot more aggressive today,” said Gardner. “They hit a lot of shots and free throws. And we didn’t capitalized when we had the opportunities.”
Arizona can blame its shooting, or lack of it. Gardner, who said it was the worst game of his career, went 2 for 20 from the field, scoring just six points.
“A lot had to do with me,” Gardner said. “I missed a lot of shots in overtime (six).”
He wasn’t helped much by sophomore guard Salim Stoudamire, who went 4 for 11 from the field despite scoring 17.
The two combined for six-of-31 shooting.
Stoudamire, who was suffering with knee tendinitis, went 2 for 8 from three-point range.
For Arizona, the bottom fell out because the lid was shut.
The Cats shot 37.5 percent from the field, including 35.1 percent in the crucial second half.
The Cats had been closers all season, but things began to fall apart with 14:15 left as Arizona led 60-45.
Five minutes later, UCLA had closed the gap to 68-62 and stayed close before tying it at 82 with 4.9 seconds left in regulation on a three-pointer by Ray Young over the outstretched arms of 6-foot-11 Channing Frye.
“We ended up not making shots, but usually when you don’t make shots, that has to do with what’s being done defensively,” said Arizona coach Lute Olson.
That wasn’t the case yesterday because Arizona got good looks at the basket.
Gardner had no way to explain it. And Stoudamire declined to say anything as he left the locker room.
“Did you see them?” Gardner asked of his shots. “Some of them were going in and out.”
Others clanged off the rim.
“Some shots felt better than the others. They just didn’t go down,” said Gardner.
He had a chance to redeem himself and his team in regulation when – with the game tied – he drove the court’s length but missed at the buzzer on a driving layup.
“I thought it was going to go in, but it didn’t,” he said. “That’s how the whole game went.”
Arizona senior forward Rick Anderson and sophomore center Frye kept Arizona in the game. Each had 23 points.
Anderson added 11 rebounds; Frye had nine.
Wildcat senior Luke Walton had another mediocre game, finishing with six points and four rebounds.
Walton declined comment after the game.
“We had Luke very involved, and every time down, we put the ball in his hands,” said Olson. “If he’s hitting shots, then we want him involved. He did have seven assists, and generally good things happen with him. He has to knock down shots, but he has not been shooting the ball well in practice situations.”
UCLA’s Young has been one of the best players in college basketball the past three weeks.
In that span he averaged just over 19 points a game. Yesterday, he had 17, including the game-tying three-pointer to send the game into overtime.
“When they had to hit big shots, they hit big shots,” Olson said. “Ray’s three-pointer at the end of regulation, I thought defensively we did all we could do.
“Channing Frye did all he could do. Ray knocked it down. That’s to his credit with the kind of competitor he is.”
It was good enough to send Arizona reeling.
In overtime, the Bruins outscored the Wildcats 14-7.
UCLA took an 87-82 lead to start the extra five-minute session.
Stoudamire had five points, and Frye added a basket for Arizona’s points in overtime.
Expert downplays upset of UA
Stewart Mandel of SI.com on UA’s loss to UCLA yesterday:
”As stunning as it was, UCLA’s upset of Arizona had little bearing on anything besides Fox Sports Net’s ratings.
”One loss will not cost the Wildcats the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament’s West region, seeing as they’ve only lost two other times all season.
”It also doesn’t affect who they will face in the first round – the winner of Tuesday’s play-in game wouldn’t have been sent to Salt Lake City (Thursday) – Arizona’s likely destination – either way, seeing as (the play-in winner will) be in Dayton two nights earlier.”
PHOTO CAPTION: FRANCISCO MEDINA/Tucson Citizen
UA’s Jason Gardner can only watch UCLA celebrate after the Bruins upended the top-seeded Wildcats.