Gauchos Fall Short To Arizona In NCAA First Round, 86-81

March 14, 2002

Box Score

By BEN WALKER
AP Sports Writer

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Jason Gardner returned to Arizona hoping for one more trip deep into the NCAA tournament. After staving off UC Santa Barbara's long-range shooting, he'll get that chance.

Gardner scored 28 points and Arizona averted yet another first-round upset, overcoming a 3-point barrage by Mark Hull and the Gauchos 86-81 on Thursday night in the West Regional.

The Wildcats had lost their NCAA tournament opener four times in the past 10 years. The Gauchos threatened to add to the list behind Hull.

Hull scored 32 points, shooting 8-for-11 on 3-pointers and making all eight of his foul shots. UC Santa Barbara was 16-for-26 overall on 3s, and it almost was enough to topple the team that reached last season's national title game.

The third-seeded Wildcats advanced to play 11th-seeded Wyoming, which beat Gonzaga 73-66, on Saturday.

Gardner was the only starter to come back for the team that fell to Duke 82-72 in last year's title game.

The junior prevented an early exit this time by making 12 of 14 free throws, and it was enough to hold off the inspired Gauchos.

With the crowd pulling for an upset, UC Santa Barbara closed to 78-76 on Nick Jones' basket with 1:44 left. He was fouled, but missed the free throw and the Gauchos never got another chance.

Arizona (23-9) won the Pacific-10 tournament title to earn an automatic bid to its 18th straight NCAA appearance.

The Wildcats' tournament history included the 1997 championship, but also is dotted with poor first-round showings in the last decade, including losses to East Tennessee State, Santa Clara, Miami of Ohio and Oklahoma.

The 14th-seeded Gauchos (20-11) have won only once in the NCAA tournament, with that victory coming in 1990, the last year they reached the field.

Hull, showing no ill effects from breaking his nose two games ago, shot 6-for-6 alone on 3s in the first half.

Hull scored from behind the arc for a 24-21 lead with 4:39 left and, having found his range, rapidly hit three more 3s to help give the Gauchos a 35-32 lead at halftime.

The Wildcats tightened up on Hull right after the break, and it took him 5{ minutes to merely get off a shot. Once he got going, he quickly added a pair of 3s and three free throws.

Arizona coach Lute Olson heard boos all night from most of the crowd that packed The Pit. After a close loss three years ago to New Mexico, he vowed he would not return to the Lobos' home arena.

The NCAA selection committee did not give Olson a choice.

The local fans jeered everything about Arizona, including the big "A" flags its cheerleaders carried around the court. The Gauchos' mascot took advantage of the sentiment - he stripped off a jacket to reveal a T-shirt that read "New Mexico Basketball" and got a big cheer.

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