Arizona fans still haven't recovered from the Wildcats' 82-72 loss to Duke in the 2001 national championship game and if the game is tough to forget as a fan, imagine how difficult it must be for UA's starting point guard at the time, Jason Gardner.
UA hasn't played Duke since that game, a contest that Gardner hasn't made much progress in forgetting about over the past decade.
"I definitely think about it," Gardner told WildcatAuthority.com "Once you get all the way that far and lose in the championship game when you definitely know that you have the chance to win, you think about it."
It was a tough game for Gardner, who shot 2 of 11 from the field and scored 7 points, while playing all 40 minutes but when thinking back about the game, Gardner points to a key stretch as the reason the Wildcats lost.
"I just think what happened was that Mike Dunleavy got hot and hit three straight threes," he said. "Other than that, the game was even. We missed three straight times and he came down and hit a three every time. That was the ball game.
"It was a fine line because you've got like seven NBA players in that game who are still playing now. But overall, it was an exciting game."
A good percent of Arizona fans will point to bad officiating as one of the reasons why the Wildcats lost the game. Gardner's opinion?
"You always want all the calls but overall I thought the refs did a pretty good job," Gardner said, before pausing. "Did you see the game?"
The play that stands out to many fans was Duke point guard Jason Williams, who had three fouls at the time, pursuing a loose ball with Gardner and ending up fully on top of Gardner's back with his feet off the ground. The officials didn't call a foul.
Gardner remembers the play.
"Yeah, I remember that," he said. "I mean, I don't know. You have to decide for yourself if it was a foul or not. Overall, I thought the officiating was pretty good. Every game, you want every single call but you don't want the refs calling the whistle every time down the court because that won't make the game fun."
Despite losing to Duke, Gardner does remain thankful for the experience of playing in the Final Four, and thinks fondly of the week leading up to it and the two Final Four games he participated in.
"Even though we lost, I think about the simple fact that my family got to enjoy a Final Four, just to be around all the media, having the spotlight, doing so many interviews, walking out there and seeing 70,000 fans, being in that atmosphere, it doesn't get better than that," Gardner said.
"It's something you just have to enjoy. Obviously everyone wants to win, but it's something that many college players never get the opportunity to do. It's an amazing time, being with your friends, your family, being in that whole different environment, seeing how many fans there are, to the intensity, it's just a great atmosphere."
When Arizona faces Duke on Thursday, Gardner won't be rooting for the Wildcats to make him feel better about what happened in 2001, as he says he'd be happy with a win regardless.
"Any time I can see Arizona win, I'm happy," Gardner said. "Any time you lose in a championship game, to any team, you're going to have a bitter taste in your mouth. Duke has a great team this year but I definitely would like to see Arizona get to the Final Four."
Gardner says he remains in touch with fellow 2001 runner-ups Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson and Luke Walton, and he's sure all of them are thinking about Thursday's game.
"I'm pretty sure that's on everybody's mind," he said.
Gardner's prediction for who is going to win?
"A-Z," Gardner said. "I definitely think it's going to be a great game. Duke did pretty well all season long. I think Arizona hasn't been so much on the radar, which sometimes is pretty good to not have the target on your back.
"I think at the end of the season, everyone kind of realized that Arizona is for real, and by now getting to the Sweet 16, where everyone is pretty good, Arizona has kind of shown that it's one of the better teams in the country. I think they definitely have Duke's attention."
Jason Gardner looking forward to rematch
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