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The Wildcats never got into an offensive rhythm and it was the defense that led the way. The Wildcats turned up the defensive heat at the start of the second half, outscoring SLU 25-12 over the first 13 minutes of the second half.
To their credit, the Bilikens hung with the Wildcats the whole way. Arizona, who feasted at the free throw line all day, took a three-point lead when Salim Stoudamire knocked down a pair with 11 seconds left. Reggie Bryant brought the ball up court with Andre Iguodala providing stiff defense. Bryant gave a little shake and bake getting just enough separation to get off a shot. It appeared that Bryant tied the game with a three-pointer, but the replay showed that his toe just crossed the line when he put his shot up.
Confusion reigned at the end of the game. The scoreboard showed a tie game, while the officials signaled a two-point basket. Arizona raced to get a final shot off, not knowing they still possessed the lead. Likewise, the Saint Louis players did not attempt to foul, instead concentrating on solid defense.
Bryant led all scorers. The Villanova transfer, playing his first game after a suspension, had his coming out party. Bryant scored 24 points, making the Wildcat defenders work all day.
Stoudamire led the Cats with 19 points, despite shooting just 3-11 behind the arc. Stoudamire was a perfect 6-6 from the charity, including the late free throws.
Saint Louis' defense wreaked havoc with the Wildcats, especially in the first half. Arizona never got in a rhythm and put up a number of bad shots.
"They do a nice job defensively," Lute Olson said. "In the second half we did a much better job letting the shots come to us."
The Bilikens focused on stopping Channing Frye and the ploy seemed to work. Frye was routinely double and triple teamed and finished the game with just seven points. In the second half Frye was used more as a decoy, passing the ball to the open perimeter players.
"They had so much help down on Channing," Olson said. "We told him to just find the open man."
Mustafa Shakur struggled and that may have been the real story for the Cats. Shakur had just two points, making just one of six shots. Shakur never got into the flow of the game and made a number of poor decisions.
The Wildcats played much better in the second half when they employed a trapping defense. The defense not only created offense for the Wildcats, but it forced the Bilikens into a tempo they are not accustomed to playing.
"Things improved once we changed the tempo with the trap," Olson said. "They weren't hitting the shots they got because of the tempo they were at."
Hassan Adams was the spark. The sophomore scored eight of his 14 points in the second half and resumed his shot blocking ways with three blocked shots in the second frame.
Arizona's shooting also improved. The Cats hit 5-of-11 three-pointers in the second half and finished shooting a respectable 41% for the game from long distance.
The pace in the early going was much faster than most would have anticipated. The Bilikens were not afraid to push the ball up the court. The Bilikens knocked down two early three-pointers, while the Cats began the game 0-3 from behind the arc. Bryant's early three ball put Saint Louis up 8-4.
Arizona tied the game with back-to-back buckets by Frye and Adams, but SLU stormed back with terrific outside shooting. It is normally Arizona who thrives on the run, but it was Saint Louis that rattled off the 13-3 run. Bryant was the catalyst. He scored eight points, including his second three-pointer. Anthony Drejaj added a three and a pair of foul shots for the Bilikens' additional five points. Stoudamire finally got the Cats back on the board, but SLU had a 21-13 lead.
Arizona trailed by as many as 12, but slowly got back into the game. A 10-2 run got the Cats within six. The Cats went inside to Frye and the big man delivered. Frye hit 3-4 free throws and a Chris Rodgers three saw Arizona down just 29-23.
Even with Frye on the bench in foul trouble, the Wildcats continued to peck away at the lead. Using a line-up without a player over 6-6, the Cats whittled SLU's lead to just three when Stoudamire and Adams scored back-to-back buckets.
Arizona had a chance to go into the locker room with the momentum, but Drejaj had other ideas. The big man from Israel scored on a beautiful backdoor cut. Arizona called time out in an effort to play for the last shot, but the Wildcats turned the ball over when Jason Ranne threw Adams a bad pass at the time line and Adams threw the ball away trying to avoid the over and back call. That gave the Bilikens a last possession before halftime and Drejaj made them pay. He hit a three-pointer just before the buzzer, putting SLU up 38-30 as time expired.
Arizona cranked up the defensive pressure and took their first lead with 11:21 to play. Hassan Adams responded by scoring seven points during a 15-2 run. His two free throws gave the Cats a 49-48 lead.
Adams started the drive with the Wildcats' first transition basket. The sophomore made a steal at halfcourt and outraced a pair of Bilikens for a one-handed slam. Stoudamire added a three and then the Cats feasted at the foul line, scoring their next eight points off of Saint Louis fouls.
The Wildcats spent the rest of the game fending off the Bilikens. Arizona benefited from 15 second-half fouls and made 15-20 field goals in the second half.
Saint Louis had two chances to tie the game, but missed one three-pointer with 1:10 and then had the controversial final shot.
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