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Marquette outscored the Wildcats 19-2 at the end of the first half and the start of the second half, but after trailing 50-35 it was all Arizona. The Wildcats scored 39 of the next 53 points and built a ten-point lead of their own.
"It was a very hard fought, competitive game," Lute Olson said. "Both teams played well."
Marquette is known for their outside shooting, but it was the Wildcats who hit an amazing 65% from the behind the arc. Even more key was the fact that they shot 70% during the decisive second half.
"In the end it was our ability to hit shots," Olson said.
Salim Stoudamire was the key. The junior was unbelievable from three-point range. Stoudamire hit 7-of-9 from behind the arc. More importantly he led the Cats emotionally. Stoudamire was fired up and even when he was on the bench with foul trouble he was on his feet cheering and rooting during the comeback.
Stoudamire finished with 27 points.
When Stoudamire left the game it was Hassan Adams who led the way. Adams scored 14 second-half points, eight of which came in the 13-3 run that broke things open. With Stoudamire on the bench, Adams picked up the emotional load, yelling and cheering after every big bucket. He sent a blocked shot into the fifth row, after which he screamed and pointed to the fans.
"We needed that, my team feeds off of me," Adams said. "We wanted it. We got on each other in the 2nd half. We just came with it. This is our house, we want to protect it."
Travis Diener was the story for the Golden Eagles. The senior point guard scored 21, hitting 5-11 from behind the arc. He also added 10 assists and did not commit a single turnover. 6-10 Steve Novak added 21 as well, hitting 6-10 three-pointers.
In the end it was defense and outside shooting that made the difference. The Cats limited the good looks by Marquette in the second half and hit an astounding 70% from the outside.
"We needed to be aggressive defensively," Stoudamire said.
Marquette came out and played almost perfect basketball to start the game. The Golden Eagles hit their first three three-pointers and forced turnovers on Arizona's first three trips down the floor. Diener opened the game with a pair of long balls and Joe Chapman scored five early points. His three-pointer put the Golden Eagles up 13-2.
"In the first half it seemed like they were draining everything," Olson said. "We did a really good job of pressuring shots in the second half."
Frye was lost in the shuffle. He quietly put together a double-double, scoring 11 points and ripping down 13 boards.
Marquette lived behind the arc. When they were getting good looks they would surge ahead, but when Arizona found their legs on defense Marquette appeared out of sorts. Novak hit back-to-back three's midway through the half, but that would be it until the final minutes.
As Marquette cooled off, Stoudamire heated up. A 14-4 run was fueled by a pair of three-pointers from the junior and two fast break buckets. Iguodala picked Novak's pocket and beat the big man down the court for a slam that gave the Wildcats a short lived 26-25 lead.
Marquette scored the next three, but Arizona stormed right back. Frye hit a free thrown and Stoudamire's third long ball put the Wildcats up 30-28, but once again Marquette would not trail for long.
The teams traded leads, then Novak and the Golden Eagles rattled of 10 in a row before the half to take a comanding 41-33 lead at intermission. The turning point came on a missed dunk by Frye. Frye was all alone underneath and tried to go up and under to slam the ball home. Frye was in terrible position and missed badly. Terry Saunders responded on the other end before Novak scored the final five, including a leaner at the buzzer leading to half time.
Marquette ran off the court pumping their fists and returned to the floor with the same vigor. They opened the second half the same way they ended the first, outscoring Arizona 9-2, and building a 50-35 lead.
Arizona clawed back thanks to Stoudamire and the three-point shot. Stoudamire drained a trio of three-pointers and added a pair of free throws as Arizona used a 18-5 run to pull within two, 55-53. Iguodala added a three of his own and Adams and Frye each scored a bucket on the inside.
The momentum swung back to Marquette as Stoudamire picked up his third and fourth fouls. Stoudamire was called for a charging foul when the tried to run through a pick and Olson quickly sat him down. Unfortunately, Shakur picked up his third foul and Olson returned Stoudamire to the game where was promptly whistled for charging again.
Even without Stoudamire's hot hand in the game, the Wildcats responded and eventually took the lead. Adams drained a three to trim Marquette's lead to a pair. On the next possession Chris Rodgers stripped Diener and Mustafa Shakur scored on a tough lay-in to tie the game. Another defensive stop led to a foul on the other end and Iguodala gave the Cats the lead hitting a pair of foul shots.
Rodgers did a great job on the defensive end. With Stoudamire out of the game, Rodgers picked up the assignment of guarding Diener and limited him to just one bucket in the late stages. Rodgers also dished out four assists with just one turnover. His seven points included 1-2 shooting behind the arc.
Arizona pulled away in the end with a final 18-5 run that saw the players and coaches going crazy.
"It's been great," Adams said. "The fans, I dig the fans. I love them."
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