The Cats trailed by as many as 15 midway in the second half, but could get no closer than four.
Gardner hit his first four three-point attempts of the game and finished 8-16 from behind the arc. The Wildcats forward duo of Luke Walton and Ricky Anderson combined for 37 points and 21 rebounds, but it wasn't enough to overcome the Jayhawks' balanced scoring.
Five Kansas players scored in double figures, but it was Gooden who led the way. The Kansas bigman provided a number of mismatches for the Wildcats' freshman post players. He continually worked his way inside for easy baskets scoring 23 points, including 14 in the first half. The All-American candidate also pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds."This was a high scoring game and we like it like that," said Gooden.
Collison, despite being plagued with foul trouble, scored 14 and collected nine boards. Jeff Boschee, Keith Langford and Kirk Hinrich scored 19, 19 and 16 respectively for Kansas.
The game opened with a flurry as both teams scored quickly and efficiently. Before the first television timeout the teams combined for 25 points and Gardner had eight of his own.
The teams battle back and forth until Kansas used a 15-5 run to take a commanding lead they would never give up. The Jayhawks exploited poor Wildcat shooting and horrific transition defense to jump out to a 53-38 lead at the half."Getting down by 15 points in the first half against a team like Kansas is tough to come back against," said Gardner.
"It was big for us to get the quick lead," Kansas coach Roy Williams said. "You get confidence by scoring."
Whatever Lute Olson said to the team in the locker room at the intermission seemed to work. The Wildcats stormed out and scored seven points in the first minute and used a 9-3 run to cut the Jayhawk lead to 57-47."In the second half we tried to come back with more urgency and intensity," said freshman Will Bynum.
Kansas was able to extend the lead until Collison picked up his fourth foul. With the Kansas center on the bench, Arizona rattled of a 9-2 run and for the first time in a long time trailed by single-digits, 77-68.
On a couple of occasions the Cats were able to cut further into the Kansas lead, but each time a Kansas guard answered with a long distance basket. Boschee and Hinrich hit back-to-back threes and little used Brett Ballard hit a 19-footer that banked in off the backboard to keep the Cats at bay.
However, Arizona wouldn't be deterred. The Cats buckled down on defense and used fast breaks and good outside shooting to rattle off another run, this time outscoring Kansas 10-3 to trim what was once a 15 point lead to only four.
The Cats could get no closer and Kansas hit their free throws down the stretch, while Arizona lost Gardner and Anderson to fouls, and Kansas avoided the dramatic comeback.