Cats rally from 21 down to beat Beavers 93-87

Arizona head coach Lute Olson walked into the McKale Center press room after his team came back from a 21-point deficit and said it all with a borrowed phrase: "This was an example of how it's never over 'til it's over."

Olson may have stolen his quote from Yogi Berra but it may have been more appropriate for him to say after the way his team fought back for a 93-87 win over Oregon State.

The first half saw the Beavers shoot as well as any team ever has against Arizona as they hit 76% of their shots (19-25) en route to a 55-38 halftime lead.

"You saw two totally different halves," Olson said. "We caused some turnovers in the second half and we could not have comeback like that without the energy from the crowd. It was an unbelieveable comeback."

Arizona looked shellshocked early as Oregon State scored on twelve consecutive possessions before finally missing its last shot of the half. You know your team is hot when your worst percentage at halftime is 64.3% and that's just on your free throws.

Yet somehow Arizona managed to comeback and win the game even while the Beavers shot an incredible 61% for the game (67% from three-point range). The difference for Arizona--and this is getting repetitive--was the play of Jason Gardner.

The Wildcat junior guard scored a career-high tieing 34 points, including 23 in the second half as he willed Arizona back from the huge deficit with clutch shots, key rebounds and all-around All-American play.

"The way he played is as good as you're ever going to see," Olson said of his floor general. "He didn't miss a whole lot in the second half but he did step up and hit a bunch of big ones."

Gardner was under a considerable amount of pressure during the game as he was once again without the services of do-everything forward Luke Walton. Couple that with the fact that he had to deal with Will Bynum sitting on the bench with four fouls just after halftime and you get a guy with a lot riding on his shoulders.

With Bynum in foul trouble, Arizona had to insert freshman walk-on Anas Fellah to compensate for lack of personnel off the bench at the guard spot. It looked like a bad situation for the Cats but the Amphi grad actually was highly impressive in his 10 minutes of action.

"I looked at (Fellah running the point) and my mouth dropped," Wildcat forward Rick Anderson said.

Though it was scary having a walk-on running the show, Fellah almost immediately wreaked havoc on defense by forcing two turnovers from the Beavers on consecutive possessions and even converted a steal into a lay-in on offense.

Fellah was a key ingredient in the Wildcat comeback, as were fellow freshmen Channing Frye (18 points, 11 rebounds), Salim Stoudamire (13 points on 3-6 shooting from long range) and Will Bynum, who finished with 10 points, all in the second half.

However, even during the comeback, Arizona still couldn't stop the Beaver trio of Brian Jackson, Philip Ricci and Jimmie Haywood from scoring at will. Think their performances had anything to do with the fact that all three were one-time Arizona recruits?

Jackson was incredible in the first half, scoring 20 of his 21 points on 7-8 shooting (3-3 threes). Haywood hit four of his six tries from downtown and Ricci was a force down low for the Beavers no matter who was guarding him.

When it came down to it, though, it was the play of Gardner and the freshmen that keyed the Arizona victory.

"Jason is so competitive that he simply wasn't going to allow us to lose this game," Olson said.

In a game that would have been devastating to this young team's psyche if it had lost, the Cats instead showed as much heart as any Lute Olson coached team in recent memory. Every freshmen stepped up, Gardner had one of his best games ever and Rick Anderson played much better defense in the second half.

Arizona won the game because it finally decided to play with a sense of desperation and urgency, something that has been lacking lately. But the oddest sight had to be that of Anas Fellah bringing the ball up the court as the team's point guard for a quarter of the game.

Imagine that, Backcourt U. depending on a walk-on from Tucson to play the point.

In fact, forget about Arizona's identity as Backcourt U. or Point Guard U. From now on, Arizona will be known simply as the "Good Fellah's".

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