SALIM!

CHICAGO – On Wednesday night Jawann McClellan said that the Oklahoma State/Arizona Sweet 16 game would be an ‘instant classic'. The freshman's statement turned out to be prophetic. Salim Stoudamire drained a pull-up jumper with 2.8 seconds left to give the Cats a 79-78 win.

Everyone in the building knew the Wildcat senior would take the final shot. After all Stoudamire already won two games on final shots this season and he has proven to be one of the best big shot players in school history.

"He's clutch baby, just clutch," said Jesus Verdejo after the win.

The Cowboys denied Stoudamire the inbounds but he quickly found the ball in his hands near half court. He stumbled and almost lost the ball, but gathered his dribble and advanced up the court.

Although he'd later say he didn't want a screen, Stoudamire got one which drew the double team. He had the option of passing to Channing Frye, but there was no giving up the rock. With the double team coming at him Stoudamire used a little cross over and calmly drained a midrange jumper to put the Cats up.

"I live for that moment," Stoudamire said. "I want to be the one who is able to take that shot."

Oklahoma State had one last chance. Inbounding the ball under their own hoop, the Cowboys got the ball to John Lucas near midcourt. Chris Rodgers quickly fouled Lucas from behind. You see, Arizona had one foul to give.

"We told them to foul as long as they were this side of halfcourt," explained assistant coach Josh Pastner. "We told them to foul after they took a dribble, but before they could set up for a shot."

The plan almost backfired. Despite just 1.3 seconds left on the clock, the Cowboys got the ball back to Lucas, but the diminutive senior's shot from the corner missed the target. Lucas hit the game winner to advance OSU to last year's Final Four, but could not come up big against the Wildcats.

After the buzzer sounded the Wildcats went crazy, flocking at midcourt for an impromptu celebration that involved a lot of hugging and at least one media relations person being hoisted in a bear hug.

"This is awesome, just awesome," gushed Kirk Walters. "I really love March."

Nothing came easy for the Cats. They led 61-56, but Joey Graham caught fire and led the Oklahoma State charge. The senior scored eight of the game's next nine points and after back-to-back threes the Cowboys led 64-62.

Two Ivan Radenovic free throws tied the game, but the Cowboy dominated the next few minutes. Ivan McFarlane scored down low and Steven Graham scored a three-point play that put OSU up 69-65.

Just when things looked their bleakest, the Wildcat seniors took over. Stoudamire snapped a 27 minute personal scoreless streak with a free throw before Graham's three-point play and got right back on the board with a runner in the lane. JamesOn Curry drained a three to put the Cowboys up five, but seconds later Stoudamire answered with a three of his own.

Anything they could do, he seemed to do better.

Graham scored again, but Frye answered. After a Frye goal tend on a McFarlin breakaway the Cats trailed by four with just 2:49 to play.

Stoudamire drained another three and Frye added a baseline jumper to give the Wildcats their first lead since the 6:59 mark.

Not to be outdone, Graham hit a leaner in the lane to put the Cowboys up for the final time.

The Wildcat seniors scored their final 15 points and seniors scored 26 of the game's final 29 points.

Stoudamire was in check by Daniel Bobik, but exploded for 11 in the final five minutes and finished with 21. Frye added 15 and 10 rebounds.

Almost as impressive as his scoring output was Stoudamire's ability to spread the ball around. He had seven assists and not a single turnover. Add to that a pair of steals and a pair of rebounds and you had a near perfect game.

Overlooked by the play of the two seniors was the game put in by Hassan Adams. The junior guard carried the Cats for much of the first half. He scored 19 points and had 10 rebounds. He also swatted away two shots.

Frye added three block shot and also dished out four assists.

Sadly, the loss marks the end of the road for eight Oklahoma State seniors. The Cowboys took 19 more shots than the Wildcats and had a 17-8 assist-to-turnover ratio. However, the Wildcats shot an uncanny 66% from the field and hit 50% of their three-point shots.

The opening minutes looked more like a three-point contest than a regular basketball game. Before four minutes had ticked off the clock the two teams had taken eight threes and Ivan Radenovic had his foot on the line for a long two.

Stoudamire drained a three seconds into the Cats' first possession and Lucas followed with back-to-back threes of his own. The Cats followed the two treys with a 12-2 run that included threes by Adams and Stoudamire and two field goals by Radenovic.

The Cats led by as many as 10, but could not get a knock-out blow. OSU hung around and then rattled off a 12-3 run to take a 32-30 lead, their first since the opening minutes.

Lucas got things started with a three-point play. McFarlin added a pair of inside buckets. Bobik followed with a transition lay-in. Joey Graham finished it with a pair foul shot.

Arizona responded right away with four quick points, but left Stoudamire on the bench. The teams traded buckets, until Adams buried a three from the top of the key to close out the first half and put the Cats up 41-38.

The Cats opened the second half strong, thanks in large part to great passing. The Wildcats led 49-42 when Stoudamire went to the bench. The Cowboys responded with a 11-2 run and a McFarlane bucket put the Cowboys up 54-52.

Stoudamire returned to the game and the Cats rattled of a 10-2 run to regain the lead. The senior guard did not score a bucket but his passing and the attention of the Cowboy defense sparked the offense. Frye started it off with a nice hook shot. Adams added five quick points and a monster block that led to a shot clock violation. Frye capped the run with a baseline jumper and the Cats turned a two-point deficit into a 61-56 lead.

Arizona now advances to their third Elite Eight in five seasons, their second against Illinois in the same time frame. In 2001 the Wildcats beat the top-seeded Illini 87-81 en route to the nation championship game.


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