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"My objection all along has beenthat 18 games in a league is enough," Olson said in expressing his views on the tournament. "If we cut back to 14 or 16 games it would be fine. I think that it's idiotic to play so many games against league opponents and that whoever plays on Saturday will have played 21 league games this season."
However, the games were played and the Wildcats won the rubber match in its three-game series with the Sun Devils.
The juniors led the way for the Wildcats. Luke Walton scored 25 and Jason Gardner added 22 in the win. Junior forward Rick Anderson struggled offensively, but grabbed a career high 14 rebounds.
"I think Luke and Jason willed us to be a good team," said Olson.
It was all Arizona early. Afer hitting the game's first basket, the Sun Devils proceeded to miss their next ten shots. Despite shutting the Sun Devils down, Arizona could only score 12 points of their own. When Chad Prewitt finally got an ASU shot to fall, they found themselves down only 12-4.
Walton scored the Wildcats' first six points on his way to 11 in the first half. He and Gardner did the bulk of the Arizona scoring, combinig for 20 of the Cats' 32 first-half points.
"Tonight I was feeling it," Walton said. "Jason and the rest of the team did a good job getting me the ball."
The Wildcats continued to take advantage of ASU's inability to score. Gardner did his best to bury the rivals from the north. He hit a three-pointer to put the Cats up 17-6. A few minutes later he added an acrobatic lay-in that allowed Arizona to build to a 23-6 lead.
"As long as they kept missing we were going to keep at it," Olson said.
ASU soon found the bucket. After being limited to just six points over the first 10:00, the Devils quickly scored 12 straight points in a little over 2:00. The Devils trimmed the lead an trailed just 23-18 with just over 8:00 to go in the half.
Salim Stoudamire gave the Wildcats a bit more breathing room when his three-pointer put Arizona up eight (31-23) shortly before halftime.
The Devils not only struggled from the floor, but from the line as well. ASU missed all seven first half free throws and ended up just 2-for-12 for the game.
The Cats got out to another strong start to begin the second half. The Wildcats outscored ASU 8-2 to start the second period and forced Rob Evans to burn a timeout. Walton scored four points in the run. He had a turn around jumper and a sweet spin move to put the Cats up 40-27.
Play got sloppy, but the Cats continued to slowly pull away. The Devils continued to struggle and Arizona went on another spurt. Stoudamire and Gardner sandwiched threes around a Walton 18-footer to grab a 48-31 lead.
The Devils hit another scoreless streak late in the contest. With ASU unable to score for a 2:30 span the Cats put the final nails in the coffin.
In the game, Cal held off UCLA 67-61 to advance the semifinals. Arizona and Cal will play the first game at the Staples Center. Game time is 6:42 PST.