Player of the Game: Jason Gardner

Arizona advanced to the Pac-10 tournament's championship game with a 90-78 win over Cal thanks in very large part to Jason Gardner's performance. The junior point guard scored a game-high 25 points and was a match-up nightmare for the Golden Bears defensively.

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Jason Gardner came out hot shooting the ball and scored 15 points by halftime. He finished with a game-high 25 points on 8-14 shooting and helped lead Arizona to its third straight win over Cal, 90-78.

Gardner hit his first three shots from the field, a deep three-pointer and a floater in the lane on which he was fouled. After making the free throw and extending his streak to 31, he let it be known to all in attendance that he came to play tonight.

Though he only tallied two assists, Gardner's scoring ability and ball-handling skills were the keys to the Wildcat victory.

"I was telling Brian (Wethers) and Joe (Shipp) that Jason Gardner gets the quietest 25 points you'll ever see," Cal coach Ben Braun said after the game. "He's a big game player. He's been in so many big games and he has great experience. He made some outstanding plays for them tonight."

"Jason Gardner is a hard one-on-one match-up," said Wethers, who scored a team-high 22 points for Cal. "He's a great penetrator and he can pull up and hit shots too."

Luke Walton, a close contender for POG honors,  followed up a brilliant performance against ASU in the first round with another solid all-around game tonight. Walton had 20 points, five rebounds, seven assists and five steals. Not too bad considering he was the focal point of the Cal defense.

Will Bynum is the most improved player on the team and that has really become obvious ever since his one-game suspension against Stanford on February 28th. Tonight he was a confident player who let the game come to him and because of his looseness, scored 10 points for the second straight night.

"My confidence never went anywhere," Bynum said after the contest." I knew as a freshman there would be some ups and downs."

Counting the last Cal game, Bynum has scored in double figures in three consecutive outings. His clutch three-pointer as time expired in the first half was huge, as was his 10-foot baseline jumper late in the game to extend what was a shrinking Arizona lead.

While we're talking about freshmen playing with added confidence, it would be a mistake not to mention the play of Dennis Latimore, who had six points, including two emphatic dunks. He's like a whole new man out there. The continual development and improvement of Bynum and Latimore makes Arizona a very dangerous team.

Throw in veterans Ricky Anderson and Walton and you get a pretty good team. But the key, as always, is Jason Gardner. He is the player of the year for Arizona and he is tonight's player of the game.

Arizona will meet USC tomorrow afternoon at 4 p.m. Tucson time for the Pac-10 tournament championship.

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