Cats struggle in win over Beavers

After clinching the Pac-10 and winning three very difficult road games, one might expect the Wildcats to have a bit of a let down. One might be right. The Wildcats played poorly and struggled to beat Oregon State 72-60.

The Arizona faithful gave former Wildcat assistant Jay John a friendly welcome, but the Oregon State head man and his team did not return the favor. The Beavers fought hard the entire game and gave the No. 1 ranked Wildcats a scare.

"It's kind of a unique thing and kind of a fun thing to come home and see my friends," John said. "Make no mistake we came to win."

The Wildcats opened each half slowly and never seemed to get on track. Oregon State took a page from the Stanford playbook, playing physical and slowing the tempo. The Wildcats shot just 43.9% from the field and a paltry 37.5% in a second half that saw them repeatedly fending off the pesky Beavers.

"It was a let down," Jason Gardner said. "It was a letdown from not moving the ball and giving them open looks." Neither the Wildcat players or coaches were pleased with the effort or performance. To a man the players sounded like they did in early January when they were struggling. The coaches appeared even less thrilled.

"I told them that they better not play like that in two weeks," said assistant coach Rodney Tention.

The message appeared to get through.

"The biggest thing is that we have to understand that whoever is out on the floor is going to try hard to beat us," Gardner said. "So we've got to try as hard to beat them."

Channing Frye was again the story for Arizona. The sophomore center carried the Wildcats, despite being matched-up with Phillip Ricci, the Oregon State banger who outweighs him by 25 pounds. Frye scored 24 points on 10-14 shooting and pulled down 12 rebounds. Frye was a beast on the offensive glass, getting half of his rebounds on the offensive end, most resulting in buckets.

"We have to get him 20 shots," Lute Olson said of Frye. "He went 10-14 and if he's going that good he needs more shots, but it's a two way street. He has to do a better job of getting open and the rest of the guys have to get him the ball."

Just one other Wildcat finished in double figures. Luke Walton struggled a bit form the field, especially outside the arc where he hit just 1-of-5 three pointers. Walton finished with 12 points and dished seven assists while committing a lone turnover.

As expected, the three seniors for Oregon State led the way. All three finished in double figures, the only three to do that for the Beavers. Ricci played like the All-Pac-10 player that he is. Despite foul trouble Ricci scored 15 points and had seven rebounds. His size and strength were tough for the Cats to handle down low.

Brian Jackson led the Beavers with 16 points. The 6-9 forward did most of his damage from the perimeter instead of down low. He hit a trio of three pointers and his seven rebounds were two more than his season average.

Jimmie Haywood chipped in 12 points and played very effective defense on Jason Gardner. Haywood routinely picked up the Wildcat senior at ¾ court and pestered him as he brought the ball over the timeline. Gardner was limited to just nine points, although he did add five assists and a pair of steals.

Unfortunately for Oregon State no other player really stepped up. The Beavers shot poorly and really struggled at the foul line, especially in the second half. Oregon State was just 9-21 from the line, 7-17 in the crucial second half. During the final 8:00 they made just 1-6 foul shot attempts.

Arizona was not much better. The Wildcats never got in gear. The opened both halves with prolonged scoring droughts and never put together a big run that would but the Beavers away.

Hassan Adams made the most of his opportunity and now appears back in the mix. With Salim Stoudamire sitting down due to poor play and Andre Iguodala saddled with foul trouble, the true freshman made an impression. Although credited with just two blocks, the 6-4 guard appeared to have four, including a stuff at the rim of the 6-9 Jackson and two from behind of Ricci. Adams was also aggressive on the defensive glass ripping down four rebounds.

"Hassan had some great defensive boards and some great defensive plays," Olson said. "He was a real man on that defensive glass."

The Wildcats could not get on track early. The Cats did not score until their fifth possession and opened the game making just 1-of-7 shots. Luckily for Arizona the Beavers were not much better. Oregon State turned the ball over on their first two possessions and like Arizona scored just one field goal on their first six possessions. When Rick Anderson netted the Cats' second bucket, the score was just 4-4.

The Beavers rested Ricci and the Cats took advantage. Without the big senior in the game the Wildcats outscored OSU 7-2, part of a larger 18-4 run that saw the Cats go up 24-12. Reserve guard Chris Rodgers scored five points in the run, including a three pointer from the top of the key.

The Beavers refused to let Arizona run away with the game. The Beavers had a stretch where they outscored Arizona 9-2 and with just over three minutes to play were in the game, trailing 30-26 after a Haywood three pointer.

The Cats decided to be predictable and went on a scoring spurt before the end of the half. The Wildcats scored the final eight points, including a Walton fall away three with just seconds left that allowed the Cats their second 12-point lead of the game.

Whatever momentum the Cats had going into the locker room was gone by the time they returned to the floor. Must like the slow start to the opening 20:00, the Cats went without a field goal for the first 3:52 and were outscored 8-1 before a Jason Gardner three finally fell for Arizona. The teams traded buckets and the cats held a 48-41 lead as the horn sounded to signify the first television timeout.

The Beavers, as was the theme all game, kept hanging around. A Ricci three-point play and a three from the top of the key by Jackson had the Wildcat lead trimmed to four, 58-54.

Oregon State would not get any closer. An Adams steal and rim-shaking dunk gave the Wildcats another double figure lead at 64-54. Oregon State would get within six, but no closer. Frye capped the win with a dunk in the final seconds.

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