In battle of big shots, a big miss decided it for ArizonaPosted: Saturday March 22, 2003 11:23 PM
Updated: Sunday March 23, 2003 12:01 AM
By Steve Rivera, Special to SI.com
SALT LAKE CITY -- In a game marked by big shot after big shot, it came down to a huge miss.
Blake Stepp, as open as he was all game, missed an eight-foot bank shot in the final two seconds as Gonzaga gave Arizona everything and more here at the Huntsman Center, losing 96-95 in double overtime.
"It just didn't fall for me," a disappointed Stepp said. "It hit a little too long off the glass."
After a mad scramble, Arizona's Luke Walton rebounded the ball and the game was over. Arizona had survived and advanced to the Sweet 16.
Every basket and every possession meant something. The biggest was the last one.
"I definitely thought that one was in," said Channing Frye, who too had some big misses and makes throughout. "I was like, 'Oh my God.' When he pump-faked, he was wide open. When he missed it, I was like, 'Thank you, thank you.'"
Frye wasnít thanking anyone earlier, when he missed a pair of crucial shots in the first overtime with the game tied at 82 with 3:25 left. He was fouled on the second attempt, went to the foul line and missed his first free throw but hit the second.
"[Assistant coach] Josh [Pastner] always talks to me about lifting on the shot," Frye said. "I felt that after it left my hand it was short. Hopefully, I can work on my free throws when I get back home."
He also wasnít thanking anyone when he missed a layup with three minutes left in regulation with the game tied at 74.
"Maybe it was a little too close," he said. "I just wanted to put the ball in the basket and run down the court and play defense. Things happen. I thought I did a pretty good job of being aggressive. I missed my layup, and [Stepp] missed that shot."
So it evened out in Arizonaís favor. There was drama all game, but it didnít have to come to that. Arizonaís Salim Stoudamire had a chance to give the Wildcats a three-point lead at 77-74 but missed back-to-back treys with just under two minutes left.
"Hey, it happens, but Iím not going to stop shooting," said Stoudamire, who went 5-for-15 from the floor, finishing with 15 points.
He added: "It was a game of highs and lows. One minute youíre feeling like youíre on top of the world, and the next youíre feeling like crap."
Arizonaís Gardner didnít go that far in how he felt after missing a crucial free throw with 13 seconds left, giving Gonzaga a last gasp at a tie or a victory.
But Stepp missed a 3-pointer with four seconds left, only to see teammate Tony Skinner get a tip-in at the buzzer.
"Every shot was big," said UA's Gardner. "I missed that free throw, and they came down and got that tip. That shows why it was one of the better games Iíve ever been in."
Steve Rivera covers college sports for the Arizona Republic.