TUCSON, Arizona (Ticker) -- Even without preseason All-American Luke Walton, Jason Gardner made sure Arizona remained the top team in the nation.
Gardner atoned for a poor first half with a pair of late jumpers and some timely defense as No. 1 Arizona outmuscled seventh-ranked Texas, 73-70.
With the score tied at 65-65, Gardner drained a pair of fadeaways around a turnover by the Longhorns' T.J. Ford. The senior then drew a charge from Ford and hit a foul shot to give the Wildcats (5-0) a 70-65 lead with 57 seconds remaining.
Texas climbed within 72-70, but Gardner hit a free throw with 14 seconds left and Ford missed a 3-pointer in the final seconds.
"We put so much of a load on Jason, especially with Luke out of there," Wildcats coach Lute Olsen said. "Jason had sveen assists and just one turnover. He really came up big time, especially at the end."
Coming off a 1-of-10 shooting performance in a win over San Diego State eight days ago, Gardner went 1-for-6 from the field in the first half. But he turned it around in the second, scoring 11 of his 13 points to go along with eight rebounds.
"I've been through games before when the shot's not falling," Gardner said. "But the guys kept telling me, 'Keep shooting, keep shooting.' They wouldn't let me get down."
Arizona passed its toughest test of the season thus far without Walton, who aggravated a lingering ankle injury in practice and did not dress.
"That's as physical a game as we'll see all season," Olsen said. "It's a game that helps both teams for the rest of the season, rather than playing 'Podunk U' or somebody to just fill out the schedule. We needed this badly."
James Thomas scored 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and Ford finished with 13 points, nine assists and six turnovers for Texas (5-2), which fell to 0-5 all-time against top-ranked foes.
"It was pretty much knockdown, drag-out game," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "Our depth matches Arizona's depth. What I really respect about Arizona is its senior leadership. Arizona is hard to guard. But even Arizona can't keep T.J. Ford from going where he wants to go."
The game was close throughout, featuring 17 lead changes and numerous ties, including a 34-34 halftime deadlock.
Arizona owned the biggest lead of the first half after Dennis Latimore dunked 7:05 into the game for an 18-11 lead. But the Longhorns used a 7-2 run to take the lead on a jumper by Jason Klotz.
Salim Stoudamire led with 14 points and Isaiah Fox chipped in with 11 for the Wildcats, who shot 39 percent (26-of-66) from the field and 16-of-24 from the foul line to win their seventh in a row against Texas.
"It was a very physical game, but we expected that," Gardner said. "The Big 12 is a very physical conference and I was proud of our guys, showing their toughness by staying in there and diving on the floor after loose balls."
"It's good for us to play that type of game at this point of the season," Fox said.
Stoudamire, a 91 percent free-throw shooter last season, hit two important foul shots with 21 seconds left to give Arizona a 72-67 lead. Reserve Brian Boddicker hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 72-70.
Sydmill Harris scored 12 points for the Longhorns, who shot 36 percent (24-of-66) from the floor in dropping their second straight game.
Trailing 51-50 with 10:45 left, Texas took the lead on a jumper by Thomas. Ford followed with a bucket to extend the lead to 54-51.
But the Wildcats went back on top as Rick Anderson and Chris Rodgers hit consecutive layups.
The Longhorns failed to retake the lead, forging its last tie when Thomas' layup made it 65-65 with 3:35 remaining.
Despite being unused to the physical game, the Wildcats held a 46-41 edge on the boards and committed just 13 turnovers.