Arizona 96, Gonzaga 95
Time and again, top-seeded Arizona knocked down No. 9 Gonzaga, but it took two overtimes for the Wildcats to knock the Bulldogs out.
In a heart-stopping NCAA tournament second-round game, Arizona defeated Gonzaga, 96-95, earning the Wildcats a trip to Anaheim, Calif., for the West Region semifinals. Arizona will face Notre Dame, a 68-60 winner over Illinois.
Salim Stoudamire's runner in the lane put Arizona up by one with 2 minutes 3 seconds remaining. Gonzaga's Blake Stepp, the West Coast Conference player of the year, had a chance to win it as time expired, but his eight-foot bank shot was too long.
"It just didn't fall for me," Stepp said.
Arizona's Luke Walton clutched the rebound, and fell to the floor in utter exhaustion.
"I didn't know how much time was left when the ball came off the rim," Walton said. "And then I heard a buzzer sound, and I just collapsed. I think that's the best team I've played against in five years of college basketball."
Every superlative held true for this game, which featured 10 lead changes, many of them coming in the overtime periods.
Jason Gardner, one of five Wildcats in double figures, struggled from the field for the third consecutive game, going 6 for 15, but hit 8 of 9 free throws and finished with a team-high 22 points. Channing Frye also had 22 points and 12 rebounds.
Gonzaga (24-9) was led by Stepp, who was 9 of 24 and scored 25 points, and forward Tony Skinner, who also scored 25 and made 8 of 17 shots.
Three of Gonzaga's starters were on the court for more than 40 minutes. All of Arizona's were.
The Bulldogs' Skinner played every second of the game's 50 minutes.
With 13 seconds left in regulation and Gonzaga trailing 77-76, the Bulldogs were forced to foul Gardner for the second time in two trips down the floor. The previous time, he hit both free throws. This time, he missed the second.
Stepp raced downcourt. His desperation three-pointer with four seconds remaining hit the front of the rim, but Skinner was there, and his put-back circled the iron and fell through.
It was on to overtime, where it seemed inevitable that one team would break. Neither did. Arizona (27-3) took an early lead, but Gonzaga came back to tie the score at 82 with 3:25 remaining on a three-pointer by Skinner. When Stoudamire hit a three of his own, putting the Wildcats up 87-84 with 1:13 left, it seemed the underdog Bulldogs might crack. Instead, Stepp buried a three-pointer as well, knotting the score at 87.
On Arizona's next possession, Walton tried to find Frye in the low post, but his pass sailed well wide of its target, and suddenly, Gonzaga had a chance to go ahead. The Bulldogs did, 89-87, on a layup by Richard Fox with 15 seconds remaining. Now it was Walton's turn; he made up for his gaffe, scoring a jumper with five seconds left, and sending the game into its second extra period.
"It was an awesome game to be involved in," Gonzaga Coach Mark Few said. "It was an unbelievable effort on both sides, and it's unfortunate that there has to be a winner and loser. It's unfortunate that both teams can't move on after that."
Arizona Coach Lute Olson agreed.
"I think they're as good as any one or two seed around," Olson said. "I think they have huge hearts. If you didn't care who won, it was a great college basketball game."
* DUKE 86, CENTRAL MICHIGAN 60: Senior Dahntay Jones led the Blue Devils with 28 points on 9-of-14 shooting, and freshman J.J. Redick was 9 of 13 for 26 points.
The Blue Devils (26-6) will face Kansas, a 108-76 winner over Arizona State, next Thursday in Anaheim.
The Chippewas (25-7) upset No. 5 seed Creighton in their opening game, and were hoping to be the Cinderella story of this year's tourney. But it was not to be.
The schools' first-ever meeting was a dominating defensive performance by Duke, which held four of Central Michigan's five starters to a combined 7-of-22 shooting for 23 points.
Central Michigan's 7-foot Chris Kaman, the Mid-American Conference player of the year, finished with 10 rebounds and 25 points while making 10 of 20 shots.