Nov. 24, 1999
By HAL BOCK
AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK – Inside and outside, No. 8 Arizona had too many weapons for Notre Dame in Wednesday night’s semifinals of the Preseason NIT.
The Wildcats used the cool backcourt play of freshmen guards Gilbert Arenas and Jason Gardner and the size and strength of Michael Wright and Loren Woods to wear down the Irish 76-60 and advance to Friday night’s championship game.
Wright missed just three shots all night and finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Woods, a 7-foot-1 presence in the middle had 13 points, 10 rebounds and tied a school record with seven blocked shots. Richard Jefferson added 13 and had seven assists.
But it was the two guards, recruited together by coach Lute Olson, who provided flawless backcourt play. Olson said the pair are the best backcourt partners ever to come to Arizona together and they looked it against Notre Dame.
Arenas had 15 points and Gardner added eight. The two freshmen had just three turnovers all night.
“We came here to win,” Wright said. “It was strictly business. It’s important to us. It was a good game until we wore them down in the end. We were ready for their zone.”
Arizona jumped in front early and stayed there. The Wildcats knew the energized Irish under new coach Matt Doherty, had sprung a major upset, beating Ohio State, a Final Four team last March, in the tournament opener. And they were determined not to let that happen to them.
“Notre Dame got tired,” Wright said. “We ran them. We took it to another level when they challenged us.”
Olson thought the tournament provided his team with what it needs most at this stage – game action.
“We came here to get games,” he said. “We are young and we need games to get to do things better.
“We were quicker than Notre Dame and used our quickness to get them out of their game.”
Doherty was philosophical about the loss.
“It hurts that you can’t go undefeated in your coaching career,” he joked.
The flow of this game was established early.
The Wildcats led from start to finish, and were up by as many as 20 points in the second half. Wright and Jefferson combined for Arizona’s first 14 points and a quick lead that the Wildcats never relinquished.
Troy Murphy led Notre Dame with 22 points and David Graves had 17.