Originally created 03/24/01

Arizona tops Mississippi



SAN ANTONIO -- It'll be a Pac-10 party in the NCAA regional finals.

Second-seeded Arizona survived Mississippi's 16-0 first-half punch and beat the defensive-minded Rebels 66-56 in the Midwest semifinals Friday night, giving the Pac-10 three of the surviving eight teams in the NCAA tournament.

Stanford, seeded No. 1 in the West and Southern California, the No. 6 seed in the East, will also represent the conference that often complains of getting scant recognition because it plays too late to be seen on television in the East.

Loren Woods, Arizona's long-armed 7-foot-1 center, scored 16 points and helped old Rahim Lockhart, Mississippi's wide-body inside force to just 11. That was 13 fewer than the 6-8 Lockhart scored against Notre Dame last week when the Rebels (27-8) won a second-round game for the first time in their history.

Richard Jefferson had 15 points for the Wildcats (26-7), who are going to their first regional semifinals since 1997 despite a season of sorrow and tumult that included player suspensions and the death of Bobbi Olson, the wife of coach Lute Olson.

Since their coach returned from a mid-winter absence while attending to Bobbi, the Wildcats are 16-2.

The third-seeded Rebels hit the cold-shooting Wildcats with a 16-0 run in the first half, taking an 18-6 lead on Jason Holmes' 3-pointer with 10:11 to go.

The Wildcats had four turnovers in a dry spell of 7:11 that did not end until Jefferson banked in a 4-footer with 9:50 to go, cutting the lead to 18-8.

But then the Rebels went cold and scored only six points in the final 10:11, while Arizona staged runs of 7-0 and 8-0 and trailed at halftime by only one point despite going 0-for-6 from 3-point range.

The Wildcats, after making only five of their first 21 shots, hit 19 of their final 36 against the rugged Ole Miss defense, which held them to their second-lowest total of the season.

The Wildcats had just three assists in the game and were 0-of-8 behind the 3-point line.

Justin Reed had 16 points for Mississippi, which won the SEC West despite being picked to finish last.

The Wildcats got their lead up to eleven points when Woods dropped in a pair of free throws to make it 48-37 with 8:59 to go. Aaron Harper's bucket cut the lead to 56-52 with 4:03 left, then Woods, when Lockhart picked up his fourth foul, hit a pair of free throws at the 3:48 mark for a 58-52 lead.

Arizona will play the winner of Friday's late Kansas-Illinois game in the regional finals Sunday.

The Wildcats took a 31-26 lead early in the second half with three quick, impressive buckets. Woods put down a monster slam off an alley-oop pass, then Gilbert Arenas and Richard Jefferson snatched away Ole Miss passes on consecutive possessions and went coast-to-coast for uncontested layups.

But instead of fading in the face of the 12-point favorites, the Rebels stopped the surge with a softly banked 10-footer by Justin Reed and a pair of free throws by David Sanders.