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  Saturday, Dec. 11 2:00pm ET
Woods saves Arizona at crunch time

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- Arizona's Loren Woods was late for second-ranked Wildcats' game with Michigan State (No. 5 ESPN/USA Today, No. 4 AP) because of a minor car wreck Saturday. But his second-half surge couldn't have been more timely.

The 7-foot-1 center scored the first six points in a crucial 12-2 run as Arizona (7-1) stretched its homecourt winning streak to 36 games with a 79-68 victory over the Spartans.

Charlie Bell
Michigan State's Charlie Bell drives past Arizona freshman Jason Gardner on Saturday.
"He played with the most aggressiveness he's played all season," Arizona coach Lute Olson said.

With Mateen Cleaves still out with a stress fracture in his right foot, Michigan State (7-2) couldn't contain Arizona's freshman point guard Jason Gardner.

Gardner, who struggled against Khalid El-Amin in Tuesday night's 78-69 loss to No. 6 Connecticut, had a career-high 20 points, nine assists and six rebounds. He played all 40 minutes.

"The kid is so coachable. He's like a sponge," Olson said. "He's good right now, but he's going to really be something once he gets some experience."

In a span of eight days, Arizona beat Texas (no. 12 ESPN/USA Today, No. 10 AP), lost to Connecticut, then beat Michigan State.

"We knew we could play with any team in the country," Arizona's Richard Jefferson said.

The Wildcats outscored the Spartans 20-9 over the last 8:20 after Michigan State (7-2) rallied from an early 19-point deficit to tie it at 59-59.

Arizona sealed the victory by going 10-for-10 at the foul line over the last 4:04. Jefferson, who scored 18 points, had six of those free throws down the stretch.

Gilbert Arenas, who didn't start because of a hip flexor, scored 13 points for Arizona. Woods added 12.

Morris Peterson scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half for Michigan State, but was only 5-for-15 from the field. Charlie Bell led the Spartans with 20 points. Michigan State shot 40 percent, compared with Arizona's 53 percent.

"In the past, we've played great defense," Bell said. "But today we didn't play defense at all. I mean they got dunk after dunk after dunk. When they're shooting a high percentage like they were and we're not shooting that well, it's hard to win."

Spartans' coach Tom Izzo didn't like his team's effort.

"The last thing I wrote on the chalkboard before we left the locker room at the start of the game was that we needed to get all of the loose balls," Izzo said. "We got none. We were outworked, outhustled and outshot."

Still, Michigan State caught Arizona at 59-59 on Jason Richardson's reverse stuff on a rebound after Jefferson blocked Bell's layup attempt.

Woods hit an 8-foot hook, followed with a stuff, then scored inside on a pass from Michael Wright and Arizona led 65-59.

"The ball was coming to me. I started feeling it," Woods said, "and coach recognized that. He started calling some plays my way."

Justin Wessell added a short jumper to make it 67-59, and the Spartans never got closer than six again. Two free throws apiece by Jefferson and Arenas capped the spurt and made it 71-61 with 3:19 to play.

At first, it looked like a runaway in front of the loud McKale Center crowd.

Arizona went on a 24-4 run highlighted by Jefferson's steal and swooping one-handed stuff. Arenas' baseline dunk on a pass from Woods capped the outburst and put the Wildcats up 31-12 with 8:23 to play in the first half.

But Michigan State responded with a 17-2 outburst that cut the lead to 33-30 on Andre Hutson's two free throws with 2:51 left in the half.

Gardner's 3-pointer ended the Spartans' surge, and Arizona held a 37-32 lead at the break.

No one was hurt in the fender-bender involving Woods.

"I ran into the back of this lady," Woods said. "I was just not paying attention. I'm glad I didn't walk in and we were down by 20. People who were driving by us must have been saying, `Isn't that guy supposed to be in McKale by now?"'

Four minutes of the game had passed before he arrived on the Arizona bench. He entered the game with 14:17 left.

"It happened way, way before he was supposed to be here, but the woman told him it would be hit-and-run if he left," Olson said. "I figure she was a Michigan State fan."

Wright, bothered by a hyperextended right knee suffered in the loss to Connecticut in the Great Eight, started but played only six minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.

Arizona also was without backup point guard Lamont Frazier for academic reasons.

The Wildcats' last home loss was 66-64 against UCLA on Feb. 13, 1997.


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