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NCAA FINAL

Arizona Backcourt Falls on Hard Times

Loser: Fabulous in the semifinals, Arenas and Gardner combine for 17 points on six-of-28 shooting in loss.

April 03, 2001|SAM FARMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MINNEAPOLIS — Call it the changing of the guards.

In 48 hours, Gilbert Arenas and Jason Gardener changed from good ones into bad ones.

Arizona's dynamic duo, the backcourt tandem that caused such a headache for Michigan State in the semifinal game, hardly posed a threat Monday in an 82-72 loss to Duke.

They scored a combined 17 points on six-of-28 shooting, and had two steals--seven fewer than Saturday night.

The championship game was particularly bumpy for Arenas, who took a team-high 17 shots and made only four. Not only did he miss each of his four three-point shots, he was blowing layups.

"If I could have hit four more layups I missed, I mean, we could have won the game right there," he said. "So you always think about that."

Then again, Arenas had been feeling lousy since the second half of the Michigan State game. He got sandwiched trying to fight his way through a double screen and bruised his chest. Fearing Duke players might somehow gain a competitive edge with that information, Arizona fudged the facts, saying Arenas had a bruised right shoulder.

"[Sunday] I couldn't do anything on my own," Arenas said. "I couldn't move, I couldn't practice. My chest was just hard and stiff. Any time I moved, there was just chest pain. It wasn't my shoulder. They just told me to tell everybody it was my shoulder so nobody would attack my sternum."

Although Arenas said the pain wrapped around to his back as if he were wearing a corset tight and high, he said it didn't affect his shooting.

His coach wasn't so sure.

"It obviously bothered him a lot," Coach Lute Olson said. "And he worked very hard at being able to play this evening. . . . It was a case [Sunday] where he couldn't really get his hand above his head. But I thought he competed hard."

There was nothing ailing Gardner, although his shooting had to make him feel queasy. He made two of 11 shots and went 0 for 8 from three-point range. His dream of holding his own against Duke's Jason Williams on a national stage didn't quite turn out as he planned.

"The shot just wasn't there," he said. "It just didn't fall tonight."

It was one of Arenas' former AAU teammates who stole the show from behind the arc. Duke's Mike Dunleavy scored 18 of his 22 points in the second half and finished with five three-point baskets.

"I was a one-man and he was my two-man," said Arenas, who played with Dunleavy a few years ago on a Southern California traveling team. "He amazed me sometimes, because I'd never really seen him before. And he amazed me with his shooting, some of the things he did with the ball."

Everything felt a little off for Arenas.

"After a while, even though it was late in the game, I was just trying to get to the free-throw line but I was a little nervous there too," he said. "Sometimes when you keep missing open shots, it gets into your head."

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