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Wildcats Capture NIT Championship With Win Over Kentucky

NEW YORK (AP) - No. 8 Arizona shook off some erratic shooting to go on a 11-0 run midway through the second half Friday night and defeated No. 11 Kentucky 63-51 to win its third Preseason NIT championship.

Both Arizona (4-0) and Kentucky (3-1) were struggling with their shooting until midway through the second half. Leading 35-33, Arizona suddenly began finding the range.

Consecutive three-point plays by Richard Jefferson and Gilbert Arenas started the run. Then, after another basket by Jefferson, Jason Gardner added an exclamation point to the run with a 3-pointer and just like that, Arizona had a 46-33 lead.

In this rematch of the 1997 NCAA tournament championship game won in overtime by Arizona 83-79, neither team looked much like a Final Four candidate. Arizona shot 39.7 for the game but that was better than Kentucky's 35.6.

Jefferson and Arenas avoided the shooting woes. Jefferson missed just three of 10 shots and finished with 15 points and Arenas hit six of 10 and led all scorers with 20 points.

Tayshaun Prince led Kentucky with 18 points but shot just 7-of-18. Desmond Allison added 12 for the losers, who made just 21 of 59 shots from the floor.

Over and over, shots banged harmlessly off the backboards or the rims as neither team could find any consistency on offense. Arizona led 29-25 at halftime, shooting just 32.3 from the field.

Typical of the shooting frustration was a sequence in the second half when Arizona's Luke Walton, son of basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton, made a basket on his third attempt after grabbing rebounds of his first two missed shots. His next basket, however, came on his next shot.

Arenas and Gardner, Arizona's flashy all-freshman backcourt, kept plugging away and kept Kentucky at bay. Arenas was picked as the tournament's MVP.

The championship gave Arizona another Preseason NIT sweep. Coach Lute Olson's Wildcats won the title in 1990, beating Arkansas in the final, and again in 1995 when they beat Georgetown for the championship.

Arizona has won 12 straight games in this tournament after being eliminated in the first round of their first appearance by Nevada-Las Vegas in 1986.

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