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Wildcats Defeat UNC Wilmington, 66-51

AP Sports Writer
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -
Jason Gardner scored all 12 of his points in the second half Tuesday night, helping No. 5 Arizona survive another lackluster performance with a 66-51 victory over North Carolina-Wilmington.

The Wildcats (10-2) used a steady diet of free throws _ outscoring the Seahawks 26-3 from the line _ to pull away. Two 3-pointers by Gardner were Arizona's only field goals during a seven-minute stretch in the second half.

But Arizona still went on a 20-3 run that began during the cold stretch, opening a 62-41 lead on a layup by Gardner with 3:32 remaining, to win the first-round game in the Bank One Fiesta Bowl Classic and advance to meet Delaware, which beat Alabama 76-66, for the championship on Thursday.

Gilbert Arenas led the Wildcats with 17 points, while Michael Wright had 13.

Oleg Kojenets had a season-high 14 points for the Seahawks (6-3). Brett Blizzard, the Seahawks' leading scorer, didn't have a field goal until there was 5:35 remaining, and finished with nine points.

It will be Arizona's 15th consecutive championship game appearance in its homecourt holiday tournament, where it is 29-0.

But the Wildcats came in with the memory of seeing their 37-game home winning streak snapped in their last game, a 70-68 loss to New Mexico on Dec. 21.

And coach Lute Olson felt they hadn't played well since beating Michigan State on Dec. 11.

Early on, it was more of the same. Arizona struggled against the Seahawks. Although UNCW never led, it cut the deficit to 22-21 on a bank shot by Stewart Hare with 3:40 left in the first half.

But Wright had a three-point play 21 seconds later, and Arenas pulled up for a 13-footer on a fast break and hit a 3-pointer after a pass from Gardner, who stole the ball at midcourt, as the Wildcats closed the half with an 8-0 run.

In the second half, Victor Ebong capped a 9-1 run by the Seahawks with a baseline jumper, and the Seahawks closed within 42-38 with 11:24 remaining. Then Gardner made a 3-pointer and two free throws, setting off the 7 1/2-minute sustained run that put the game out of reach.

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