ANAHEIM, Calif. - During a season that has morphed from "rebuilding" to flat-out improbable, the Arizona Wildcats have developed a knack for leaving gifts along the way.
You know, eight wins in 10 games decided by five points or less. The triple-overtime win at California. The Pac-10 championship.
And, of course, any move that Derrick Williams makes with the ball in his hand.
Now this: A 93-77 win over Duke in the West Regional semifinals.
To rephrase: The complete destruction of the defending national champions and, in the process, a little bit of long overdue revenge for that 2001 championship game.
Yes, the Wildcats were all children when the Blue Devils tore the heart out of the Jason Gardner-Gilbert Arenas-Richard Jefferson-led Wildcats a decade ago, but they've all lived in Tucson long enough to absorb the culture and know exactly what that loss meant.
"We felt we had more to give our fans," forward Kevin Parrom said. "I know guys were saying they wanted payback from 2001. That's all I been hearing. That's all I been getting. Messages on Facebook, messages on my phone."
The 2001 game, of course, was the last time the Wildcats were in the Final Four and it has been a full 14 seasons since Miles Simon clutched that ball in celebration and Bennett Davison messed up Olson's hair when they won the NCAA title.
It was all a long, long time ago, and the Wildcats, now just a game away from returning to the Final Four, are aware of that. Arizona will face Connecticut on Saturday for a Final Four berth.
"One fan told me, 'My shirt is getting small from the 1997 championship. I need another one,' " Williams said. "So that right there just flipped the switch and just changed everything. We want to give everybody what they want."
The Wildcats delivered Friday in a manner that was unexpected yet, considering they built a 30-win season on Williams' heroics and the depth of nine other capable players, somewhat fitting.
Williams went off for 25 points in the first half, making 5 of 6 three-pointers as well as one of his signature dunks, while the rest of the Wildcats took over in the second half, wearing Duke out on the boards and in the field.
Arizona shot 58.3 percent from the field after halftime and out-rebounded Duke 25-9 in the second half, getting a 12-2 advantage in second-chance points during the second half.
"The one huge turnaround in the second half was like a second game," UA coach Sean Miller said. "We were revved up. We had a lot of guys playing at a high level. It was such an overwhelming advantage for us."
The Wildcats went on a 19-2 run in the second half that became 24-4 and, basically, coasted from there.
Unbelievable, at least to most everyone who didn't believe. MoMo Jones, of course, most certainly did.
"We're great players," Jones said. "If we weren't great players, we wouldn't be at Arizona. Duke is not much of a difference from Arizona. It doesn't matter what the perception is. It's what's in your locker room and we believe we're just as equal as any other school and tonight we showed it."
Williams led the way with 32 points, tying Khalid Reeves' school record for points scored in an NCAA tournament game. Reeves had 32 against Loyola, Md., on March 18, 1994.
A full 25 of those points came in the first half, when Williams carried the Wildcats on his back before his teammates awoke in the second half.
Suddenly after halftime, Jones was driving inside with aggression and making shots. Jamelle Horne was throwing down a supremely athletic dunk. And Kyle Fogg and Parrom were hitting three-pointers, with Parrom left so wide open on one by a tiring Duke defense that Parrom said he had time to get "some milk and cookies" before firing it in.
Parrom's three gave the Wildcats an 82-66 lead with 5:20 to go, but it was the Wildcats' 19-2 run earlier in the second half that turned the game around. Taking a 66-55 lead at the end of the run, the Wildcats had several big plays during that run: A three-pointer from Horne, a layup in traffic by Parrom and a steal and layup by Brendon Lavender.
What was also amazing during the 19-2 run, was that Williams only scored two points during it. Arizona out-rebounded Duke 13-3 over that period to key the resurgence.
The Wildcats, who actually rattled off a 24-4 run that gave them a 71-57 lead, started the run by scoring six straight points to tie the game at 53 on Jones' 15-footer with 15:35 left. Jones then hit a pair of free throws to give Arizona its first lead since the early moments, 55-53.
After UA had finished its runs, Horne made a spinning slam dunk to make it 77-63, "That was nasty," Horne said with a smile.
Not the same kind of nasty that Miller carried in his halftime tone of voice, asking Horne if he was going to come to play after going scoreless with two rebounds in six minutes in the first half.
He responded. The Wildcats' other reserves responded.
"We're 10 deep. We have 10, 11 guys who can play," Parrom said. "I can't say anything else. I'm just happy for my teammates."
With the rest of his teammates struggling to score in the first half, Pac-10 Player of the Year Derrick Williams put the Cats on his back to set up an epic second-half run by his teammates:
of Arizona's 38 first-half points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field and 4 for 4 from the foul line
5 of 6
Three-pointers, including a 30-footer with a defender in his face at the end of the first half