Semifinals jog old memories, matchups Midwest Regional

March 22, 1991|By Melissa Isaacson | Melissa Isaacson,Chicago Tribune

PONTIAC, Mich. -- Memory is a funny thing. Selective. Convenient.

St. John's overtime victory against Ohio State in a third-round game of the 1989 NIT?

"Don't look at me," said Ohio State senior center Perry Carter. "I don't remember a thing."

"All I can remember," said St. John's junior pivotman Robert Werdann, "is the Ohio State arena was a big red mass. It was a great basketball atmosphere. And we came away with a victory in one of the most exciting games I ever played in."

Duke's overtime victory over Connecticut in the 1990 East Regional final? "I hate talking about that game," said Connecticut's All-Big East guard Chris Smith. "Hey, it happened. I just don't want to talk about it."

What happened was that Duke center Christian Laettner double-pumped and let fly with a 17-footer from the left wing with one second remaining in OT to send the Blue Devils to their third consecutive Final Four and their fourth in five years.

The two teams will reunite on the basketball court tonight, in the Midwest Regional semifinal. The Shot, apparently, will be a dim memory to all.

"We've never seen the tape as a team," said Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun. "We won't see the last shot. It's X-rated. I do have standards."

One year later, both teams have different looks. Duke, without Alaa Abdelnaby and Phil Henderson, lost 34 points per game and power inside but is superior athletically this season and has better perimeter shooters.

Connecticut, with the loss of Tate George and Nadav Henefeld, is not as tough offensively but is still an outstanding defensive team.

Their rematch will be emotionally charged but not solely because of last season, according to Calhoun.

"They're one of the standards by which basketball is measured in America," he said. "If Connecticut beats Duke, maybe, just maybe, down the line Connecticut will be one of those programs."

Preceding that contest will be another defensive struggle with the last meetings between Ohio State and St. John's two years ago (the teams split their two games) having little bearing.

St. John's is taller inside than Ohio State, with the Buckeyes holding the edge in bulk.

Establishing their perimeter game early will be one of the keys for the Buckeyes, who struggle offensively, said Ohio State coach Randy Ayers.

For now, they would just as soon forget that they're the No. 1 seeded team in the Midwest.

"It has taken its toll emotionally as teams get up for us," Ayers said. "It may have been the reason for our recent slump [the Buckeyes lost the last two games of the Big Ten season]. But we try not to think about it."

Sometimes it's easier to forget.

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