Michigan talks a real good game Kentucky's play speaks for itself

April 03, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS -- The roads Michigan and Kentucky took here to this year's Final Four were filled with trash. The Wolverines have talked it. The Wildcats have done it to their opponents -- with defense rather than dialogue, with three-pointers rather than threats.

Both teams hope to take the trash out in tonight's second NCAA semifinal at the Superdome. Michigan (30-4) wants to shut down Kentucky (30-3), which won its first four tournament games by an average of more than 31 points. The Wildcats would like nothing better than to shut up the Wolverines.

"You have to be able to concentrate more on just playing basketball because this is our biggest game of the season," said Michigan point guard Jalen Rose. "We know what it takes to win. But we're not going to change our style as long as it's working."

The Wolverines -- or Wooferines, as they've been labeled recently -- also know that this high-powered Kentucky team doesn't need any more ammunition than it already has in All-American forward Jamal Mashburn, long-range shooter Travis Ford and a cast of seemingly thousands off the bench.

"We've seen what happens when things we say fire up the other team," said Rose. "But it also fires us up."

Said Kentucky guard Dale Brown: "We don't look at the trash-talking or what the media says. We just go out and play ball. They're a great club and we have to go out and play hard and keep them off the boards."

One thing is certain: Michigan has enough talent to beat Kentucky. Lost in all this talk about talk is the fact that the Wolverines already have beaten two of the teams here -- Kansas and North Carolina -- in the Rainbow Classic last December.

In fact, the all-sophomore Fab Five along with reserve center Eric Riley, a senior, are likely headed to the NBA. It could be argued that Michigan has more talent than any other Final Four team in recent memory, including the 1990 and 1991 Nevada-Las Vegas teams that produced three No. 1 draft picks.

"With this forum, with what's at stake, I know we'll have to beat the best Michigan team we've seen in the tournament," said Kentucky coach Rick Pitino.

Said Rose: "People forget that we've held the teams we've played in the tournament to 38 percent shooting. They forget that this is our second straight Final Four or that Coach Fisher has been to the Final Four three times."

It's not only the fact that the winner of today's game will probably be considered the favorite come Monday's night championship. Or that more than 62,000 fans will be on hand to watch it. What should bring out the best in Michigan is the fact that it will be playing a team that thrives on a fast-paced game.

But can the Wolverines suddenly start playing up to the level they haven't reached since Hawaii? After winning its opening game in the West Regional by 30 points over Coastal Carolina, it has been an uphill struggle for Michigan: a controversial overtime win over UCLA after being down 19; an eight-point win over George Washington; a five-point win over Temple.

"We've got a very, very good basketball team," said Michigan coach Steve Fisher, who has taken his own share of criticism despite reaching the Final Four for the third time -- including winning one championship -- in five years. "We know we're good enough to win the next two games, but we're also smart enough to know that so are Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina."

Said Wolverines center Chris Webber: "I think we don't get respect because you can't place our team in a certain category. We have five kids out there you can't place in a system. We have a system, but if you're not in our program, you don't know

what's going on. When we have a dunk, you just see flashiness. Sometimes that blinds our hard work. Many people don't respect us as hard workers."

Last year's Final Four at the Metrodome is a foggy memory now, but the Wolverines certainly remember Minneapolis, when they beat Cincinnati in the semifinals and lost to Duke in the championship game. Perhaps their biggest freshman mistake came on the off-day in between, when center Juwan Howard said, "I pity Duke."

Michigan doesn't look down on Kentucky. Not the way the Wildcats have torn apart some pretty good teams on the way here, most recently Florida State by 25 points in the Southeast Regional final last week in Charlotte, N.C. And even if they do, the Wolverines aren't saying.

They will save it for the court.

As long as Kentucky doesn't take the trash out of Michigan today.

Michigan (30-3) vs. Kentucky (30-4)

Time: 8 p.m. (approximate)

TV: Channels 11, 9

Coaches: Steve Fisher (108-36 in five years at Michigan); Rick Pitino (95-30 in four years at Kentucky)

Analysis: This has the makings of the most exciting end-to-end semifinal game since Houston beat Louisville 10 years ago in Albuquerque. The talent of the Wolverines and the style of the Wildcats could make this a high-scoring game of epic proportions. Though Michigan's Chris Webber and Kentucky's Jamal Mashburn are two of the best power forwards in the country, they probably won't guard each other much. Webber probably will be on Rodney Dent or Gimel Martinez, and Mashburn will guard Ray Jackson. Michigan has a big height advantage in the backcourt, with 6-8 Jalen Rose five inches taller than Dale Brown and nearly a foot taller than Travis Ford. But Ford lighted up Wake Forest for 26 points and Florida State for 19, making nine of 13 threes. Jimmy King, the Wolverines' best defensive guard, will try to stop Ford. But the difference should be Kentucky's bench, which is deeper and more consistent than Michigan's.

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