Wildcats roar past Missouri, into Final 4

March 27, 1994|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES -- Arizona doesn't have Duke's pedigree, but it does have the nation's best backcourt.

The Wildcats won't give you Forty Minutes of Hell, but their defense has burned opponents.

Coach Lute Olson doesn't have a underdog like the East is going to send to the Final Four, but after first-round losses the past two years, postseason expectations for his team weren't exactly high, either.

Forget the nicknames and reputations. Yesterday Arizona completed a blitz of the West Regional with a 92-72 rout of top-seeded Missouri before 15,517 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, and now the most dominant team of this NCAA tournament will try to prove that it's also the best.

The Wildcats (29-5) will face the Midwest Regional champion -- Arkansas or Michigan -- in the NCAA semifinals Saturday in Charlotte, N.C. It's a long way from March 18, 1993, when Arizona was upset in the first round by Santa Clara and the seed was planted for its rampage of the past nine days.

"I'm tremendously proud of this group of guys who have been doubted and questioned, and been called chokers and losers," Olson said. "These are guys who have been on a mission all year long."

Reggie Geary, the lesser-known defensive stopper in Arizona's three-guard set, concurred.

"It's us against the world," Geary said. "You guys [the media] predicted that we're a choking team, but we're not. We want to send the message that we're one of the best teams inthe nation."

The Wildcats were 6-3 at the midway point of the Pac-10 season before pulling away for their seventh conference title in 10 years. But that February surge was nothing compared to the way they've played in the NCAAs.

Second-seeded Arizona's average margin of victory in its four tournament games was 17.8 points, and its opponents shot 32.9 percent from the field. The Wildcats toyed with Loyola, handled Virginia, whipped Louisville and outclassed Missouri, the first team in 23 years to go unbeaten in the Big Eight.

Olson has a dangerously quick team, and the quickest 'Cat of all was the catalyst yesterday. Damon Stoudamire, a 5-foot-11 junior left-hander from Portland, Ore., came out smoking and matched Missouri's 13 points in the first nine minutes.

Stoudamire scored 27 points, overshadowing Arizona's other extraordinary guard, senior Khalid Reeves, who iced the West Regional's Most Outstanding Player Award with 26 points that gave him 117 for the four games.

The Tigers (28-4), meanwhile, struggled from three-point range for the second straight game, going 2-for-16 in the first half after starting 1-for-11 against Syracuse in the third round.

When Missouri guard Melvin Booker, the Big Eight Player of the Year, wasn't chasing Stoudamire, he was being tailed by Geary. With Geary, who came in averaging 7.3 points, matching Booker's 14 points, this one was never in doubt.

All of those Missouri misses -- the Tigers shot 34.9 percent from the field -- became so many Arizona transition points.

Every time Missouri surged -- to within three points in the first half or to within eight in the second -- the Wildcats would run off three straight baskets and say "see ya."

The Wildcats had a 60-51 lead with 10:45 left and some foul problems when Missouri guard Paul O'Liney had an open three-pointer from the right wing. It bounced out, Arizona started an 11-2 run with six transition points in 52 seconds, and what could have been a six-point game turned into another routine blowout for the Wildcats.

Missouri began fouling -- senior center Jevon Crudup left with 14 points and six rebounds, holding his own against Wildcats sophomore Joseph Blair -- and the spread was 88-61 with 2:59 left.

The Wildcats, the only Pac-10 team to survive the first round and the first from that conference to make the Final Four since Olson took them there in 1988, left Missouri wondering what hit it.

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