Surprising BC loses element of surprise NCAA TOURNAMENT

March 27, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

MIAMI -- Boston College pulled the upset of the NCAA tournament when it knocked off top-ranked North Carolina a week ago. The ninth-seeded Eagles followed it up Friday night with an impressive victory over Bobby Knight's Indiana Hoosiers that vaulted them into today's showdown with Florida in the East Regional final at the Miami Arena.

It has been a wild and exciting ride for coach Jim O'Brien and a team that was bounced unceremoniously out of the Big East tournament in the first round, but the Eagles have lost something along the way.

The chance to be underestimated.

The Gators may have the better overall record. They may have been the higher seed in this regional. But Boston College is not going to sneak up on anyone anymore.

"We'll be the underdog again," said O'Brien, "but we're not at the stage where anybody can look past us. Our kids believe that we can win and we're just going to keep it going as long as we can."

The NCAA tournament lives on stories like this. Remember when Cleveland State came within one point of the final eight in 1986. Remember when an unknown team from Cal State Fullerton knocked off two top 10 teams and came within a last-second basket of making the Final Four in 1978.

O'Brien would love to trade on that kind of out-of-nowhere mentality, but he can't anymore. The Eagles sent Dean Smith and Knight home in a handbasket, and Florida pulled an upset of its own to knock Connecticut out of the tournament on Friday night.

"It has been nice because -- typical of our society -- people like to root for the underdog," O'Brien said. "I'm sure there were Indiana people who got behind us against North Carolina because they wanted to play us instead of Carolina. There were Florida fans here last night who wanted us to beat Indiana. I think that is all over.

"We've had a little bit of a charmed existence, but I think that's ending. I think the crowd here will be very pro-Florida."

That's probably true, but this is not a home game for the Gators, who find their allegiance at the other end of the state. The Miami Arena is the home floor of the University of Miami, where there undoubtedly is some anti-Gator sentiment. If this was arch-rival Florida State instead of Florida, the Eagles would be adopted as the honorary home team.

Perhaps it doesn't matter anymore. The Eagles have earned the right to be considered a legitimate candidate for the Final Four. They have won 23 games this year. They have beaten seven teams that made it into the tournament. They have added another chapter to Boston College's book of upsets -- which dates back to Doug Flutie's miracle touchdown pass and includes this year's heart-stopping football victory over No. 1 Notre Dame.

"People might want to characterize us as underdogs or Cinderellas, but I don't buy that," said senior guard Malcolm Huckaby. "We beat good teams to get to this point. We got the job done and that's all there is to say about it."

They got the job done just in time. O'Brien's future as coach of the Eagles was very much in doubt after an 11-7 conference season and a lop-sided Big East tournament loss to Georgetown. Now, O'Brien is getting accolades from far and wide.

"When we came home [from the Big East tournament], we were reallly disappointed," Huckaby said. "We didn't just accept getting into the NCAA . . . our goal was to win the Big East tournament. It wasn't that we lost. It was like we gave up on ourselves. But we fought back."

The Eagles looked like they would be nothing more than a first-round wonder in the NCAA regional at the USAir Arena. They fell behind Washington State by 10 in the first half.

"I don't think enough has been made of our getting by Washington State," O'Brien said. "We played a lackluster first half and we were down 10 points. They could have let down at that point, but that's where they showed a lot of maturity."

That's where it started. Now, the question is where it will stop.

"From that point on, we were confident," Huckaby said. "The only way to win is to come out with no fear."

EAST FINAL: BOSTON COLLEGE (23-10) vs. FLORIDA (28-7)

Site: Miami Arena

Time: 1:40 p.m. today

TV: Channels 11, 9

Outlook: The East Regional probably won't win the ratings war today. The marquee teams that peppered the draw a week ago are all gone, leaving a couple of surprise teams to vie for a spot in the Final Four. The Gators (28-7) are not exactly a Cinderella team, but they weren't expected to send Connecticut home on Friday night. Boston College (23-10) has knocked off No. 1 North Carolina and Bob Knight's Indiana Hoosiers. Now, they will pit their two big men -- 6-9 Bill Curley and 6-7, 285-pound Danya Abrams -- against the bruising low-post game of massive Dametri Hill and 6-10 Andrew DeClercq. If the Eagles can shoot the three-point shot the way they did against Indiana (10-for-16), they'll be very tough to stop, but the Gators probably have better top-to-bottom talent.

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