ATLANTA - Forget Kentucky. Remember Oklahoma State.
That was the battle cry Marcus Camby gave in the Massachusetts locker room at halftime of the NCAA East Regional final last night, after the Minutemen had seen a 13-point lead on Georgetown shrink to four. There was no mention of the Final Four and a rematch with the Wildcats, just some bitter reminiscences of how UMass blew a similar lead against Oklahoma State in the same game a year ago.
Camby, the All-America center, scored the first six points of the second half, the launching pad for a clinical 86-62 rout of the Hoyas before 32,328 at the Georgia Dome. It was surprisingly easy only if you forgot about UMass' experience, the composure Georgetown coach John Thompson spoke of before the Hoyas' worst NCAA tournament loss ever.
One of the hardest lessons the Minutemen have learned came in the East final a year ago, when Camby was outscored by Bryant Reeves 24-6.
"Marcus was the guy who reminded us about that game in the locker room," forward Donta Bright said. "He wanted us to know it wasn't going to be easy in the second half."
Wrong. It was. After Camby's 90-second rampage, Bright's three-point play completed a 9-0 run that made it 47-34, and the lead was never smaller than 12. Allen Iverson was frustrated by the hounding of Carmelo Travieso, but the savvier Minutemen also handled every other matchup to earn a Final Four semifinal with No. 2 Kentucky, which in an ideal world would come in the title game.
Coach John Calipari and his players didn't stick around to cut down the nets after becoming the first Atlantic 10 Conference team to reach a Final Four. "This team is expecting more," Calipari said. "They want more. It's one step closer to their final goal."
No. 1 UMass (35-1) held the top spot 10 of the last 12 weeks, and was seeded first, so the Minutemen wondered why second-seeded Georgetown (29-8) was the popular pick in the East. The Hoyas had an All-American of their own in Iverson, but Camby's supporting cast was superior.
"They're better on defense than I thought they were," said Thompson, who was denied his first Final Four since 1985. "They were physically stronger than I thought they were. Travieso is a good player, but I think it's misleading to say one player guards another the whole game. They had a good team concept of defense and they implemented it well."
Iverson, the brilliant 6-foot sophomore from Hampton, Va., kept Georgetown alive for a half, as he had 17 of the Hoyas' 34 points by intermission. Down 28-15, he scored 11 points in less than two minutes, giving the Hoyas hope.
Iverson, however, went the next 10 minutes without a point, and the UMass lead was up to 63-46 before his three-pointer with 8: 46 to go. It was his only basket in 10 tries in a nightmare of a half that saw the Hoyas make 27.6 percent of their shots and commit 13 turnovers.
Iverson got 23 points, but was 6-for-21 from the field. "I was putting up what looked like good shots, but they just weren't falling," he said. "They just did a good defensive job. They held a lot. I know on my penetration, other people were stepping up and contesting my shots."
Travieso, meanwhile, kept finding the right spots, and made six of his 13 three-point tries, for 20 points. He wasn't the only ace defender for the Minutemen, as the Hoyas shot 35.1 percent, their second-worst of the season.
Edgar Padilla, the other half of the Puerto Rican Express backcourt, had a game-high five steals and blanked freshman Victor Page, the Most Outstanding Player in the Big East tournament. At power forward, Dana Dingle and Jerome Williams were a draw, but at small forward, Bright, the ex-Dunbar star, had 17 points, his best in an NCAA game, and limited Boubacar Aw to one basket.
At center, Camby had 22 points, and Hoyas senior Othella Harrington was a no-show in the first half. Eleven of his 13 came in the second half.
"Iverson is going to get his 20, he may get 35, but we made it difficult on him," Calipari said. "Our whole team was playing him. When we got the stat sheets, the first thing our players looked at was what their guy scored."
The Minutemen were good, and lucky. During an early 14-2 run that put them in control, Travieso's three-pointer from the right corner bounced high off the rim and in.
Calipari, meanwhile, also scored well in a game of cat and mouse with Thompson. When Iverson went to the bench for a breather, so did Travieso. When 300-pounder Jahidi White came in for the Hoyas, Tyrone Weeks, 270, came in for the Minutemen.
Camby got his fourth foul with 12: 34 left, and within 10 seconds of his return two minutes later, he converted a three-point play for a 60-43 lead.
The bulge was 79-59 with 2: 18 left, when the UMass fans began to chant, "We want the Wildcats," a rematch of their season-opening, 92-82 win over Kentucky. Calipari, not wanting "to show up a Hall of Fame coach," shushed them.
A minute later, when the scrubs came in, the fans had a message for Camby, telling the junior to forgo the NBA draft and stay, "One more year."
This time, Calipari didn't say a word.
Pub Date: 3/24/96