Dogged 'Cats win title, 76-67 Kentucky repels Syracuse runs, fulfills promise of Pitino

Delk hits 7 of record 12 UK 3s

Wallace-led 16-5 spurt drew Orange to 64-62

April 02, 1996|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Seven years after he arrived to restore Kentucky's scandalized program to prominence, coach Rick Pitino delivered on the promise with a 76-67 victory over Syracuse in the national championship game last night.

The Wildcats survived 38 percent shooting and a surprisingly resilient Syracuse team to claim their sixth NCAA championship, and first in 18 years, before 19,229 at the Meadowlands.

They won because they got 24 points from senior Tony Delk, who hit a record-tying seven three-pointers to win the Most Outstanding Player award, and 20 more from freshman Ron Mercer, who hit eight of 12 shots from the field.

But they also won because they remembered last year's shocking regional loss against North Carolina and a zone defense.

"Without question, I believe we're national champions today because of last year's North Carolina game," Pitino said. "That game, we took a lot of bad, forced shots [from beyond the arc]. We took 27 [three-pointers] tonight, and I can honestly say 27 were great shots."

The 12 successful three-pointers by Kentucky set a championship game record.

Syracuse rallied from a 13-point second-half deficit to get within two points, at 64-62, with a 16-5 run that included nine points from All-America forward John Wallace (29 points).

But with four minutes left, Kentucky's Walter McCarty tipped in a missed shot and Derek Anderson hit a three-pointer to give the Wildcats a 69-62 lead and breathing room down the stretch.

Kentucky (34-2) also got a big defensive play in the final minute from backup center Mark Pope. Syracuse's Todd Burgan (19 points) had just hit a three-point shot from the top of the circle to cut Kentucky's lead to 72-67.

The Orangemen got a chance to cut further into the lead, but Pope deflected a bounce pass from Lazarus Sims and was fouled by Wallace.

Wallace fouled out of the game on the play, and when Pope converted both ends of a one-and-one, Kentucky had a 74-67 lead with 1: 06 left.

The loss spoiled a brilliant game by Wallace, who also had 10 rebounds, and denied coach Jim Boeheim his first national title in his second championship game.

"We didn't do a good job with Delk in the first half, but Mercer was one guy that came in and hurt us," Boeheim said. "We put ourselves in position to win the game, and they made great plays."

Wallace, a 6-foot-8 senior making his final appearance for Syracuse, complained about the officiating afterward.

"We played very well, and we should have won the game," Wallace said. "Personally, I feel we got a couple of bad calls that could've went our way but didn't. In my opinion, we won the game."

The Orangemen (29-9) also had to play without Sims at a key stretch in the second half when they were within six points of Kentucky's lead.

Sims collided with Kentucky's Anthony Epps and injured his hand with 13: 38 to play. While he was out, Kentucky ran up a 59-46 lead, its biggest of the game, getting three straight turnovers.

Syracuse played only three reserves, who were outscored by Kentucky's bench 26-0 and took just one shot.

"I'm proud of my guys," Boeheim said. "They came back. My kids had so much heart all year and in this tournament, and I think they gained respect."

Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense forced Kentucky to play more half-court offense than the Wildcats normally like. It was reflected in Kentucky's shooting: 28-for-73 from the field for 38.4 percent.

It was the lowest shooting percentage for the winning team in a championship game since 1963, when Loyola of Chicago shot 27.4.

"You have to credit Syracuse's defense because they did that to everybody," Pitino said. "During a timeout, I told our players we were going to win it at the defensive end. We won two games very untypical of Kentucky's season, bump and grind, but we had to win that way."

Delk was named Final Four MVP after hitting eight of 20 shots. He had 18 points at halftime.

"We were patient out there," Delk said. "We tried not to take any bad shots. I think the loss last year did help us a lot because we didn't force that many shots."

Delk had missed 14 of 21 shots in that loss to North Carolina, which in part led to his coming into this year's Final Four with the reputation he could not deliver in big games -- despite being Kentucky's leading scorer.

He destroyed that notion by totaling 44 points on 15-for-36 shooting in the two Final Four wins.

Except for the final three minutes of the first half, the Orangemen outplayed the Wildcats. There were five lead changes in the first half, and the game was tied at 28 after Wallace hit a three-point shot with three minutes left.

But Kentucky used a 14-5 run to open a 42-33 lead. Delk hit two threes in the spurt, and Mercer one.

Syracuse finished with 24 turnovers -- including seven by Sims and six by Wallace -- against Kentucky's pressing defense, resulting in 27 Wildcats points. That was 19 more turnovers than Syracuse had in its semifinal win over Mississippi State.

"We had about three or four turnovers we couldn't afford in the game," Boeheim said. "I said we didn't have to play a perfect game, but we had to play a little better. We needed one more guy to step up with a big game."

Pub Date: 4/02/96

Three's company

Kentucky's Tony Delk last night tied the record for most three-pointers made in an NCAA championship game:

No. Player, School .. .. .. Yr.

7 Tony Delk, Ky. . .. .. .. 1996

7 Dave Sieger, Okla. ... .. 1988

7 Steve Alford, Ind. ... .. 1987

5 Donald Williams, N.C. ... 1993

5 Glen Rice, Mich. .. .. .. 1989

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