Big and balanced, Utah sinks Navy 2nd-seeded Utes send Midshipmen packing from West, 75-61

March 15, 1997|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

TUCSON, Ariz. -- For all their hustle and effort yesterday, the Navy Midshipmen had to face a simple truth at the final buzzer of their West Regional opening- round game against Utah: The Utes belong in a higher basketball league.

Ranked No. 2 in the country, Utah (27-3) took command with a 12-0 run early in the first half and cruised to a 75-61 victory over Navy (20-9) at McKale Arena. The Utes will play North Carolina-Charlotte, which whipped Georgetown, 79-67, in the second round tomorrow afternoon.

The Western Athletic Conference champions also proved they are much more than a one-man team. All-America forward Keith Van Horn, a certain high NBA lottery pick, scored a modest 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while limited to 27 minutes against the under-sized Midshipmen.

But this was one game when the Utes did not need a spectacular effort from Van Horn, who won two WAC tournament contests last week with last-second shots. Three other starters -- 6-foot-11 center Michael Doleac (19), and guards Ben Caton (14) and Andre Miller (12) -- also scored in double figures in Rick Majerus' balanced offense.

Utah led 68-46 with six minutes left before Majerus mercifully emptied his bench.

"The final score was in no way indicative of how bad they kicked our butts," said coach Don DeVoe, who guided the Mids to a Patriot League title.

"Coach Majerus was generous to us in the final minutes when he had a bunch of youngsters on the floor and they made some turnovers.

"Utah is definitely the best team we played this year. They have a lot of weapons, size and great discipline. When you have so many players who can shoot from so many angles and they're playing against a smaller team, it takes a lot of patience to stay in your offense."

This was definitely one game in which the statistics did not lie. Utah shot 57 percent from the field and limited the Mids to 32 percent on 24-for-76 shooting.

Navy's inspirational junior forward, Hassan Booker, displayed his usual all-out hustle to score a team-high 15 points and grab eight rebounds, and feisty point guard Brian Walker, playing his final game, scored all 12 of his points in the second half. Basically, that was the Navy offense.

Utah concentrated on stopping Navy scoring leader Michael Heary, who came into the game averaging 18.2 points. The junior swingman made only two of 12 shots and finished with nine points against the tight policing of Caton and reserve David Jackson.

"I knew they'd come out and attack me," Heary said. "In the past, when my outside shot wasn't falling, I'd drive the lane and draw fouls. But today, it was a real problem trying to get by Van Horn and Doleac. They made me settle for the outside shot. I guess that's why they're No. 2 in the country."

Added Booker: "We spent a lot of time setting screens and trying to get Mike open shots. But when they shut down Heary, we needed other guys to step up. Today, it just didn't happen."

To their credit, the Mids did not display butterflies against the Utes, jumping out to an 8-5 lead, with senior co-captain Michael Green contributing four points. But Green would not score again.

No one from Navy scored for the next six minutes as the Utes used Van Horn's five-inch height advantage against Green in the low post and the quickness of Caton and Miller in transition to forge ahead, 17-8.

By halftime, the lead had ballooned to 40-24, with the Mids shooting 26 percent. Twice in the second half, they closed to within 13, the last time at 59-46 on a jumper by Matt Sladky. But Doleac, an agile giant with excellent shooting range, sparked an 8-0 spurt to put the game out of reach.

Said Van Horn, who passed Danny Ainge (Brigham Young) as the WAC's all-time scorer with 2,475 points in his college career: "It was a good game for the starters because we were able to get a lot of rest. But we knew no matter how hard we play, we couldn't blow Navy away because they're just aggressive and relentless."

Looking ahead to next year, DeVoe knows how difficult it will be replacing Walker and Green.

"We're really going to miss their athleticism," said DeVoe. "You can't measure the way they help us win games, forcing turnovers, getting loose balls, taking charges.

"We've been a winner since Walker became a starter his freshman year. And Green has been our defensive stopper the last three years. We're going to really need a couple of new recruits to step up and fill the void next season."

Pub Date: 3/15/97

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