For Van Horn, NCAA is only test in March Focused Utah senior says experience can help team reach Final Four

March 15, 1997|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

TUCSON, Ariz. -- In his final run at the Final Four, Utah's Keith Van Horn will leave no stone unturned. If this is March, the commitment is total.

No distractions, no detours, no tests?

"It takes three weeks of complete attention to basketball [to reach the Final Four]," Van Horn said yesterday after Utah began the journey with a 75-61 victory over Navy in the West Regional. "You have to do things like talk to teachers to postpone tests, and just focus on basketball."

Yes, Van Horn said, he has taken care of rescheduling those distracting and burdensome exams. So it was with a clear mind that he scored 16 points and took 11 rebounds in Utah's tournament opener.

Neat, tidy, effective numbers, even if the game itself was not.

After losing to Kentucky a year ago in the Midwest semifinal, the second-seeded Utes (27-3) appear better prepared to make a Final Four run.

This is no one-man show. The Utes had four players in double figures against Navy, and coach Rick Majerus gave significant minutes to four freshmen.

Utah gets North Carolina-Charlotte here tomorrow. After that, the next opponent figures to be Wake Forest -- whom the Utes lost to early this season -- and ulti mately, there's the West's top seed, Kentucky.

"I've love to play them [Kentucky] again," said 6-foot-11 junior Michael Doleac, who had a game-high 19 points against Navy despite playing with a sinus infection.

"We're a lot better. They're very tough to beat, but this is a different situation. If you played them 100 times last year, you couldn't beat them."

Van Horn says the biggest difference in the Utes this year is their perspective, the four freshmen not withstanding.

"I think with the guys we have back, experience plays a role," he said. "People don't realize how much experience plays in the tournament.

"Last year we came in to get a win and make a mark for ourselves. This year we already have the mark, and we want to do some damage."

Their parts mesh nicely.

In addition to Van Horn's all-around game, Doleac has improved his outside game this season. Guard Ben Caton led the break, hitting six of seven shots yesterday for 14 points. And point guard Andre Miller (5-for-7, 12 points, six assists) plays with a flair that helps pull the package together.

And the Utes know their limitations.

"Because we lack a lot of athleticism other teams have, we have to rely more on each other," Caton said. "It's a total team. We spend a lot of time together on the road. A lot of our motion offense relies on screens.

"I see a lot of teams throw up crazy shots, but you don't see that here."

Pub Date: 3/15/97

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