Bears are bad news for Villanova, 75-68 Even without its star, Cal too much for Wildcats

East Regional: NCAA TOURNAMENT

March 16, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- California and Villanova provided an interesting contrast yesterday in the second round of the NCAA tournament's East Regional at Lawrence Joel Coliseum. While one team was exceeding expectations, the other wan't close.

The Bears, who came into the season unranked and seemingly in turmoil after the sudden firing of coach Todd Bozeman, are in the Sweet 16 and will play top-seeded North Carolina. The Wildcats, who once hoped of winning a national championship with freshman Tim Thomas, are out.

A 75-68 victory by fifth-seeded Cal over fourth-seeded Villanova was not so much an upset as it was a statement. It showed that a team which plays the entire game without its star -- in this case, injured guard Ed Gray -- might be better off than a team whose star spends a key part of the game in foul trouble.

"I thought Tim getting in foul trouble really hurt," said Villanova coach Steve Lappas, whose 25-9 Wildcats went out in the second round for the second straight year. "Having him out and getting him back in there with four fouls was very difficult because he's been a big part of our offense."

After scoring 28 points and getting 15 rebounds in Villanova's opening-round win over Long Island, Thomas was held to 11 points and five rebounds in 27 minutes yesterday. His counterpart, Cal senior Tony Gonzalez, scored 23 and took advantage of Thomas' absence.

Some comments the Wildcats made after their first-round game motivated the Bears, particularly senior center Alfred Grigsby. "I read that they said they'd rather play us than Princeton, but we have four or five of the strongest guys in the country," Grigsby said. "It's more than being physically tough. It's being mentally strong."

In advancing to its first Sweet 16 since Jason Kidd led Cal past Duke three years ago, the Bears (23-8) also might have ended the short college career of Thomas.

A 6-9 forward, Thomas declined to comment on speculation that he would leave Villanova for the NBA.

Pub Date: 3/16/97

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