'Cats meow: It's Kentucky, Ariz 3-pointers bounce Tar Heels

UNC loses range

Bibby, Simon deliver Olson to 1st final, 66-58

March 30, 1997|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS -- A year ahead of schedule, noticeably undersized and conspicuously underhyped, Arizona's unflappable Wildcats are going where Lute Olson never dared go before.

That was destiny calling when the Wildcats stung another NCAA heavyweight last night, beating North Carolina in a national semifinal at the RCA Dome, 66-58.

The victory earned Olson his first appearance in the NCAA championship game after three previous Final Four failures. Arizona (24-9) will play Kentucky tomorrow night.

Criticized for his past NCAA failures -- among them three stunning first-round defeats this decade -- the Arizona coach pulled off his second major upset of this year's tournament. Ten days ago, his Wildcats knocked off No. 1 Kansas in a Southeast Regional semifinal.

"It was beneficial to us to have played Kansas, there's no question about that, because so many of the same types of things are done by Carolina," said Olson, now 1-4 in the Final Four.

"But I think the Kansas win gave us a lot of confidence that, hey, if we can beat Kansas, then there shouldn't be any reason we can't beat any team that we have to come up against."

To get to tomorrow night, Arizona had to break a 16-game North Carolina win streak, negate the Tar Heels' height advantage inside and force Carolina's best shooter into his worst night of the season.

The Wildcats did all that with remarkable quickness, tenacious defense and a three-point bonanza. Guards Mike Bibby (20 points) and Miles Simon (24) combined to shoot 9-for-19 from beyond the three-point arc, five in the game's decisive stretch.

"My mentality is, shoot the rock," said Bibby, a freshman point guard who got off to a shaky 1-for-7 start in the first half. "The way our offense is run, if you have the open shot, you're going to shoot it. They left me open and I shot it."

Bibby blistered the Tar Heels (28-7) for four three-pointers in the final seven minutes, in stark contrast to the frigid 1-for-13 shooting of Carolina's Shammond Williams.

VTC After hitting a three-pointer in the first 45 seconds of the game, Williams missed his next 12 attempts, seven from three-point range. Instrumental in that drought was the defensive work of Michael Dickerson and Jason Terry, who took turns defending him.

"The key with Shammond was limiting his touches," Simon said. "He tries to come off a lot of picks. But Michael and Jason were fighting through the picks, and weren't giving him open looks. We wanted to make him put it on the floor as much as we could because he's a great spot-up shooter."

Williams, named the most outstanding player in the East Regional last week in Syracuse, N.Y., finished with three points and four turnovers.

"He's a dependable shooter," Tar Heels coach Dean Smith said. "We got some good looks, and probably I took him out too much. I used to stay with Don Williams."

Smith's offense consisted of a remarkable first-half run by Vince Carter, who scored 13 consecutive points, and a brutal second half, when the Tar Heels shot 28.2 percent. Carolina finished with a season-low 31.1 percent.

Even with 7-foot-3 Serge Zwikker and 6-9 Antawn Jamison inside, the Tar Heels could manage no more than a 52-48 rebounding advantage.

"I thought the play of A. J. Bramlett and Gene Edgerson off the bench, and Donnell Harris was really outstanding," Olson said after running his NCAA tournament record against Atlantic Coast Conference teams to 5-0.

"And the other key was Miles in that first half when it seemed like no one else could make a bucket. He really did a great job of holding us in there until such time as some of the other guys started hitting shots."

Simon, who had wanted to attend Carolina while growing up in Fullerton, Calif., scored 15 of his 24 points in the first half. He almost single-handedly pulled the Wildcats into a 34-31 halftime lead after they trailed by as many as 11 points (15-4) in the early going.

A junior, Simon is the leader on a team that has only one senior -- and he's non-playing. It's a team that few outside of Tucson considered a legitimate threat to get to the Final Four.

"I'm thrilled as any coach would be to have this opportunity," Olson said. "But I'm even more thrilled given the group of guys that we have, because they're fighters, they're competitors, and they have been all year long.

"I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to watch them play on Monday night. It's the first ever, and I told them as long as we've gone this far, we may as well get it done on Monday as well."

Arizona's road

NCAA tournament results for Arizona, which was the No. 4 seed in the Southeast Regional:

Team (Seed) ........... Result

Southeast Regional

South Alabama (13) .... W, 65-57

Col. of Charleston (12) W, 73-69

Kansas (1) ............ W, 85-82

Providence (10) ....... W, 96-92*

National semifinals

N. Carolina (1 East) .. W, 66-58

* - Overtime

Pub Date: 3/30/97

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