ACC rivals stage revival College basketball: Mike Brey and Dennis Wolff, former ACC assistant coaches, meet for the first time as head coaches in a tournament championship as their teams battle for the America East title.: MARCH MADNESS

March 08, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

NEWARK, DEL. — Sun staff writer Don Markus continues the March Madness Tour that will take him to eight conference tournaments in eight days. NEWARK, Del. -- Mike Brey and Dennis Wolff have competed for years, going back to when they were both assistants in the Atlantic Coast Conference. They were part of a group of coaches who played pickup ball together on the summer recruiting trail. They recruited many of the same players while Brey was at Duke and Wolff was at Virginia.

Yesterday, they shared the same sideline at the Bob Carpenter Center and the same dream -- taking their respective teams to the NCAA tournament as the champion of the America East conference.

Brey, in his third year at Delaware, was coaching in his first championship game. Wolff, in his fourth year at Boston University, was coaching in his third straight title game and trying to lead the Terriers to back-to-back championships.

Their moods hours before the 11: 30 a.m. tip-off were vastly different.

Wake-up call

It is 7: 30 a.m. in a hotel a few miles up Interstate 95 from the University of Delaware campus. Wolff, 41, has just finished a workout "to get rid of the stress." He is sitting in a conference room set up for his team's breakfast and is awaiting a telephone call for his players from Tunji Awojobi.

Awojobi, the star of last year's NCAA tournament team, is calling from Cyprus, where he is playing professional basketball. Awojobi had wanted to come to the game, but the owner of the team he plays for wouldn't let him out of practice.

"Just like 'The Nightmare,' " says one of the players, referring to Awojobi's nickname, "The Nigerian Nightmare." "Anything to get out of practice."

The mood reflects Wolff, relaxed but serious. After breakfast, the team heads to the coach's small suite where they watch some tape from the two regular-season games against Delaware.

Then he has one of his assistants pop in a tape from last year's league championship victory over Drexel. "Just a little reminder of where we were this day last year," Wolff tells his players.

Nervous night

A few miles away, Mike Brey is getting ready for the biggest game of his life. He had been an assistant for eight years at Duke, during which the Blue Devils won back-to-back national championships in 1991 and 1992 and went to the Final Four five times.

"He slept better than I thought he would," Tish Brey said about her husband of 14 years. "He slept better than I did. He was nervous, but very focused."

Pre-game drill

In the locker room before the game, Wolff goes over a few last-minute details.

"Early in the game, let's make simple plays," Wolff tells his players. "But by no reason do I want you to be tentative. It's important that you send them the message that you're ready to win the game. I don't care about the hoopla, about ESPN. We've worked our butts off, so let's go after it."

Court coverage

The largest crowd in the history of the Carpenter Center -- 5,205 -- is in full voice when the Blue Hens take the court. The court itself holds special meaning to Brey. It was the court inside the Metrodome in Minneapolis on which Duke won the second of its titles back in 1992.

Before the game starts, Brey discreetly massages the wood.

"I said to it, 'You've been good to me before, be good to me again,' " Brey would say later.

Of the two coaches, the pressure is clearly on Brey.

"I know last year, when we had the home game, I felt the pressure," Wolff had said yesterday morning. "You're home, everyone is talking about the game. You have a little sense that if you lose, you're letting everyone down."

If Brey is nervous, it doesn't reflect in his players. The Blue Hens, a young team picked in the preseason to finish fifth, hit six of their first eight shots and take a 16-4 lead while the Terriers miss 17 of their first 19 shots. But it doesn't last, and a Delaware mistake in the closing seconds helps BU cut its deficit to three, 29-26.

Brey is clearly unhappy.

"You talk about toughness," he tells his players. "So get on the damn boards as a team and go to the hole. You got 20 minutes now. Heads up."

It looks for a while as if the Blue Hens have their heads where they shouldn't be. Leading 31-28 early in the second half, Delaware falls behind for the first time when BU goes on an 8-0 run with star Joey Beard on the bench in foul trouble.

Trailing 40-35 after a three-point shot by junior guard Billy Beal, Delaware gets a crucial three-point shot from sophomore guard Kestutis Marciulionis.

"If we make a stop and go up seven or eight," Wolff says later, "I think it's a different game."

Instead, Delaware scores nine straight points to take the lead, and takes control. The lead grows to 11 before the Terriers make a late run, cutting their deficit to five on a three-point play by Beard with 2: 13 to play. But after a turnover, Beard misses the front end of a one-and-one with 1: 31 to go.

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