Proud UCLA wins 'Tractor' pull Ky. blasts Saint Louis

Michigan rallies fall short

up 46-18 at half, 'Cats roll

South at Atlanta

March 16, 1998|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Steve Lavin and UCLA exorcised some ghosts of John Wooden.

Streaking Kentucky moved a step closer to a region final showdown with vintage rival Duke.

Brian Ellerbe and Michigan's quest to duplicate Steve Fisher's 1989 NCAA championship run ended.

And wisecracking Saint Louis coach Charlie Spoonhour ran out of one-liners.

That was the scenario at the Georgia Dome yesterday as the sixth-seeded UCLA Bruins and second-seeded Kentucky Wildcats picked up NCAA tournament Sweet 16 berths with second-round South Regional victories.

UCLA and Kentucky will meet Friday in St. Petersburg, Fla., in the round of 16, with the winner meeting the Duke-Syracuse survivor.

Lavin, 33, and some of his players couldn't help but gloat a little after they upset third-seeded Michigan, 85-82, on eight straight free throws by Bruins senior Kris Johnson in the final 38 seconds.

"Despite the feeling back in Los Angeles [where Lavin has been under pressure from media and fans], we've made progress this season," Lavin said of the 24-8 Bruins. "Sure, we would like to be 32-0, have 88 straight wins and 10 national championships [reference to Wooden's glory years], but it's not going to happen anytime soon."

Johnson, who led UCLA with 25 points, said, "It was great to win this game and prove to the media back home that we could go farther than the second round like they predicted for us."

Before UCLA extinguished Michigan (25-9) and squashed Robert Tractor" Traylor's bold Final Four prediction, hot-shooting Kentucky (31-4) continued on a nine-game roll that has made the Wildcats one of the most feared teams in the country.

Kentucky obliterated 10th-seeded Saint Louis, 88-61, with an all-around performance that began with a slightly incredible first half.

The Wildcats shot 59.4 percent from the field in the first half and held the Billikens (22-11) to 18 points for a 46-18 lead at the break.

The first-half show even prompted conservative first-year coach Tubby Smith to comment, "It was probably our best half of the season. I'll tell you for sure after I grade the films."

The way Kentucky has played over the last nine games and dismantled all comers, it has become harder every game for Smith to pick out "a best." "As a coach, you're always looking for the perfect game and I think we've come pretty close in some of the last five games," said Smith, whose team has outscored Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina, South Carolina State and Saint Louis 437-329.

All five of those wins have come at the Georgia Dome, beginning with three straight to win the Southeastern Conference tourney.

Yesterday, senior guard Jeff Sheppard led Kentucky with 18 points and four teammates also reached double figures.

The Kentucky defense swarmed all over hotshot Saint Louis freshman Larry Hughes, holding him to 4-for-17 from the field for 11 points.

Hughes entered the NCAA tournament as the second-leading freshman scorer in the country (21.4 points a game).

"Maybe we're a little farther away from the top teams than we thought," said Billikens junior forward Ryan Luechtfeld.

For UCLA, it was mostly a case of three highly decorated seniors, Johnson, J.R. Henderson and Toby Bailey, refusing to have their collegiate careers end without gaining some more respect.

Johnson, Henderson and Bailey were all part of the 1995 UCLA national championship team, but they since have endured a first-round loss in the '96 tournament and subsequent controversy that led to the dismissal of coach Jim Harrick before last season and this year's suspension and eventual departure of 6-foot-10 Jelani McCoy.

Not to mention two humiliating losses to Duke (120-84) and North Carolina (109-68) this season.

Yesterday, Johnson (25), Bailey (19) and Henderson (13) combined for 57 points, 18 rebounds, 12 assists and seven steals.

BTC "I know it sounds like a broken record but I couldn't be prouder of my seniors," said Lavin. "Through all the tough times, I could always count on them."

Michigan trailed by 11 points at halftime and made several runs, but never took the lead.

Johnson, the son of former UCLA and NBA star Marques Johnson, conceded the Final Four prediction by Traylor "helped a little but it wasn't our main focus."

Traylor led Michigan with 19 points and 10 rebounds, and insisted he didn't regret his remarks.

"Our guards weren't on from the outside [Louis Bullock went 7-for-27 overall, 2-for-14 on threes] and we went away from the things we wanted to do," said Traylor.

Ellerbe, the former Loyola coach who took over when Fisher was removed just before the season for alleged NCAA improprieties, was asked about his future at Michigan.

"I have no comment on it," he said. "I do want to thank Robert Traylor and Travis Conlan [senior guard] for being the two most influential guys in why I was able to coach this team this year."

Pub Date: 3/16/98

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