Utah rock Arizona UNC rolls

Utes stun 'Cats, 76-51, gain Final 4

Ncaa Tournament

March 22, 1998|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Does Rick Majerus like Tex-Mex?

Can a Wildcat escape an unexpected trap?

Yes, and no.

Arizona was supposed to visit San Antonio later this week to defend its NCAA basketball championship, but yesterday it got swamped at the Arrowhead Pond, where Utah got the game of a lifetime from junior point guard Andre Miller and the coaching move of a career by Majerus to win the West Regional final in a walk, 76-51.

Arizona held to 51 points? The Wildcats can score that in a half, but Lute Olson's bunch was completely undone by a triangle-and-two defense. The All-America trio of Mike Bibby, Miles Simon and Michael Dickerson combined for 19 points, just one one more than Miller, whose triple double included 14 rebounds and 13 assists.

The third-seeded Utes (29-3) will meet North Carolina in a national semifinal Saturday at the Alamodome. It will be their second straight game against a No. 1 seed, as Arizona (30-5) saw its bid to become only the second repeat champion in 25 years fall pitifully short.

"It was an incredible team effort from top to bottom," said Majerus, the bon vivant who's a larger-than-life figure in Utah, which he is always rumored to be leaving. "I am so fortunate, and so proud to be their coach. I am overwhelmed."

Ditto for Arizona.

After the game, Majerus called his mother back in Milwaukee. He surely got around to reaching Al McGuire, the first of his many mentors. This will be Utah's first trip to the Final Four since 1966, but Majerus was there in 1977, when he was an assistant to McGuire at Marquette, and its NCAA title run included the old triangle-and-two.

Majerus stationed big men Michael Doleac and Hanno Mottola close to the basket, and Miller near the foul line for a three-man zone. Then he ran Alex Jensen, Drew Hansen and sub David Jackson directly at Simon and Bibby, because "we were not going to let your guns beat us."

Utah is a team every bit as cerebral as Princeton, and some of Majerus' veterans wondered what in the world the coach was thinking with the ploy.

"I thought they'd score over 100 points on us," Miller said. "The second unit scores on the first almost every time we practice that defense."

And there's the rub. Majerus hadn't used the triangle-and-two all season, and it caught Arizona's backcourt, well, off guard.

Winners of 23 of their previous 24 games, the Wildcats were uncomfortable attacking the Utes and hesitant with their usually impeccable strokes. Bibby and Simon never got untracked against Utah's perimeter players.

"We defend our butts off," Majerus said. "We're here because we defend."

Utah yielded 56.1 points per game in the regular season, fourth in the nation.

The Wildcats' big three concur. Bibby, Simon and Dickerson were a combined 0-for-9 in the first 13 minutes and a confounding 6-for-36 for the game. Arizona finished more than 40 points below its average. Its 20-point total in the first half was a season low, as were its 31 in the second and its 28.3 percent shooting (17-for-60).

"They took us apart and played hard, just like we did to other teams during the season," Bibby said. "They made it a point at the beginning to come at us and never stopped. They whipped us. We couldn't stop them."

Arizona lives off its ability to spurt past an opponent, but a 5-0 run after Miller opened the game with an ominous one-on-one display was its biggest run.

The Wildcats never scored more than two unanswered baskets, while the supposedly rumbling Utes had runs of 10-0 and 8-0. The first put them ahead 17-8, and Arizona never got closer than five points. The second pushed the spread to 41-25 with 15: 32 left, and Arizona's counter never came.

"We never did get one of those runs we had all season long," said center A. J. Bramlett, who was slowed by his second foul in the seventh minute. "Utah did a good job of answering anytime we scored and it was hard for us to get a lot of opportunities because they were always back on defense. They played a great game."

Olson said the outcome was about how well Utah played, and not how poorly Arizona performed, but his team didn't appear ready. Other than complaining to officials, the only emotion his side displayed came after Miller completed Utah's pivotal 10-0 run, when Cool Hand Lute turned into the Tasmanian Devil, stomped a foot and screamed at assistant Phil Johnson.

"I told our guys last night [Friday] after our tape session, that Utah was going to be as sound as any team we faced," Olson said. "They may have some limitations, but they do a great job with the personnel they have."

The guys of limited talent repeatedly beat Arizona's lineup of greyhounds down the floor. The NBA's SuperSonics played the Lakers in Los Angeles on Friday night, and Majerus burned the midnight oil and vinegar with Seattle coach George Karl, who had some suggestions on how to beat the Wildcats' pressure defense.

You can't press if you can't score, but when Arizona did go full-court, Utah went right by it.

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