Targeted defending champs miss the mark in loss to Utes Utah, WAC get their first Final Four trip since 1966


March 22, 1998|By FROM STAFF REPORTS Paul McMullen, Jerry Bembry, Ken Murray and Don Markus contributed to this article.

Maybe Maryland took too much out of them in their West Regional semifinal.

Maybe Mike Bibby was contemplating the NBA draft instead of Utah's triangle-and-two defense.

They call Bibby "ET" because of his fingers, which belong on a 7-footer, and maybe the Arizona Wildcats' backcourt was abducted by aliens and replaced by androids.

How else to explain the no-show by the Wildcats at the Pond in Anaheim, Calif., yesterday, where they meekly exited the NCAA tournament they won last year? Utah's 76-51 victory in the West final included all manner of statistical oddities, the most unusual being Bibby's 0-for-7 line from three-point range.

"We had a bunch of guys who didn't hit their shots," said coach Lute Olson, who said he didn't make any adjustments for Utah's unexpected defensive strategy. "We run the same type of game plan no matter what type of defense we face. We were able to get shots in the 12- to 14-foot range, but we have to do something once we get there."

Since John Wooden took the UCLA dynasty with him, only Duke, in 1991 and '92, has been able to successfully defend an NCAA title, and Olson said that challenge wore on his team.

"We had a great run and the difficulty in repeating is quite obvious by today's game," Olson said. "We've had a target on our chest all season, and we held up through 35 games. I told our guys there is nothing to be disappointed about."

The 25-point margin of defeat was the largest by a No. 1 seed since UCLA lost, 106-79, to Indiana in the West final in 1992.

Utah will face North Carolina in San Antonio on Saturday. This will be the Utes' first Final Four since 1966, when Jerry Chambers was their star. No one from the Western Athletic Conference has been to the Final Four since.

"If they [the Utes] play as well as they did today, then they can play with anybody," Miles Simon said.

Harrick: Scars from UCLA

In 1995, Jim Harrick was on the top of the basketball world, winning the NCAA national title at UCLA. Less than two years later he was fired from that job, for first falsifying an expense report and later lying about it.

Harrick was asked yesterday whether he had any bitterness toward UCLA for dismissing him.

"The wounds heal, but the scars never go away," Harrick said. "You'll carry that with you your whole life.

Asked whether he still thinks about what happened, Harrick said: "Once I got this job, it's your first year there, you want to lay a foundation for your program, you're so wrapped up in everything you're doing you don't have time for anything.

"It's been one of the most enjoyable years I've ever had coaching."

While at UCLA, Harrick recruited many of the Stanford players, including Mark Madsen and freshmen twins Jarron and Jason pTC Collins. Jarron Collins came off the Stanford bench and gave the Cardinal the edge in the win Friday over Purdue.

"I have known the Collins twins since they were in the ninth grade," Harrick said. "They're both 6-10 and huge guys. They're going to be great players."

Home away from home

UConn did not bemoan the fact it had to play North Carolina in Greensboro, N.C., where the Tar Heels are 99-25 all-time, in front of a majority Carolina crowd.

"North Carolina is the best team in the country," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. "I'd be less than candid to say that the atmosphere didn't energize their team when they needed to be energized. But beyond that, I can't control things."

Said UConn's Khalid El-Amin: "It got loud, but wasn't a factor. The crowd couldn't shoot a jump shot for them. We were right where we wanted to be with five minutes to go, but didn't execute."

Langdon off mark again

Just as he was in last year's NCAA tournament, Duke guard Trajan Langdon finds himself in the throes of a shooting slump. Langdon is 7-for-33 overall, including 4-for-17 on threes.

What do his teammates and coaches tell him?

"Just keep shooting," he said. "That's the way for shooters to get out of slumps."

Kentucky north

Somebody asked Kentucky forward Allen Edwards if this year's team could beat last year's team, which lost to Arizona in the NCAA championship game.

"Do you mean, can this year's team beat the Boston Celtics?" Edwards said of the Rick Pitino-coached team that also includes former Wildcats Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty and Ron Mercer.


North Carolina's Bill Guthridge is the seventh first-year coach to lead his team to the Final Four. The last to do it was Michigan's Steve Fisher in 1989. This will be North Carolina's fifth Final Four in the past eight years, and 14th in school history, tying UCLA's NCAA record. Kentucky can reach its 13th Final Four today. The Tar Heels are the 13th ACC team to reach the Final Four since 1985. The SEC has the second-most Final Four entries in that period with nine.

Stanford guard Kris Weems went scoreless for the first time this season on Friday against Purdue, missing all 10 of his shots. Stanford is 8-0 on neutral courts. The Cardinal on Friday tied a season high in rebounds (53).

North Carolina's Antawn Jamison was named the MVP of the East Regional after his fifth straight double double, and headed a cast of four Tar Heels on the all-East team. Also selected were Vince Carter, Shammond Williams and Ed Cota. Richard Hamilton and El-Amin were named to the team from UConn. Jamison averaged 19 points and 12.8 rebounds in the four East Regional games.

Pub Date: 3/22/98

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