Wojciechowski plays career in reverse as final game unfolds Duke guard starts quickly but finishes on sad note

South Regional notebook

Ncaa Tournament

March 23, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- He had been there before, after other big games, after other tough defeats. But yesterday's 86-84 loss to Kentucky in the NCAA South Regional final was different for Duke point guard Steve Wojciechowski.

It would be the last time the senior from Severna Park put on -- and took off -- his Duke uniform.

"I'm feeling pretty empty," Wojciechowski said an hour or so after the game, sitting by his stall in the Blue Devils' dressing room at Tropicana Field. "The only regret I have is that I won't be able to go out with these guys on the court anymore. I love the players and the coaches. I'm going to miss them."

The game itself had pretty much been a replay of Wojciechowski's career at Duke, a career he had called "a four-year roller coaster" a couple of days before. But it was the reverse of what happened between his rocky freshman year and his remarkable senior year.

It started well for Wojciechow- ski and the Blue Devils. He hit two of his first three shots, all of them three-point attempts, and helped Duke's offense run to near perfection in a first half when he scored six points, with three assists and no turnovers as the Blue Devils ran out to a 49-39 lead.

"We felt good about the offense," said Wojciechowski. "We felt there was no reason it was going to stop."

It did. After picking up where he left off in the first half -- punching the air after another three-pointer gave Duke a 67-51 lead -- Wojciechowski had problems containing Kentucky point guard Wayne Turner. It got bad enough that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had to switch William Avery on Turner.

"As I've said before, Wayne Turner is one of the most underrated guards in the country," said Wojciechowski. "He did a great job penetrating. He's the guy who makes their team go."

Because Krzyzewski needed a player with Avery's speed to try and make a last-second dash upcourt for the final shot, Wojciechowski spent the last 4.5 seconds of his career sitting on the Duke bench. Wojciechowski wasn't about to second-guess his coach's decision.

"I've put my faith in him for years, and my career turned out a lot better than it should have," said Wojciechowski, who finished with 10 points, four assists, three steals and two turnovers in his final college game. "It's turned out a lot better than anyone expected."

There has been talk of Wojciechowski staying in Durham and joining Krzyzewski's coaching staff. Or maybe going back to Baltimore and getting his first experience there before returning to Duke to work for Krzyzewski.

"I have a passion for the game, I have a passion for working with kids," he said. "Right now, I'm not thinking about anything but this game."

Her old Kentucky home

One of Kentucky's biggest fans is actress Ashley Judd, who attends many of the team's games. During yesterday's game, she could be seen waving a blue-and-white pompom and talking on a cell phone. Whom was she talking to?

"I called my stepdad," Judd said in the team's locker room after the game. "He was so pumped. I also called a producer friend of mine, C.W. Woods, a Jewish guy from the Bronx who had 'My Old Kentucky Home' played at his Bar Mitzvah."

Speaking on behalf of Kentucky fans everywhere, Judd felt vindicated for her team's overtime loss to the Blue Devils in the 1992 East Regional final. "This was the mother of all grudge matches," she said. "This doesn't erase it. It tempers it. Now it's appropriately bookended."

Judd will be one of the presenters tonight at the Academy Awards.

Will she ad lib her speech in honor of her beloved 'Cats?

"No, it's already written," she said. "But I will wear a Wildcats tattoo on my thigh."

No end to rivalry

This rivalry will continue for the next two years. The Blue lTC Devils and Wildcats are scheduled to meet in December in the Jimmy V. Classic and the following November in the Coaches vs. Cancer doubleheader.

Commonwealth connection

Two of the biggest shots for Kentucky were hit by the only two players on the team who grew up in the Commonwealth. Former walk-on Cameron Mills hit his first shot of the postseason after six misses with a three that gave the Wildcats an 81-80 lead, and Scott Padgett hit a three for an 84-81 lead.

"It may sound a little silly, but the first thing I thought is, 'What should I do with this,' " recalled Mills, who had been inserted in the lineup because of foul trouble on Jeff Sheppard, the team's leading scorer yesterday with 18 points. "But the ball came to me and nobody was there so I went straight up with it."

Straight up and straight in.

Pub Date: 3/23/98

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