North Carolina (34-3) vs. Utah (29-3)

March 28, 1998|By Paul McMullen

What: NCAA semifinal

Where: Alamodome, San Antonio

When: 8: 12 p.m. today

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: North Carolina by 8 1/2

How they got here: North Carolina finished second in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 13-3 record, but won the ACC tournament, an automatic bid and was seeded No. 1 in the East Regional. The Tar Heels beat Navy, 88-52; North Carolina-Charlotte, 93-83, in overtime; Michigan State, 73-58, and Connecticut, 75-64. Utah won the Mountain Division of the Western Athletic Conference with a 12-2 record, but lost its first game in the WAC tournament and was an at-large selection, seeded No. 3 in the West Regional. The Utes beat San Francisco, 85-68; Arkansas, 75-69; West Virginia, 65-62; and Arizona, 76-51.

Ranking: North Carolina was No. 1 in the final regular-season poll. Utah was No. 7.

Coaches: Bill Guthridge is in his first season as a head coach. Rick Majerus is 308-110 in 14 seasons as a head coach -- 209-58 in nine seasons at Utah, 43-17 in two seasons at Ball State and 56-35 in three seasons at Marquette. This is his seventh NCAA team, as he led Utah to the West Regional final last year.

Key matchups:

Perimeter: Majerus dusted off a triangle-and-two defense to stop top-seeded Arizona's All-American trio in the West Regional final. The element of surprise is gone, but Ed Cota, Shammond Williams and Vince Carter still haven't faced the rugged brand of defense that Andre Miller, Drew Hansen and Alex Jensen can put up for Utah. Miller is bigger and stronger than Cota and Williams, and Guthridge could throw Carter at the Utes' point guard.

Inside: Majerus echoed everyone else who has faced North Carolina this year when he said that it's difficult to double down on Player of the Year Antawn Jamison, because the Tar Heels' perimeter players will bury you if given enough time and space. Michael Doleac, the Utes' leading scorer and rebounder, packs 265 pounds, and he'll try to lean on Jamison the way Maryland's Obinna Ekezie did in the ACC semifinals. Hanno Mottola, Finland's contribution to the Final Four, busted out of a slump with 14 points in the West final, but he'll have to work for his points against Ademola Okulaja and Makhtar Ndiaye, who are solid defenders.

Bench: It's Williams' turn to come off the bench in Guthridge's six-man starting rotation, and when he comes in, look for David Jackson to follow. He's the sophomore reserve for Utah who was mainly responsible for shutting down Arizona's Mike Bibby. Forward Britton Johnsen gives the Utes a seven-man rotation, and North Carolina's lack of depth shouldn't be a problem here.

Low point of season: For a week in February, North Carolina had to hear about an improbable, 14-point loss to N.C. State. When the Utes were upset by Nevada-Las Vegas, 54-51, in the quarterfinals of the WAC tournament, Majerus had to wonder if this postseason was going to continue to be unfulfilling.

What North Carolina has to do to win: The emphasis this week has been on Utah's defense, but the Tar Heels are pretty good at that end themselves. They were 11th in the nation in field-goal percentage defense, and they've got to stop Miller from penetrating the way he did against Arizona.

What Utah has to do to win: The Utes have to play the game at their more deliberate pace, not North Carolina's. Utah will probably go with its normal, nasty, man-to-man defense, and hope that Doleac can get the thin Tar Heels in foul trouble.

Bottom line: Arizona took Utah lightly. North Carolina won't.

Pub Date: 3/28/98

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