Kentucky (34-4) vs. Utah (30-3)

March 30, 1998|By Paul McMullen

What: NCAA championship

Where: Alamodome, San Antonio

When: 9: 18 tonight

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

Line: Kentucky by 3 1/2

Final Four histories: Kentucky is in its 13th Final Four and has six titles to its credit, second only to UCLA. Utah is in its fourth Final Four; the Utes' only title came in 1944.

NCAA seeds: Kentucky won the Southeastern Conference tournament to earn an automatic berth and was seeded No. 2 in the South Regional. Utah lost the quarterfinals of the Western Athletic Conference tournament to UNLV and was an at-large selection, seeded No. 3 in the West.

Coaches: Tubby Smith, in his first season at Kentucky, is 158-66 in seven seasons overall. Rick Majerus is 309-110 in 14 seasons as a head coach, 210-58 in nine seasons at Utah.

Point guards: This position will be key, as Kentucky's Wayne Turner and Utah's Andre Miller were MVPs in their regionals. The Wildcats will press Miller, but he's as good a press offense as there is. Kentucky rotated Turner, Allen Edwards and Heshimu Evans on Stanford's Arthur Lee, and look for Smith to keep placing fresh bodies on Miller. Turner's free-throw shooting (62.5 percent) hasn't caught up to Kentucky yet.

Shooting guards: Utah's Drew Hansen is a defensive specialist, and he is prepared to fight through the screens Kentucky sets for leading scorer Hansen Jeff Sheppard. The Wildcats got by Stanford thanks to a career-high 27 points from the fifth-year senior. Hansen is a shooting guard who doesn't shoot much, as he averages less than four attempts.

Small forwards: Edwards dealt with the death of his mother last month in admirable fashion, and he's one more three-point threat that Utah has to worry about. He'll be matched against Alex Jensen, who was slow starting this season, after spending two years on a Mormon mission. Jensen has guarded all five positions this season, and he's Utah's second-leading rebounder.

Power forwards: Both struggled offensively in the semifinals, as Scott Padgett was 2-for-8 against Stanford and Hanno Mottola went 2-for-9 against North Carolina. Padgett is a fifth-year senior, and Mottola has made an easy transition from Finland to the American game. He's stronger than he looks.

Centers: Foul trouble limited the first-half minutes for Michael Doleac and Nazr Mohammed in the semifinals, but both finished with big lines. Doleac, Utah's leading scorer and rebounder, is LTC capable of stepping out and hitting three-pointers (38.7 percent). Mohammed is Kentucky's top shot-blocker (73), and if Doleac can draw him away from the basket, it would open the lane for others.

Benches: Kentucky is supposed to be deeper, but Utah used nine players against North Carolina in the semifinals, and the Wildcats' 10th man only played one minute against Stanford. Smith will bring in his son, Saul, and Cameron Mills in the backcourt, Evans at forward and Jamaal Magloire for Mohammed. Guard David Jackson is as good a defender as any of the Utah starters, and freshman forward Britton Johnsen gives the Utes an offensive lift.

What Kentucky has to do to win: Slow Miller, which no one has been able to do in this tournament. Turner has to distribute the ball the way he has been of late, and make some free throws for a change. He was 4-for-9 against Stanford.

What Utah has to do to win: The Utes' success has been predicated on denying the opponent its favorite offensive options, but this time it has to stop a variety of weapons. Utah must remain relaxed at the offensive end, where it has shot 51.6 percent from the field in the tournament.

Bottom line: Utah is closer in talent to Kentucky than the average fan realizes. Can the Majerus magic milk one more win out of this team's run?

Pub Date: 3/30/98

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