Purdue homes in on Final 4

Boilermakers oust Gonzaga, 75-66, move 1 win from Indy trip

Ncaa Tournament

March 24, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Gene Keady's history with Purdue in the NCAA tournament is not a pretty one, filled with early exits and only one trip to the Elite Eight in his first 17 tries. It was in stark contrast to Gonzaga, the Cinderella team that came within a few ticks of making the Final Four last season.

That all changed last night.

The sixth-seeded Boilermakers built a 13-point lead midway through the first half and held off three second-half runs by the 10th-seeded Bulldogs in the first West Regional semifinal game at The Pit. A 75-66 victory carried Purdue to within a game of its first Final Four appearance in 31 years for what might amount to home-court advantage in Indianapolis.

"It's a great feeling to know that we're one game -- 40 minutes -- and we'll be going home," said Purdue captain Brian Cardinal, alluding to the fact that the school's campus in West Lafayette, Ind., Is a little more than an hour's drive from the RCA Dome.

It marks the first time since 1994 that the Boilermakers advanced to the regional final. The defeat ended a remarkable postseason by Gonzaga, which last year upset Stanford in the Sweet 16 before narrowly losing to eventual national champion Connecticut in the West Regional final in Tempe, Ariz.

After trailing by as many as 17 points earlier in the second half and by 16, 61-45, with a little over seven minutes left, Gonzaga (26-9) scored eight straight points to give its fans who had come from Spokane, Wash., some hope with a little over 3 1/2 minutes left. But Cardinal scored, ending the run and any chance of a comeback.

Senior guard Jaraan Cornell, an All-Big Ten player the past two years, led Purdue (24-9) with 18 points and seven rebounds. Three other Boilermakers scored in double figures, including junior guard Carsan Cunningham (14).

Casey Cavalry had carried the Bulldogs offensively, finishing with a game-high 20. Gonzaga hurt itself with an abysmal first half.

After hitting five of their first six shots, the Bulldogs missed their next five and 15 of their next 18 overall. It helped turn early leads of 10-6 and 13-10 into a 30-17 deficit that remained at 13, 35-22, going into halftime.

The Bulldogs were guard-awful last night.

Senior Gary Santangelo, who had scored 26 points in his team's upset of second-seeded St. John's, finished with only nine on four-of-18 shooting. Senior Richie Frahm, who had scored 31 against Louisville in the opening round, scored most of his 14 points after the game had been decided.

"It was tough, because that's been a strength for the four years I've been here," said senior center Axel Dench. "Our outside shooting is the thing that always carried us. It was just a case of too little, too late. We just ran out of time."

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