'Cats' road to final littered with No. 1s

Arizona trying to repeat run of 1997

rosters full of geographic diversity


NCAA Tournament

April 02, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS - If Arizona wins tonight, it would be the second team to defeat three No. 1 seeds on the way to the NCAA men's basketball championship. So far, it has beaten Illinois in the Midwest Regional final, then beat the Southeast's top seed, Michigan State, on Saturday to meet East Regional representative Duke.

The other time came in 1997, when the Wildcats upset Kansas in the Southeast Regional semifinals, then beat East No. 1 North Carolina and West No. 1 Kentucky for the school's first men's title.

With his team's ability to beat top teams in past years and during this season, Arizona coach Lute Olson believes that his team has nothing to fear in Duke.

"It's not like we haven't played the best teams in the country," Olson said. "Like '97, I think we've gone through Michigan State and Illinois. It's something that should be done if you're going to win the national championship."

Despite Duke's hot shooting, don't be surprised if Arizona uses a lot of zone defense tonight. While holding Michigan State to 41 percent shooting, the Wildcats spent most of the game in a 1-3-1 setup that one observer compared to "an accordion."

From across the country

For the past three weeks, any game that matched teams from opposite ends of the country elicited the inevitable question of whether there were differences in the style of play throughout the United States.

The question gets tricky when you look at the finalists' rosters. Predictably, Duke has the Eastern Time Zone covered with Shane Battier from suburban Detroit and Jason Williams from central New Jersey, but it also has Carlos Boozer from Anchorage, Alaska, and Mike Dunleavy from suburban Portland, Ore.

Likewise, Arizona has players from locales you expect to see on the roster - Richard Jefferson from Phoenix and Gilbert Arenas from suburban Los Angeles - but also some you don't - Michael Wright from Chicago, Jason Gardner from Indianapolis and Loren Woods from St. Louis.

"Everyone wants to talk about East Coast vs. West Coast," Olson said, "but as our program has been established we've been able to recruit all over."

Listening to little guy

How does a 5-foot-11 point guard end up telling 6-foot-10 guys how to play down low? Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski tells you to, that's how.

This was the case for Severna Park native Steve Wojciechowski, who starred at Duke during the mid-1990s and spent a year playing overseas and dabbling in radio work before joining Krzyzewski's staff as an assistant last season.

"He came to me and said that's what he wanted me to do," said Wojciechowski, who pointed out that there are a lot of normal-sized coaches who tutor big men. "Because you don't know them as players, it makes a lot more sense."

Wojciechowski said his time as a point guard helps him teach guys like Battier, Boozer and Casey Sanders how to call for the ball and make themselves visible to those who would pass the ball to them. "You don't want to give the ball to a guy who doesn't know what he's going to do when he gets it."

Sanders, who has played the pivot since Boozer went out with a broken foot last month, raved about his position coach. "He had a lot of energy as a player that was something he's displayed," Sanders said. "He's brought that to his coaching, and it's worked out for the best."

Duhon recovering

The concussion Chris Duhon suffered after hitting the floor in a collision with Maryland's Steve Blake was his second in the past two weeks.

Earlier, he had collided with a Missouri player in a second-round tournament game. He described Saturday's injury as being much worse, and said he was still suffering headaches as of yesterday afternoon, though he expects to play.

Last night, Duke trainer Dave Engelhardt woke Duhon four or five times to check on him.

"They wanted to make sure everything was all right and that I didn't go into a coma or anything," said Duhon, who didn't know what he was taking to relieve his headaches. "They're just giving me pills and I'm throwing them down."

Arenas keeps coming

There was no doubt in the Arizona camp on the status of Arenas, who had 12 points, seven assists and six steals against Michigan State, but also had a case of whiplash during that same game.

Arenas spent much of yesterday's media session in the training room, but he is expected to play tonight against Duke. His teammates wouldn't expect anything less. He played all but five minutes in the Wildcats' semifinal victory, and made a game-breaking steal and assist to Jefferson upon his return during the second half.

"I knew he would come back because Gilbert is a warrior," Wright said. "With Gilbert, if anything goes wrong, he wants it even more."

Edgerson speaks

Arizona reserve forward Eugene Edgerson, he of the parables featuring coffee beans, the Afro and the high socks, also happens to be a solid quote.

When he was asked about possible plans to cut his hair if his team beats Duke, he said, "I don't know if they will, but if they do, they'll be in for a long evening."

On his experience as a kindergarten teacher, and how it relates to his ability to deal with Arenas - a first-rate scorer but also a first-rate pest on occasion. "Now, I'm not as easily annoyed. Gilbert does some things that most people would want to smack him in the head for," he said. "I can just blow him off, because of my kindergarten experience."

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