Arizona, Gonzaga move to Round 2

No. 1 seed Wildcats rout Vermont, 80-51

Bulldogs defeat Cincinnati, 74-69

West Regional

NCAA Tournament

March 21, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

SALT LAKE CITY -- A school that has been playing basketball for 103 years and a coach who moonlights as a radio talk show host finally got to the biggest stage in college basketball yesterday.

It took Vermont nearly two days to make the trip to its first NCAA tournament game, but it didn't long for the 16th-seeded Catamounts to figure they were no match for Arizona, the top seed in the West Regional and the No. 2 team in the nation.

After playing the Wildcats close for the first 14 1/2 minutes, Vermont lost its legs and its stamina but never its heart in an 80-51 defeat at the Huntsman Center.

And Tom Brennan, the Catamounts' coach, never lost his famous sense of humor.

Recalling the hours he and his team spent snowbound in Colorado on Tuesday and Wednesday trying to get to Salt Lake City, Brennan said, "We weren't in foxholes, we weren't in caves, we were in the Holiday Inn, under the covers, watching SportsCenter. We wanted to get here, but it takes us that long to get to Maine sometimes."

The highlight of the journey that included three plane rides, a bus ride from Denver to Colorado Springs, a practice Wednesday at Colorado College and two steak dinners was the final leg on a charter flight arranged by the NCAA from Colorado Springs.

"We're not a program of privilege," said Brennan. "To be able to charter from Colorado Springs here was almost worth the wait. I felt like a big shot."

He looked like one, too. There was the $2,900 Armani suit that Brennan's brother had bought for him to wear at last week's America East tournament final. Brennan wore it again yesterday, but he was a little upset by some NCAA protocol.

"They made me put an [NCAA] pin in it," he said. "No disrespect, but a pin?"

Though Brennan clearly won the post-game news conference, Arizona (26-3) won the game.

Despite shooting poorly at the start and being a little too sloppy with the ball for coach Lute Olson's liking, the Wildcats were in command after finishing the first half on a 16-4 run that produced a 39-22 lead.

As the second half wore on, the Catamounts (21-12) wore out.

"Everyone could see that at the 15-minute mark of the second half, we were dead," said Brennan. "[Olson] called off the troops. He's a classy guy."

A combination of the long trip -- in contrast, it took Arizona less than two hours to get here from Tucson -- as well as playing one of the country's best teams at the 4,500-foot altitude was too much for Vermont.

"There's a reason they're ranked No. 1 in the nation [until this week]," said Vermont forward Grant Anderson. "They showed us everything they had. They defend, they get up and down the court, they rebound, and they pass as well as any team I've ever played against. It was fun to play against the best team."

Coming off a first-round loss to UCLA in the Pac-10 tournament, Arizona looked like a team that had been ranked No. 1 for the past three months.

Sophomore guard Salim Stoudamire led the Wildcats with 18 points, while senior forward Rick Anderson finished with 13 points and nine rebounds. Sophomore center Channing Frye added 12 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots, while senior forward Luke Walton had 12 points, six rebounds and six assists.

Walton also scored points with Brennan.

"I wanted to detest [him], but the first thing that happens when I get here is I hear him say is, `I feel so sorry for the Vermont kids that they missed out on the experience,' " recalled Brennan. "I went up to him before the game and told him that it was a classy thing to say."

As it turned out, the Catamounts didn't think they missed out on much despite not getting onto the court until pre-game warmups.

"We came here to play a game. I wasn't worried about everything else," said Anderson. "We were happy to get the opportunity."

Gonzaga 74 Cincinnati 69: The Bulldogs have frustrated numerous opponents in their recent run of NCAA tournament victories. Never, though, had the play of Gonzaga precipitated the coach of the other team getting bounced.

Or, for that matter, the other team's radio analyst.

That's what happened during the second half of ninth-seeded Gonzaga's victory over eight-seeded Cincinnati in a first-round West Regional game.

Bearcats coach Bob Huggins was ejected after being called for two technicals with 16:17 remaining and his team trailing by seven. Chuck Machock got a little too colorful with his off-air commentary to the officials and was also tossed.

Blake Stepp hit four straight technical free throws and Gonzaga (24-8) built its lead to 58-45. Cincinnati (17-12) actually had a chance to tie the game in the final minute, but Tony Babbit's three-point shot was blocked with 12 seconds left.

Forward Ronny Turiaf led Gonzaga with 22 points, including 16 of 22 free throws.

But it was the ejection of Huggins, his first in more than seven years, that seemed to be the biggest obstacle for the Bearcats to overcome.

"When you chop the head off of a monster, it takes a toll on the whole team," said Cincinnati senior guard Taron Barker. "Coach is everything to us, man. That motivated us, but that hurt us because he would have fired us up.

"We just kept fighting and kept fighting, but they had an answer for us."

Huggins refused to comment about what led to the technicals, the first of which was called for leaving the coaching box and the second because he continued to scream at the officials, came out onto the court and refused to leave.

Banished to the locker room without a television set, Huggins said he received a few updates but had little idea of how his team managed to make it a game.

"You saw more than I did," Huggins said.

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