Gardner vs. Thomas friendly, fierce rivalry

Arizona, N. Dame guards grew up in Indianapolis

Men's notebook

NCAA Tournament

March 27, 2003|By Don Markus and Christian Ewell | Don Markus and Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Point guards Jason Gardner of Arizona and Chris Thomas of Notre Dame go back a long way. They grew up in Indianapolis, two years apart, playing mostly against each other and sometimes on the same team.

"We played in YMCA, different gyms," Gardner said yesterday. "It's a lot of fun seeing another Indianapolis player do well. Playing him in the Sweet 16, it's just a lot of people talking about it back home."

Gardner, a senior, hopes to get the last word on Thomas, a sophomore, when their teams meet in the West Regional semifinals tonight at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, Calif. Thomas said his high school team won three of four games against Gardner's.

"I don't really know," Gardner said. "But I don't believe that."

What Thomas is clear about is how often he was compared to Gardner by the time he reached high school. "I was supposed to be the younger Jason Gardner," Thomas said.

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey can recall going to the Nike summer all-star camp in Indianapolis last summer and watching Gardner and Thomas, who were counselors at the camp, play against each other in games during lunch.

"They're very good friends but fierce competitors," Brey said. "I saw how fierce this summer. They're buddies off the court, but when they start checking each other, they're trying to tear each other's hearts out."

Miller's return

Notre Dame's Dan Miller has some pretty nice memories of The Pond. It was there two years ago that Miller, then a junior at Maryland, helped beat Stanford in the West Regional final as the Terps men reached their first Final Four in school history.

"From my standpoint, there's no secret formula," Miller said. "You just have to go out there and play your hardest. Obviously, they [Arizona] know how great it feels. They know that and they've seen it. We just have to play our hearts out and see what happens."

Said senior guard Matt Carroll: "Dan leads our team by example - what he's done in the games so far, in this tournament, especially the way he played against Illinois. He played so fiercely, played unbelievable in that game and it really helped us."

Miller is a large reason the Fighting Irish reached their first Sweet 16 since 1987, scoring a career-high 23 points (including 17 in the first half) in a second-round upset of No. 4 seed Illinois.

"He's not only played well but [also]led," Brey said. "He's cut some nets down here. I told him to tell our guys about it."

Business trip

Kansas canceled a scheduled trip to Disneyland yesterday when seniors Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich thought it better that the Jayhawks keep their minds more on Duke rather than Donald Duck.

"The older guys voted not to go, and they know better than we do," said sophomore guard Keith Langford.

UCLA calling?

Marquette and Pittsburgh will meet tonight in Minneapolis for the right to play in the Midwest Regional final. The two schools also could be vying to see which wants to keep its coach the most.

Marquette's Tom Crean and Pittsburgh's Ben Howland are considered prime candidates for the UCLA job, which opened when the school fired Steve Lavin on March 17.

Both coaches have pledged loyalty to their schools, but Howland, 45, tried to add some levity to the situation when asked what he planned to tell his players about the rumors linking him with the Bruins job.

"I'm telling them that we want to go out and win the whole thing and I want to be the next Al McGuire and retire at age 45," said Howland, a Southern California native who is considered a favorite for the UCLA job.

Dome-court edge

Wisconsin is the underdog against Kentucky tonight in Minneapolis, but the Badgers are expected to have an advantage because much of their fan base is within driving distance of the Metrodome.

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan hopes his team can benefit from its experience in last year's second-round game against Maryland at MCI Center in Washington.

"It was at Maryland, or a place near Maryland," Ryan said. "Seventeen thousand of the 18,000 were screaming for the other guys wearing red and white, and they were pretty good."

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