It's final: Syracuse, Texas are in

Orangemen's defense stifles Oklahoma, 63-47, in East Regional final

Sooners held to 31% shooting

Syracuse gets 4th shot at 1st national crown

Ncaa Tournament

March 31, 2003|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

ALBANY, N.Y. - Proximity took its toll in yesterday's East Regional final, but not because Pepsi Arena is a mere two-hour drive from the Syracuse campus or because it was dressed in orange.

No, the proximity that weighed most heavily here dealt with Oklahoma's offense, which was nowhere to be found when it encountered Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone defense.

There were no holes in that zone, no good looks at the basket and no easy points.

Third-seeded Syracuse extinguished Oklahoma's Final Four dream with a frenetic 63-47 victory that bounced yet another No. 1 seed from the NCAA tournament. The win launched the Orangemen into Saturday's national semifinals against Texas, an 85-76 winner over Michigan State in the South final.

"Their strength is their perimeter people, and we can guard perimeter people in our zone," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said, reaching for the bottom line in the impressive wipeout of the Sooners.

Oklahoma's Hollis Price hit just three of 17 shots against that zone. Backcourt mate Quannas White was 1-for-8. Together, they were 2-for-15 from the three-point line, and there was no overcoming those numbers.

"We know their offense goes through Hollis Price," Carmelo Anthony of Syracuse said. "Once we took him away, then everything broke down."

Anthony, the former Towson Catholic standout, hit an early jumper and then scorched Oklahoma on the glass. He rang up 12 of his game-high 20 points in the first half and walked off with the Most Outstanding Player Award for the regional.

Better yet for the Orange faithful, the freshman tossed out hope that he might return to Syracuse next season instead of leaving for the NBA.

"This is my first time making it to the Final Four," he said. "Hopefully, it's not my last."

This will be Boeheim's third trip to the Final Four - the fourth overall for Syracuse - and the Orangemen (28-5) are still searching for that elusive first national title. For Boeheim, the rendezvous in New Orleans is certain to bring back haunting memories of a 1987 title-game loss to Indiana, when Keith Smart scored the game-winning basket with four seconds left.

"I don't know if there's a ghost there," Boeheim said. "I had a tremendous experience for five days, 39 minutes and 56 seconds there. I'm going to try to get that other four seconds in this time."

His experience in Albany was exhilarating, given Syracuse's defensive brilliance. The Orangemen held the Sooners (27-7) to 31 percent shooting, forced 19 turnovers and owned a 40-28 advantage on the boards.

"It's obvious that our defense was the difference," Boeheim said. "We were very active on the defensive end and we did a good job on the boards. It was probably the best we've played defensively all year. We did a good job of getting to their shooters and affecting their shots."

Syracuse took a 10-3 lead, only to see Oklahoma rebound to go ahead 17-16. It would be the Sooners' only lead of the game.

Oklahoma went without a field goal for the next 8:27. The Orangemen, meanwhile, finished the half with a 14-3 run that became a 22-3 run when they scored the first eight points of the second half.

A three-point shot by Gerry McNamara gave Syracuse a 38-20 lead, and the closest Oklahoma got after that was 50-39 with 6:35 to play. But consecutive dunks by Hakim Warrick (13 points) and Anthony snuffed any comeback hopes.

Also snuffed was the dream of Price and White - former high school teammates in New Orleans - of finishing their college careers in their hometown and the Final Four.

"It's tough to come so far and so close," Price said after his eight-point finale. "We were 40 minutes away from getting back home. They did a great job of matching us and coming out and competing."

It was a bad matchup for Oklahoma from the beginning. The Sooners tried man-to-man defense on Anthony and Warrick, but were chased into a matchup zone of their own with about nine minutes left in the first half.

"They couldn't guard Hakim or Carmelo," Boeheim said.

Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson acknowledged the superb defensive job turned in by the Orangemen - "We haven't seen a zone like that," he said - and also the advantage Syracuse had playing so close to home.

"I thought they did a great job of feeding off the crowd," Sampson said. "That's a big thing, especially when you have a young team in that [tournament] environment."

But this game could have been played in Norman, Okla., and the outcome probably would not have been different.

"I thought it was fair [having to play in Albany]," White said. "At this point in time, it doesn't matter where the game was played. It's all about trying to win the game. And they won the game."

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