Final formula for these two: Act their age

Seniors Collison, Hinrich give Kansas a 1-2 punch

Freshman duo drives Syracuse

Anthony comfortable providing `leadership'

Ncaa Men's Title Game

Ncaa Tournament

April 07, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - Tonight's NCAA basketball championship game will not boil down to a battle between men and boys. It only seems that way.

Kansas likes its chances against the Syracuse Orangemen, and the Jayhawks' comfort level begins with the seasoning of their senior tandem, their heart and soul.

First-team All-America forward Nick Collison and third-team All-America guard Kirk Hinrich have seen it all and done everything but win it all. This is their second Final Four trip in a row. The memory of last year's national semifinal failure against Maryland still drives them.

Syracuse has gone against conventional logic by charging into the season's last game on the backs of two freshmen who no longer can be considered youthful.

First-year point guard Gerry McNamara was composed enough to make an astonishing 96.4 percent of his 55 free-throw attempts in Big East play, a league record. And 6-foot-8 small forward Carmelo Anthony is not only the top freshman in the land. Anthony, the Orangemen's leading scorer and rebounder, might be the best player in the nation. He also appears headed into the June NBA draft as a possible top-three pick.

"We've played teams that were led by seniors all year. At this point in the season, we're not freshmen, and we didn't expect to play like it," McNamara said. "So I don't think it makes a difference by now. If we play like freshmen [tonight], we're in a lot of trouble."

"Leadership is just something I was born with," said Anthony, who backed up his claim with an exclamation point in Saturday's 95-84 victory over Texas by producing 33 points and 14 rebounds, both game highs. "I started playing well [earlier this season], and the team started looking at me as a leader. I have no problem taking over the leadership role."

The confrontation of the young and the older will provide part of the backdrop of an intriguing title game.

It features two highly successful coaches still in search of The Big One. Kansas' Roy Williams and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim have earned a combined 1,070 victories, seven Final Four trips and five championship-game appearances over 42 years as head coaches.

One of them is guaranteed to walk away smiling, and Williams could walk away either way - all the way back to North Carolina, where he graduated in 1972, worked under the legendary Dean Smith for 10 seasons and is the odds-on pick to replace recently dumped Matt Doherty as the head of the Tar Heels.

The game figures to shape up into a battle of wills. Syracuse (29-5) will try to impose its stifling 2-3 zone defense on one more opponent, while Kansas (30-7) attempts to run, run and run some more, as the Jayhawks did while knocking out Marquette in Saturday's first semifinal with a stunning 94-61 rout that was over before halftime.

The Jayhawks will lean on Collison and Hinrich. Collison is the steadying force on the blocks who gets that vaunted transition game going so often with rebounds and crisp outlet passes and can score in a variety of ways. Hinrich is the tenacious defender who is among the team's best finishers.

Judging by the way Kansas took apart Marquette, it's safe to say the Jayhawks will not be distracted by the uncertainty surrounding their coach.

"I told you guys that wasn't going to affect our focus, and it hasn't," Hinrich said. "It's kind of crazy knowing I'm going into my last game and it's the national championship game. You dream about that kind of stuff. I love basketball, and I'm living a dream right now. This is why I came to Kansas."

The most important assignment falls to one of the Jayhawks' supporting cast members. Sophomore swingman Keith Langford, 6-4, fresh off a 23-point effort against Marquette - during which he joined a tag team that harassed All-America guard Dwyane Wade - will draw the challenge of guarding Anthony. Langford will get help from Hinrich and one or two other teammates over the course of the game.

"There is not one way you can stop [Anthony]. I'm going to attack him and try to get him in foul trouble, mainly in transition," Langford said. "I think it's going to take an all-around effort and probably my best defense of the year. He's almost like a prodigy for a basketball player."

Williams sees victory coming his way only if the Jayhawks use their discipline, patience, rebounding skill and relentless attacking style to counter the athleticism and depth the Orangemen bring with Anthony and players like 6-8 sophomore forward Hakim Warrick, who cleans up on the offensive glass and has scored 20 or more points on eight occasions.

And it all starts with beating that zone and all of the long-armed players who make it work, whether by running in transition and not allowing Syracuse to set it up or by being aggressive out of a half-court set with penetrators like Langford, Hinrich and point guard Aaron Miles.

"You've really got to move the ball crisply. You have to really fake your passes. You've got to concentrate," Williams said. "You can't just pass it around the horn and expect to get good shots against it."

The Orangemen, who have averaged a solid 79.5 points, wouldn't mind keeping the game in that range. But Syracuse showed on Saturday it is comfortable in a free-flowing game, and Boeheim expects the tempo battle to swing back and forth. Making shots and hustling back on defense is probably the key for Syracuse.

"The things that cause problems for any zone are guys that can pass, catch, shoot and penetrate. [Kansas] has three guys that can do that," Boeheim said. "It doesn't matter whether you're playing man-to-man or zone. They can attack either defense. They're going to score against any type of defense."

Tonight's game

Teams: Syracuse (29-5) vs. Kansas (30-7)

Site: Superdome, New Orleans

Time: 9:22

TV: Chs. 13, 9

Line: Kansas by 5

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