The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on March 31, 1998 · Page 9
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 9

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Tuesday, March 31, 1998
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Page 9
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M^m^^HH^ros THE SALTHIKjOURNAL Sports CLASSIFIED / B5 ALMANAC / B7 FUN / B8 COMMENT NCAA MEN'S FINAL FOUR JIM LITKE The Associated Press SMITH It's not how you start a game that matters SAN ANTONIO — It was his bad luck to inherit a team that couldn't pay attention until it was 10 points down. But it was Tubby Smith's better luck to be born into a family of 17 kids, and to be able to teach others a lesson he learned early in life: that it wasn't how you started that mattered, but how you finished. "We knew we would come back," Smith said after Kentucky's 78-69 win over Utah made him only the seventh coach to win a national title in his first ye'ar on the job. ;"We are the comeback kids. We've been under that kind of duress all season long." $ot exactly. Smith himself has beefl under considerable duress sifkJe that warm spring day when h$3bllowed Rick Pitino into one oijj&e highest profile jobs the college game offers. But you wouldn't have known it watching him bring this team along. Pressure was something his kids only knew at arm's length — the length of Smith's arm, to be exact — until they got deep into the NCAA Tournament. Then they proceeded to fall behind by 10 points at halftime against Duke in the regional final... against Stanford in the semifinal... and against Utah in the national championship Monday night. And it wasn't until those moments that they appreciated how well Smith had insulated them from those same expectations, how his calm demeanor hid his own sense of urgency like so much gift wrapping. And that made them want to pay him back — and in the bargain, pay back Duke, Stanford, Utah and everything else that stood between Smith and the national championship trophy. When NCAA selection committee chairman C.M. Newton passed that singular piece of hardware to .Smith, the first words out of his mouth were, "It is with great personal pride that I present..." •He wasn't kidding. Newton's day job is athletic director of University of Kentucky, and he took ..as big a gamble in hiring Smith as ;Smith did in accepting. It was a •bold enough move to pluck a coach from Georgia with only a half-dozen seasons of experience to run one of the most successful programs ever. It was an even bolder move to hire a black man to; work the same sideline that Adolph Rupp once prowled, especially since The Baron resisted integrating his program as long as he could. - ; "Folks were telling him not to take the job because of the high expectations," guard Wayne Turner said. "But he pulled us through." Comebacks aren't an exact science, no matter how convincing Smith sounded when he said, "We practice how to come back. That's the big key. We teach them how to comeback." ' You can teach a team plenty of tilings in practice about coming back: How to make a defensive staled. How to clamp on a press. HJow to run a set play to get your best shooter in the clear and the ball in his hands. 'But nothing in practice will ever simulate the sense of urgency a team feels when the national championship is slipping away. And for all the technique any good coach can impart to his squad, only the very best can teach the desire needed to get ttyose crucial rebounds, the tough, ness to make the last-gasp stops, tlie fearlessness required to take the shot when everything is on the line. Those are the coaching lessons in w^ich Smith has few peers. The lessons that enable kids to be- hfive like men when it matters most. On the court and off. Comeback 'Cats Kentucky races past Utah in second half for crown The Associated Press Kentucky's Jeff Sheppard (15), the Final Four's MVP, and head coach Tubby Smith celebrate the Wildcats' second national championship In the last three years. Wildcats come from 10 points down at half to win championship By JIM O'CONNELL The Associated Press SAN ANTONIO — Call them the Comeback Cats. Kentucky capped a truly maddening March with an unprecedented second-half rally, beating Utah 78-69 Monday night to win its second NCAA championship in three years. The Wildcats did it this time with a new coach and without stars in their lineup. In its third straight rally of the tournament, Kentucky overcame the largest halftime deficit — 10 points — in a championship game to win its seventh national title. "We're comeback kids," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "These kids have done it all." With Smith working the sidelines instead of Rick Pitino and with former stars Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer and Derek Anderson in the NBA, Kentucky moved one trophy closer to UCLA's record total of 11. It was the third straight year the Wildcats were in the championship game — they lost to Arizona in overtime last season — and the third straight year they ended Utah's season in the NCAA Tournament. Utah's impressive run to what would have been the school's second title ended because Kentucky did what No. 1 seeds Arizona and North Carolina couldn't do against the Utes — shoot well. Kentucky fell behind in the first half and trailed 41-31 at halftime after a 10-0 Utah run.The deficit was as many as 12 points in the opening minutes of the second half before Kentucky started shooting well. "We're a fighting team — comeback "Cats," Kentucky forward Heshimu Evans said. The Wildcats (35-4) had been down before in the tournament. In the South Regional final, they battled back from a 17-point second-half deficit against Duke and in the na- Kentucky 78, Utah 69 UTAH Mottola Jensen Doleac Miller Hansen Johnsen McTavlsh Jackson Calon Team Totals KENTUCKY Edwards Padgett Mohammed Turner Sheppard Maglolre Evans Mills Smith Bradley Team Totals Utah Kentucky M FQ FT 28 4-10 6-6 35 5-6 3-3 34 5-12 4-6 37 6-15 4-7 32 1-6 16 3-4 3 0-0 10 0-1 5 0-1 R 4-8 0-2 A F TP 0 4 15 2 2 5-10 1 2 2-6 5 5 0-0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0-0 1-5 0-4 0-0 0-0 0-0 3-4 1 2 0 0 2 1 1 2 0 0 200 24-55 17-22 15-39 12 18 69 M FQ FT 24 2-7 0-0 33 6-10 4-4 13 5-9 0-0 27 2-5 2-4 34 7-14 2-2 22 2-3 3-3 23 3-4 12 2-4 7 0-0 5 0-0 2-2 2-2 0-0 0-0 R 0-1 2-5 0-2 0-2 2-4 0-2 1-6 0-0 0-0 0-1 1-1 A F TP 504 1 4 17 0 4 10 406 3 1 16 1 4 7 0 1 10 1 0 8 0 0 0 1 200 29-57 15-17 6-24 15 15 78 41 28-«9 31 47—78 3-polnl goals—Utah 4-14, .286 (Jensen 1-1, Doleac 1-1, Johnsen 1-2, MoHola 1-3, Jackson 0-1, Galon 0-1, Hansen 0-2, Miller 0-3). Kentucky 5-17, .294 (Evans 22, Mills 2-4, Padgett 1 -5, Turner 0-1, Sheppard 0-2, Edwards 0-3). A—40,509. tional semifinal they fell behind by 10 before rallying to beat Stanford. "We've come back all year long," Wildcats' guard Cameron Mills said. "Every time we fell behind, we never quit." Kentucky's comebacks were just part of what made the NCAA Tournament special this year. But the Utes, who won the championship in 1944, couldn't pull off one more upset in the title game. Utah, the second-best defensive team in the country this season, had held its five tournament opponents to 39 percent shooting and an average of 62.5 points. Kentucky, which finished 29-for-57 from the field (51 percent), chipped away at the lead by scoring on seven of 10 possessions. The Wildcats went on a 9-0 run and took the lead for the first time since early in the first half at 60-58 with 7:16 to play on a breakaway dunk by Jeff Sheppard after he stole the ball from Hanno Mottola. Utah got the lead back at 62-60 on a driving layup by Andre Miller with 6:16 left and even extended it by two more points when Miller fed Alex Jensen for a layup 23 seconds later. But a 3-pointer by Mills, Kentucky's fifth of the game — all in the second half — and a driving juniper by Sheppard with 4:53 left gave the Wildcats the lead for good. Turnovers, fatigue hurt Utes down stretch By HAL BOCK The Associated Press SAN ANTONIO — In the end, Utah's defense and rebounding could not overcome turnovers and fatigue. The Utes, the best rebounding team in the country, ruled the backboards Monday night. But they were too pooped to shoot down the stretch, making one field goal over the final 5 Ms minutes in a 78-69 loss to Kentucky in MA . cm , c the national title game. ""MJCMU& "I think we tired," Utah coach Rick Majerus said. "And I think these guys battled, but I probably should have played the bench a little more. I think fatigue factored into it." The tipoff to the Utes' demise might have come at halftime when most of the team T MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL ran off the court, followed slowly by center Michael Doleac. If he was tired then, it was about to get worse even though the Utes led 41-31. "I'm not sure we got worn out," Doleac said. "I was tired but we're playing for the national championship. You push yourself." Then he paused, thinking about the fatigue factor. "Maybe that was it," he sighed. Majerus has always preached defense and rebounding first and that combination carried the team from the WAG to its first national championship game in 44 years and a 10-point lead in the title game. Much of the heavy work underneath was done by Doleac, who finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. But he was running out of steam, along with the rest of this determined young team. Often, he found Kentucky's defenders collapsing in on him in the second half. "They did a good job on defense," Doleac said. "I got blocked a couple of times. You knew that would happen because they're a good shot blocking team," "We doubled down on him in the second half," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said, "because he was hurting us in the first half." Utah looked worn out at the end and it showed in turnovers. The Utes gave the ball away 18 times, far too generous in a title game against an opportunistic team like Kentucky. They had outrebounded everybody on the road to the championship game and kept it up against Kentucky, ruling the boards 39-24. But the turnovers proved too costly. The loss was painful. "It's tough," said Drew Hansen. "I never thought it would be this bad." Hansen thought when Utah survived Kentucky's first run that the Utes might survive. They had restored a four-point lead at 64-60 with 5V4 minutes to play. "It was euphoria," Hansen said. "We were excited. We thought we might break them. Then I made the biggest defensive mistake of my life. I let a guy who only shoots 3-pointers, make a 3-pointer." Cameron Mills' 3 against Hansen tied the game at 58 with 7:41 left, and it was all downhill after that. Utah scored just five more points the rest of the way. Point guard Andre Miller, the heart and soul of the team through five tournament victories, committed eight of the turnovers and they were a high price to pay for his 16 points, five assists and six rebounds. "We know what we have to do to win," Doleac said before the game. "I think mainly it is just defend and rebound, first of all. We think we are the best defensive team in the nation." Against Kentucky, the Utes were the most generous, too. Baseball season opens today in 11 cities Kansas City opens in Baltimore today for fifth straight season By DAVID GINSBURG The Associated Press The Associated Press Slugger Mark McGwire takes aim at Roger Marls' home run record of 61 In a season. BALTIMORE — A lot of baseball players like to say that opening day is merely one of 162 games. The Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals know otherwise. For the fifth straight season,. Baltimore and Kansas City open the season at Camden Yards. The teams play in different divisions and don't consider each other rivals, but both have plenty of incentive to win Tuesday because the result could have a direct bearing on the rest of the year. Baltimore beat the Royals 6-3 in 1994 and finished a respectable 6349 in a strike-shortened season. The Orioles lost in 1995 and went through a miserable 71-73 year that cost manager Phil Regan his • Expansion expected to benefit hitters this season / Page B3 job, then beat the Royals 4-2 in each of the last two seasons and went on the reach the playoffs. "Opening days are very special. As far as the season goes it's the one day that sticks in your mind," Orioles center fielder Brady Anderson said. "It's not the playoffs, but the atmosphere is pretty close." Although the Royals haven't been to the playoffs since 1985, they can appreciate the importance of a good start. Kansas City parlayed its opening-day victory in 1995 into a second-place run in the AL Central, but an opening loss in each of the last two years translated into a pair of last-place finishes. Baltimore never fell out of the top spot in the AL East last year after Jimmy Key, subbing for the ailing Mike Mussina, held Kansas City without an earned run during six innings in his Orioles debut. Baltimore will have Mussina this time around, but for the first time in seven years Kevin Appier will not be pitching for the Royals. Appier, the staff ace since 1992, underwent shoulder surgery on March 24 and is expected to be out at least half the year. Tim Belcher will start in his place, reprising his role as emergency opening-day starter for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1989 and 1991. "It's somewhat of an honor, I guess," he said. Royals manager Tony Muser is See ROYAUS, Page B3 Today's slate AMERICAN LEAGUE Chicago White Sox (Navarro 9-14) at Texas (Burkett 9-12), 1:35 p.m. Kansas City (Belcher 13-12) at Baltimore (Mussina 15-8), 2:05 p.m., ESPN Detroit (Thompson 15-11) at Tampa Bay (Alvarez 13-11), 4p.m. Cleveland (Nagy 15-11 at Seattle (R.Johnson 20-4), 6:05 p.m., ESPN NATIONAL LEAGUE Philadelphia (Schilling 17-11) at N.Y. Mets (Jones 15-9), 12:40 p.m. San Diego (Brown 16-8) at Cincinnati (Remlinger 8-8), 1:05 p.m. Milwaukee (Eldred 13-15) at Atlanta (Maddux 19-4), 3:10 p.m., WTBS Los Angeles (R.Martinez 10-5) at St. Louis (Stottlemyre 12-9), 3:10 p.m. Chicago Cubs (Tapani 9-3) at Florida (L.Hernandez 9-3), 3:35 p.m., WQN San Francisco (Estes 19-5) at Houston (Reynolds 9-10), 4 p.m. Colorado (Kile 19-7) at Arizona (An.Benes 10-7), 9:05 p.m., ESPN SUGGESTIONS? CALL. BOB DAVIDSON, SPORTS EDITOR, AT (785) 923*6363 OR 1-800-827-6363 OR E-MAIL AT slbdavldson@saljournal.com

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