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COLLEGE BASKETBALL NCAA TOURNAMENT

Villanova Falls Under California Spell, 75-68

March 16, 1997|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — California began the day with its star player out for the season--or is he?--its shooting guard, Randy Duck, walking like one because of an ankle sprain and the school's best football player guarding the opposition's NBA lottery pick.

Now we know why Ben Braun was Pacific 10 coach of the year.

Braun's Bears overcame their latest set of hopeless odds Saturday when they defeated Villanova, 75-68, at Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1993.

The Bears had Jason Kidd then.

They don't even have Ed Gray now. Gray, the nation's second-leading scorer, watched his team's mini-NCAA miracle in a walking cast on the bench.

Duck, playing with a badly sprained ankle, made consecutive three-pointers in the second half to break a 38-38 tie, and teammate Tony Gonzalez scored 23 points while holding Villanova prep phenom Tim Thomas scoreless in the second half.

Credit Braun with the strategy on Thomas. Gonzalez, a Cal tight end and likely first-round NFL draft choice in April, used his muscle to get Thomas in foul trouble. Thomas had only 11 points, but was hardly a factor after picking up his fourth foul with 13:23 left.

The Bears are 4-1 since Gray broke his foot against Washington State on Feb. 22. There is a remote chance the star guard might return for next week's game against North Carolina, but it is clear his teammates have coped without him.

"We've definitely grown since Ed's been out," said sixth-year senior forward Alfred Grigsby, who had 13 rebounds. "People expected us to panic, get desperate, but we . . . know what we're capable of doing."

Duck scored 16 points in 31 minutes for Cal (23-8) while Alvin Williams led Villanova (25-9) with 31 points.

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