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What To Look For

March 18, 1997|TIM KAWAKAMI

* How they got here: Their seedings gave UCLA and Minnesota made-to-order paths to the Alamodome. Big Ten champion Minnesota wolfed down Southwest Texas State by a score that is no longer relevant, then three-pointed itself to a quick lead over slow-moving Temple and cruised to a 76-57 victory. UCLA had no trouble with Charleston Southern and eventually figured out the Xavier press well enough to beat the muscle-bound Musketeers, 96-83. Iowa State took a tougher road, beating Illinois State in a grueling, possession-by-possession, 69-57 first-round game, and shut down No. 3-seeded Cincinnati long enough to pull out a 67-66 victory. Clemson wobbled badly at the end of the regular season, but advanced to San Antonio with a two-game defensive flurry, holding Miami of Ohio to 56 points in the first round and fifth-seeded Tulsa to 59.

* Difference maker: Though Minnesota Coach Clem Haskins goes nine or 10 deep in the Golden Gophers' frenetic style of play, guard Bobby Jackson is the guy everything goes through. When Minnesota bogs down, which happens, Jackson is the guy who has to rise to the occasion with a key rebound--he averages almost six a game--steal or basket, and drag the Gophers over the finish line.

* Four questions: Can Minnesota, built to destroy slow Big Ten-type teams, find subtler ways to win against more athletic squads that can hurt the Gopher press?

Is Clemson, which showed it can handle pressure with its early season victory over Kentucky, going to have any different answers for the Gophers, to whom it lost in a holiday tournament in Puerto Rico, 75-65?

Can Iowa State, which is not exactly an offensive superpower, keep getting great games from Kelvin Cato, who scored 29 points in the first round, after averaging 11.1 in the regular season; and Kenny Pratt, who got 21 against Cincinnati after averaging 14.5?

Is UCLA's obvious confidence going to carry it through the inevitable half-court pressure cooker, when the big men are covered and every missed jump shot threatens to send the Bruins packing?

* Looking forward to: UCLA center Jelani McCoy and Iowa State's Cato crashing in the middle and denying either team easy short-range shots. With Tim Duncan and Adonal Foyle gone, McCoy and Cato are probably the best shot blockers left in the tournament.

* Glimpse at the coaches: No huge names, nobody who has ever been to a Final Four, but guys who could become stars if they get to Indianapolis. Iowa State's Tim Floyd is the defense-oriented strategist, UCLA's Steve Lavin the rookie motivator, Minnesota's Haskins the intimidator and Clemson's Rick Barnes the guy trying to squeeze extra life out of his team.

* How it shakes out: By the book--Minnesota over Clemson, UCLA in a narrow, nervous one over Iowa State.

* Final prediction: UCLA over Minnesota.

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