YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


California Showing Brains and Braun

East Regional: Bears have rebounded from loss of Gray to reach Sweet 16, but streaking Tar Heels pose a different problem.


SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The last time Ben Braun coached in the Carrier Dome was in the 1991 NCAA tournament, when he led Eastern Michigan to victories over Mississippi State and Penn State in advancing to the Sweet 16.

Now Braun returns as coach of California and is again the underdog as the Golden Bears play top-seeded North Carolina in the featured East Regional semifinal.

"I remember that well," Braun said of the '91 games. "We had some luck here."

Most feel a great deal of luck is what Cal will need against the Tar Heels, winners of 14 in a row, including a 73-56 victory over Colorado in the second round.

Injured star Ed Gray is still out and the size advantage fifth-seeded Cal had in defeating Princeton and Villanova in the first two rounds is nullified by the Tar Heels. Cal might even be more of an underdog than Braun's Eastern Michigan team, which eventually lost to, yes, North Carolina, 95-67.

"We are a long way from home," Braun said.

Either Braun or North Carolina's Dean Smith will be around to face the winner of today's first game between 10th-seeded Texas and sixth-seeded Louisville. Smith is not as convinced as most that his team has an advantage.

"[The Bears] improved their rebounding and improved their defense and perhaps lost something with Gray's outstanding shooting ability, but certainly they've been successful," Smith said.

After Gray suffered a broken foot with three games left in the regular season, Braun turned his team into a rebounding monster, inserting 6-foot-6, 250-pound Tony Gonzalez, a tight end on the football team, into the lineup. Combined with four 6-10 players, Gonzalez has helped the Bears to a rebounding advantage of 10 per game in four consecutive victories. He also scored 23 points against Villanova.

"It's remarkable that he's as skilled as he is," Smith said. "He can shoot the outside shot, he can put it on the floor and he's an excellent passer . . . things you wouldn't expect necessarily."

Cal probably will need a career game from Gonzalez and continue to make good decisions in its half-court offense to upset North Carolina, which has shot better than 50% in nine of its last 10 games and presents matchup problems with 7-3 center Serge Zwikker and athletic 6-9 forward Antawn Jamison.

"I don't think we can ask one of our players in particular to shut them down," Braun said. "We're fortunate because we have some depth in there. We would like to keep some of our athletic forwards on Jamison, [either] Alfred Grigsby, [Michael] Stewart or Gonzalez. And try and make Zwikker shoot over some people. Those are key matchups for us."

The matchup in the Louisville-Texas game is at guard, with Louisville's DeJuan Wheat and Texas' Reggie Freeman. The game probably will be high scoring. Neither team is bashful about shooting the three-pointer: Each has tried more than 650 this season.

"We're going to run and gun and chuck and duck," Texas Coach Tom Penders said.

Los Angeles Times Articles