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Louisville Isn't Crumbling Yet

East Regional: When leading scorer Wheat goes out, Cardinals find they have other options in 78-63 victory over Texas.

March 22, 1997|GEORGE DOHRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Looking like a battered boxer, Louisville point guard DeJuan Wheat sat at the end of the Cardinal bench in the final minutes of Friday's game against Texas, a towel draped over his head, ice and bandages covering his left ankle.

But, surprisingly, he was smiling.

The worst of all scenarios for the sixth-seeded Cardinals became reality with 15:52 remaining in the East Regional semifinal when Wheat--the team's leading scorer--sprained his ankle and Louisville stared down court at No. 10-seeded Texas' ballhawking defense.

But Damion Dantzler, Alvin Sims and Alex Sanders came forward at the Carrier Dome and led Louisville to a 78-63 victory.

"When DeJuan went out we all looked around like it was over," Dantzler said. "But then we just snapped out of it and came through."

Dantzler, a forward, scored a season-high 17, all in the second half, and made two key three-point shots in the second half, after making only two of 19 all season. Sims, a guard, scored a career-high 25 and Sanders, a center, had 17.

"I think DeJuan going out inspired out team," said Sims. "It's his senior year and we didn't want to disappoint him."

They didn't as Louisville advanced to the final eight for the first time since 1986, when it won the national championship. The Cardinals (26-8) will play No. 1-seeded North Carolina on Sunday.

"We had a lot of guys step up," said Louisville Coach Denny Crum, whose team outscored Texas 31-18 after Wheat left the game. "It was one of those great team efforts. Our team hung in tight and did some great things in the second half."

X-rays on Wheat's ankle taken after the game were negative, and he is doubtful for Sunday.

"He sprained his ankle pretty bad," Crum said. "He probably won't get to play. We are going to have our hands full without him."

That was how it appeared Friday when Wheat was injured after landing awkwardly following a three-point shot with the Cardinals ahead, 44-43. He limped back toward the scorer's table and shortly after was carried into the locker room by two teammates.

After being examined, Wheat returned to the bench with 6:30 remaining, and looked dejected as his team clung to a two-point lead, 59-57. But from that point Texas (18-12) made only one free throw and was outscored 19-6 to end the game.

Louisville, and primarily Sims, held Texas' leading scorer, guard Reggie Freeman, to a season-low six points. He made only two of 14 shots and had five turnovers.

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