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Minnesota Wouldn't See Stars

Gophers: Reliance on one another instead of a single player meant world of difference against UCLA.

March 23, 1997|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN ANTONIO — If the Minnesota Gophers appeared at times like robots during their 80-72 victory over UCLA in the Midwest Regional final--running textbook plays, playing fundamental defense, showing little emotion--then you should have seen them afterward.

Remember when UCLA center Jelani McCoy left with a chest injury with 6:29 remaining in the first half? Remember how Minnesota mounted its comeback from a 10-point deficit by attacking McCoy's overmatched replacements in the second half?

Remember the event that probably changed the game?

The Gophers don't.

"McCoy got hurt?" guard Eric Harris asked. "I didn't know that. I wasn't even paying attention to that."

Added forward Quincy Lewis: "McCoy went out of the game? When? I remember seeing something on the big screen, but I didn't think anything of it at first."

And when he did . . .

"Well, I thought, J.R. Henderson is quicker inside than McCoy, so it would have been better for us if McCoy stayed in the game," Lewis said.

They are the definition of team, these anonymous sorts whose thousands of migrating fans made the Alamodome sound like the set of the movie "Fargo."

They do not recognize the existence of stars, because they have none. The thought that one player could change a game is as crazy as, well, as the thought that a game can be changed with fewer than nine.

As Minnesota's players reminded everyone late Saturday, the NBA is friendly to teams like UCLA . . . but NCAA tournaments are partial to teams like theirs.

"You can have the best starting five in the world, but if you don't play like a team, then you are not going to win," forward Sam Jacobson said.

A good example was Jacobson. He is their shooting star, yet he missed all six three-point attempts in this biggest victory of their season.

Then there was Lewis, who started one game this year, averaged 8.1 points. He was dropped into Saturday's game in the second half, promptly scored 10 of his team's 12 points in one span of their second-half run.

Afterward, while celebrating on the court, he was handed a construction worker's hat by one of the Gopher fans.

"I told him, thanks," Lewis said, showing off the bright yellow helmet in his locker. "I'll wear it."

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