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NCAA TOURNAMENT AT A GLANCE

West Regional : What To Look For

March 10, 1998|CHRIS DUFRESNE

* The draw: It all sets up nicely for Arizona, which, if all goes well, gets to operate on Pacific time until the Final Four in San Antonio. With two wins in Sacramento, the Wildcats advance to the West Regional semifinals in Anaheim, a few three-point shots away from Mater Dei High, Miles Simon's alma mater. Arizona could face two tests in the regional semifinal and final: No. 4 Maryland and No. 2 Cincinnati. But don't forget that the Wildcats knocked off three top-seeded teams--Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky--en route to the title last year.

* Best first-round game: No. 3 Utah against No. 14 San Francisco. A matchup of great programs of the present and past. Utah has become a top-notch operation under Coach Rick Majerus. USF, an NCAA powerhouse in the 1950s with Bill Russell, makes its first tournament appearance since a 1980s scandal led to the school's dropping basketball for several seasons.

* Sleeper: Maryland. The Terrapins are an enigmatic tournament team if ever there was one. How else do you explain their defeating North Carolina but losing twice to Duke, by a total of 59 points?

* Upset in the making: No. 12 South Alabama over No. 5 Illinois. The Jaguars have four starters back from the team that led Arizona, 53-43, with 7:34 left in last year's first-round NCAA tournament game at Memphis. Arizona prevailed, 65-57. This season, South Alabama beat Washington and lost by eight points to Indiana. Also, Illinois hails from the Big Ten, which has a recent history of NCAA collapses.

* Impact coach: Cincinnati's Bob Huggins. UCLA's Steve Lavin is telling folks that no NCAA entrant has overcome more adversity than his Bruins. Beg to differ. Huggins' Bearcats overcame the suspension of four players to win the Conference USA tournament and garner a No. 2 seeding. UCLA played itself into a No. 6. Note that Cincinnati was not ranked nationally until January. Say what you will about the type of player Huggins recruits, but the man can coach.

* Impact player: Arizona senior forward Michael Dickerson. Here's a forgotten tidbit regarding the Wildcats' 1997 NCAA title run: Arizona did it with little production from Dickerson, the team's leading scorer, who had a miserable tournament. Dickerson made 25 of 78 shots in six games and only five of 28 three-point shots. Dickerson scored five points, making one of eight shots, in Arizona's title-game victory over Kentucky. Will there be a more motivated player in the West regional? Dickerson appears to have begun his redemption with a 30-point performance in Arizona's comeback victory over UCLA last weekend.

* The pick: Arizona.

WEST REGIONAL

FIRST-ROUND GAMES, THURSDAY

1. Arizona (27-4)*

16. Nicholls State (19-9)

*

8. Tennessee (20-8) 4:45 P.M.

9. Illinois State (24-5)

*

4. Maryland (19-10) 11:30 a.m.

13. Utah State (25-7)

*

5. Illinois (22-9)*

12. South Alabama (21-6)

*

2. Cincinnati (26-5)*

15. Northern Arizona (21-7)

*

7. Temple (21-8) 9:30 a.m.

10. West Virginia (22-8)

*

3. Utah (25-3) 4:45 p.m.

14. San Francisco (19-10)

*

6. Arkansas (23-8)*

11. Nebraska (20-11)

* Thirty minutes after previus game

ALL TIMES PACIFIC

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