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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT | J.A. ADANDE

Humbling Day Was a Pleasure to Watch

March 22, 1998|J.A. ADANDE

It's tough to figure out what's better about the NCAA tournament: the inspirational stories it provides or the humility it doles out.

As good as it was to see Utah advance to the Final Four, watching Arizona suffer a humbling 76-51 defeat at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim on Saturday was even more enjoyable.

The Wildcats carry themselves like the Chicago Bulls of college basketball, as if they were the lords of the realm. It starts with their coach, Lute Olson, who conducts every interview with a smirk that indicates he knows something the rest of us don't.

That wasn't the case Saturday. As he made the closing comments in his postgame news conference he did a lot of shrugging, as if he didn't know exactly what to say and he doesn't have all the answers, after all.

You'd think he would be better prepared for these situations after first-round losses in 1992 and 1993, but apparently last year's championship wiped his memory clean.

Too bad the Wildcats also seemed to forget all of the accolades they received in the wake of their title.

Yesterday's fresh faces become today's old news real quickly, and the Wildcats didn't do anything to keep themselves close to our hearts after their surprising run to the championship.

Winning it wasn't enough for them. They had to have everyone kiss their feet too. Bow down to Arizona.

When that didn't happen, when people dared to consider teams other than Arizona to be championship favorites in 1998, the Wildcats took offense.

All they do is talk about how they don't get respect, how the West doesn't get respect.

Fellas, just because people think your team is beatable doesn't mean they don't think it's very good. There hasn't been a team that was considered unbeatable since Nevada Las Vegas in 1991. And the Runnin' Rebels lost to Duke in the Final Four.

The Wildcats didn't understand that it's not important to be respected in December, January, February or even March. All that matters is to be respected in April, after the national championship.

Instead of reveling in being overlooked, Olson and the Wildcats went back to the old nobody-respects-the-Pac-10-and-the-West talk.

Olson tries to act as though he's sticking up for the entire region, but he's only trying to make his own team's accomplishments look better. How good would his Pac-10 titles look if no one thought he beat any good teams?

If Olson really had the West's best interests at heart, he would be giddy that Utah showed there really are some other squads playing good ball out here.

He wasn't giddy Saturday, but he was contrite, and that was a refreshing enough change.

"They beat us every way you can be beat," Olson said.

Miles Simon, who has spent most of the season in the No. 2 spot on the Arizona smug charts, said of Utah's defense: "They were everywhere we were out on the floor."

Hopefully, Simon came to another realization during his one-for-nine performance Saturday. Those floating shots in the lane he has feasted on in his college career don't work against a big front line like Utah's. And in the NBA, the players are even bigger and faster.

The only players on the court that we'll be watching in the pros five years from now were Utah center Michael Doleac and Arizona guard Mike Bibby--although Bibby sure didn't look the part Saturday, when Utah's defense made him a non-factor. I still consider Bibby the best point guard in college basketball, and even Utah Coach Rick Majerus said he thinks the same way despite Saturday's game.

For this day, the best point guard was Utah's Andre Miller.

Everyone had talked about Arizona's "spurtability," but Miller's game reminded me of another Clark Kellogg phrase: "stuffing the stat sheet."

Miller had 18 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists, two steals and a blocked shot. He controlled the game at both ends of the court more than anyone has in a big college game in a while.

It was nice to see a team with two academic All-Americans beat a team with two All-Americans. It was even more heartwarming to see a Proposition 48 casualty such as Miller get his day in the sun.

Even though he was an accomplished player at Verbum Dei High, Miller wasn't highly recruited because he didn't have high enough SAT scores. When are colleges going to stop treating Prop. 48 kids like pariahs? I'd like to see what kind of SAT scores these college administrators would get if they grew up in the same Compton neighborhood as Miller.

Miller deserves everything he gets. He's getting a trip to the Final Four, and in June he's expected to get his diploma.

Oh, Arizona did get a nice consolation prize from its trip to Anaheim.

"I have every respect for what that program has accomplished," Majerus said.

Hope that makes the Wildcats happy.

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