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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT

Miller Assures Change of Guard

March 22, 1998|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Andre Miller grabbed the rebound and was gone. He flew past one, two, three Arizona defenders and headed straight at a fourth, 6-foot-11 A.J. Bramlett.

Logic dictated caution. But Miller was dictating this game. He bolted to the basket for a layup that was like a dagger. It gave the Utes a 66-43 lead with 5 minutes 8 seconds left. The defending national champions were not going to be allowed to defend their national championship any more.

"I could hear Coach telling me to slow it down," said Miller, after the Utes' 76-51 victory Saturday in the NCAA West Regional final at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim. "The smart thing would have been to slow down. But I wanted to attack him."

Few will argue with Miller's decisions after his performance against the Wildcats. His triple-double--18 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists--put the Utes in the Final Four. He played 36 minutes and outplayed Arizona's All-American guards, Miles Simon and Mike Bibby.

How much he meant to the Utes was evident when Utah called time out with five minutes left. Miller's teammates brought him a chair, then gathered around him as he caught his breath.

"I was tired, but I could see Arizona was more tired," Miller said. "I knew we had them."

It was Miller, a 6-2 junior, who wore down the Wildcats.

He seemed to be everywhere. He was spinning, twisting and leaping to score on layups and short jumpers. On defense, he darted in and out, from the top of the key to the baseline in the Utes' triangle-and-two zone.

"I could not take Andre out of the game," Utah Coach Rick Majerus said. "We would lose something with him out."

It was a conquering-hero moment for Miller, who played at Verbum Dei High. He went off to Utah and the Western Athletic Conference four years ago and returned to Southern California to become the most valuable player in the West Regional.

"I wanted the guys to give me the ball, get out of my way and let me dribble," Miller said. "I was able to spin and turn and dribble right past them."

From the start.

Miller scored the game's first basket, taking Arizona's Michael Dickerson inside for a layup. The game never left his control.

He made seven of 15 shots. Miller said he grabbed breathers on defense, where he was the point man in the triangle-and-two. He also grabbed 13 defensive rebounds, many away from Bramlett.

Miller made plays that there aren't categories for. He dove out of bounds to fling the ball off Bramlett's foot with eight minutes left. Miller followed with a layup that gave Utah a 53-36 lead. On the next possession, he scored again and Utah was up by 19.

"I'm going to go home and get a big frame for this piece of lint," Miller said, pointing to the small strip of the net he cut down after the game. "Everyone said we were the underdogs. We're barking loud now."

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