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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT | FIRST LOOK

North Carolina (34-3) vs. Utah (29-3)

FINAL FOUR, SAN ANTONIO, Tex., Saturday, 5 p.m. PST (time approximate), Channel 2

March 24, 1998|GREG SANDOVAL

* UTAH AT A GLANCE: After destroying Arizona's bid to repeat as national champion, the Utes are not afraid of anyone. Not even Kentucky, who beat the Utes last season in the West Regional final and the previous year in the West's semifinal game. The first Western Athletic Conference team to make it to the Final Four since 1966, Utah is having a sensational run for a team that many felt lacked enough speed and athleticism to go anywhere. Losing to Nevada Las Vegas in the WAC tournament on March 5 also didn't inspire confidence. But the Utes, who appear to play a more controlled, conservative style during the regular season, have opened up in the tournament and surprised teams like Arizona and Arkansas with their ability to attack a press and get up and down the court.

* NORTH CAROLINA AT A GLANCE: Having played their toughest games practically in their own backyard, at Greensboro, N.C., the Tar Heels have had the easiest trip to the Final Four. Former coach Dean Smith is gone but Coach Bill Guthridge has the Tar Heels playing as if Smith were still calling the shots. The Tar Heels' starting lineup is testament to their depth.

UTAH'S PROBABLE STARTERS

* F--Alex Jensen (6-7, 225), So., No. 50

* F--Hanno Mottola (6-10, 230) So., No. 13

* C--Michael Doleac (6-11, 265) Sr., No. 51

* G--Drew Hansen (6-5, 195) Sr., No. 34

* G--Andre Miller (6-2, 200) Jr., No. 24

UTAH'S KEY RESERVES

* G--Trace Caton (6-4, 215) Fr., No. 21

* G--David Jackson (6-3, 205) So., No. 3

NORTH CAROLINA'S PROBABLE STARTERS

* F--Antawn Jamison (6-9, 223), Jr., No.33

* F--Ademola Okulaja (6-9, 235), Jr., No.13

* C--Makhtar Ndiaye (6-10, 231), Sr, No.4

* G--Vince Carter (6-7, 215), Jr, No.15

* G--Ed Cota (6-1, 185), So.,, No. 5

NORTH CAROLINA'S KEY RESERVES

* G--Shammond Williams (6-3, 189) Sr., No. 3

* C--Brendan Haywood (7-0, 265), Fr., No. 00

THE MATCHUPS

* FORWARDS: With North Carolina's kind of firepower, even if the Utes are successful at silencing Jamison, the Tar Heels can reload with Williams, Cota, Okulaja or Carter, who also plays small forward. North Carolina has a better front line than Arizona and Jamison, the probable player of the year, should have his way against a much slower Doleac and Mottola. The Tar Heels should get more inside scoring and not be forced to shoot from the perimeter as much as Arizona did.

* CENTER: Doleac is Utah's leading scorer and rebounder--he averages 16 points and seven rebounds--and the key to its defense. Ndiaye is smaller and more athletic but Doleac showed against Arizona's A.J. Bramlett and Bennett Davison that he can control quicker post players.

* GUARDS: Pegged as a slow, methodical and not very athletic team, the Utes are showing that in Miller, who scored 18 points against Arizona, they have all the athleticism they need. Nonetheless, don't look for the Utes to be running up and down the court against the Tar Heels. Miller will dictate the pace and try to lure North Carolina into a half-court game. But as against Arizona, he again faces a trio of superstar guards in Carter, Williams and Cota. The question is, how long can Miller continue to carry the Utes in the backcourt?

* INTANGIBLES: North Carolina takes a lot more experience into the Final Four than Utah. The team played in the Final Four last season. Utah's last appearance in a Final Four game was 32 years ago.

* COACHES: Though this is Guthridge's first trip to the semifinals as a head coach, he spent 30 years as Smith's chief assistant and helped plan strategies in 10 Final Four games. Majerus was an assistant to Al McGuire when Marquette won the 1977 national championship, but Majerus has never gotten past the round of eight as head coach.

* FINAL ANALYSIS: The game will be about Utah's defense. Majerus depends on his team's ability to shut down opponent's star players. Saturday they stifled Arizona's guard tandem of Miles Simon and Mike Bibby, holding them to a combined 13 points. Against West Virginia, the Utes stymied Mountaineer forward Damian Owens, and before that it was Arkansas' Pat Bradley. Saturday, Utah is certain to be clinging to the Tar Heel's Jamison. It's hard to pick against the Utes, but the Tar Heels are loaded, have a good inside-outside game and figure to wear the Utes down.

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