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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT | FIRST LOOK

Kentucky (33-4) vs. Stanford (30-4)

FINAL FOUR, SAN ANTONIO, Tex., Saturday, 2:30 p.m. PST, Channel 2

March 24, 1998|ROBYN NORWOOD

* STANFORD AT A GLANCE: The Cardinal is in the Final Four for the first time since 1942, when Stanford won the fledgling NCAA tournament. Expectations were building when Stanford started this season 18-0 and was ranked as high as No. 4, but then the Cardinal lost three of four games in rapid succession--to Arizona, Arizona State and Connecticut. Almost forgotten after that, Coach Mike Montgomery and his players no longer had to deal with unfamiliar talk of contending for a national championship and lost only one other game, to Arizona. Now look where Stanford has ended up. It took a total collapse by Rhode Island and big plays by guard Arthur Lee and forward Mark Madsen, but Stanford will carry the Pacific 10 banner into the Final Four.

* KENTUCKY AT A GLANCE: The Wildcats are in the Final Four for, ho-hum, the third year in a row and the fourth time in six years. But first-year Coach Tubby Smith is at the helm instead of Rick Pitino this time. Deep and athletic, Kentucky qualifies as college basketball's hottest team with 11 consecutive victories. It took a remarkable comeback from 18 points down against Duke to get that last one, however. Still, the Wildcats can run with the very best and create plenty of havoc--as UCLA can attest after its 94-68 regional semifinal loss. Kentucky also has a more versatile inside-outside game than even Stanford does, despite all the Cardinal's front-court depth. Any number of players can make the big plays when Kentucky needs them.

KENTUCKY'S PROBABLE STARTERS

* F--Scott Padgett (6-9, 229), Jr., No. 34.

* C--Nazr Mohammed (6-10, 240), Jr., No. 13.

* G--Jeff Sheppard (6-3, 190), Sr., No. 15.

* G--Allen Edwards (6-5, 200), Sr., No. 3.

* G--Wayne Turner (6-2, 187), Jr., No. 5.

KENTUCKY KEY RESERVES

* C--Jamaal Magloire (6-10, 240), So., No. 42.

* F--Heshimu Evans (6-6, 210), Jr., No. 14.

* G--Saul Smith (6-2, 170), Fr., No. 11.

STANFORD'S PROBABLE STARTERS

* F--Pete Sauer (6-7, 225), Jr., No. 5.

* F--Mark Madsen (6-8, 235), So., No. 45.

* C--Tim Young (7-1, 245), Jr., No. 55.

* G--Kris Weems (6-3, 195), Jr., No. 3.

* G--Arthur Lee (6-0, 175), Jr., No. 11.

STANFORD'S KEY RESERVES

* F--Ryan Mendez (6-7, 205), So. No. 32.

* F--Jarron Collins (6-9, 240), Fr., No. 31.

* G--David Moseley (6-4, 198), So., No. 21.

THE MATCHUPS

* FORWARDS: Stanford's Madsen is an emotional leader, as his caveman roar made clear after his big basket following Lee's steal during Stanford's last-minute comeback against Rhode Island. But although the Cardinal has plenty of big forwards, they can't match the fast-breaking ability of Kentucky's versatile swingmen, such as Padgett, Edwards and Evans.

* CENTER: The Young-Mohammed battle goes to Mohammed, who is a quicker, more versatile player but doesn't play the whole game. Young doesn't play the prominent role people expected at the beginning of the season, but he fits well in Stanford's system.

* GUARDS: Kentucky's Turner is tough to stop off the dribble, but maybe Lee's schooling under Brevin Knight will help. Lee made the big plays against Rhode Island, but Weems showed against Purdue that he can disappear. Kentucky's Sheppard and Edwards are savvy players who know the Final Four routine.

* INTANGIBLES: Let's see, Stanford hasn't been to the Final Four in Coach Mike Montgomery's lifetime, and Kentucky has several Final Fours in a 3-year-old's lifetime. Even though this year's stars aren't the stars of seasons past, understanding what's ahead should be a big plus for Kentucky.

* COACHING: Neither has ever been to the Final Four, but Montgomery and Smith are two of the more respected and better-liked coaches in the country. Neither would be in over his head against North Carolina's Bill Guthridge or Utah's Rick Majerus in the title game, and it's a rare Final Four in that there are four outstanding coaches, and not one you'd pull against.

* FINAL ANALYSIS: Kentucky goes to the championship game for the third consecutive year because of its quickness, depth, devastating running game, and the fight the Wildcats showed in coming back from 17 points down against Duke to make the Final Four. Kentucky is just the type of quick perimeter team that has given Stanford the most trouble all season--see Arizona, Arizona State, Connecticut, even Rhode Island. For Stanford to win, the Cardinal's inside-outside game will have to be hitting on all cylinders.

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