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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT

THE FINAL FOUR: Davids vs. Goliaths

Game 1: Madsen's physical style is considered Stanford's best shot against Kentucky.

March 28, 1998|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN ANTONIO — Maybe there will be broken noses and stitched-up chins. Maybe every tense trip downcourt will be a dozen hip-checks and serious shoulder slams. Maybe at the end, a good-natured redhead called "Mad Dog" will scream to his heart's content.

Maybe this game will have the mark of Madsen.

Because, no matter how much the coaches and players point to the more subtle shades of Cardinal basketball, Stanford's hopes of upending the sleeker Kentucky Wildcats in today's Final Four game at the Alamodome probably will ride on the shoulders of sophomore Mark Madsen, its slam-bang 6-foot-8 power forward.

Its accidental basketball terrorist.

Because, deep, high-speed, supremely organized Kentucky doesn't have anybody like Madsen. Because nobody has anybody like Madsen.

"The way I look at sports is, once you go out to the field or the court, you leave everything behind," said Madsen, who served a two-year Mormon mission in Spain after his senior year at San Ramon High in California.

"It's a fight for survival. If I'm not fighting to survive, the other guy's going to pound me into the ground."

The Wildcats won the South Regional title with balance and speed, by being larger than almost everybody else and by being faster than almost everybody else and by being larger and faster, in combination, than everybody else.

But what happens when Madsen's elbow accidentally whacks a Wildcat face, like the shot that bloodied Purdue center Brad Miller in Stanford's regional semifinal victory?

What does Kentucky do when Madsen picks up a loose ball, takes two steps, jumps into the face of a defender, and practically tears down the backboard and bellows joyously, as he did to put the Cardinal ahead for good in Stanford's roaring comeback against Rhode Island in the Midwest final?

Kentucky (33-4) knows it must be wary of Stanford guards Arthur Lee and Kris Weems, that center Tim Young can be dangerous, and that the Cardinal has big people coming off the bench in waves.

But the Wildcats, winners of their last 11 games, also know which Cardinal player has the best chance to wreak the most havoc on their best-laid national-title plans.

"I think the key is stopping Madsen," said Wildcat backup center Jamaal Magloire, who could wind up with much of the assignment. "He's a good player, but I feel that I can do well on him. . . .

"You've got to deny him the ball. You can't let him get his position. He can't touch the ball, basically. I've got to be between the man passing and him. I can't let him touch the ball.

"And every time a ball goes up for a shot, I've got to make it a point of finding him and just putting him underneath the basket--putting him in the stands if need be."

More often, however, it is Madsen's man who ends up staggering away from the play, in need of instant relief.

Lee scored the clutch 13 points in the last two minutes, bringing Stanford back from nine down against Rhode Island. And Young has snapped out of a late-season lull with two strong performances in the tournament.

But Madsen, averaging 16.3 points and 11.3 rebounds in tournament games, is the tone setter, the pick setter and the scene stealer.

"I think the big key is making sure we're helping on the post," Wildcat forward Scott Padgett said. "With those guys being so strong, we need to keep the ball out of the post as much as possible. They try to pound the ball inside, so they could cause us problems if we let them get a lot of catches down in the lane."

Said backup Kentucky forward Heshimu Evans, "Those guys are physical, they really manhandle people."

On Friday, it was Madsen who sat before the national media, and stared down the thought that the Cardinal would be satisfied by merely making the Final Four for the first time since 1942.

"We are loose, but we also have very high expectations for ourselves," Madsen said. "We set some very lofty goals at the beginning of the season. You know, some people are writing us off.

"The Stanford team is filled with guys that are tough and refuse to say, 'Done.' I mean, we are here, and we set goals to win a national championship. We set that goal in autumn."

Neither Madsen nor his coach, Mike Montgomery, was at all willing to accept the widely held notion that Stanford is vulnerable to fast-paced teams, and therefore must absolutely hold Kentucky to a slowdown or risk destruction.

The Cardinal lost four games this season, all to up-tempo teams, including humbling huff-and-puff debacles to Arizona, twice, and Connecticut.

But Stanford (30-4) also beat up-tempo UCLA twice, and came back to beat fast-paced Rhode Island.

"Yeah, I think Kentucky is a very quick team," Madsen said. "I think we're one of the quickest teams in the country as well. At the quickness positions, our guys are as quick as anyone. We have Arthur Lee, Kris Weems, Mike McDonald, Peter Sauer . . . these guys are very quick.

"I think we played some bad games against very quick teams, and because of that, people have hit us with the notion that we're a slow team."

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