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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT | BILL PLASCHKE

Advisory: We Will Be Giving the Final Score Here

March 30, 1998|BILL PLASCHKE

SAN ANTONIO — Why wait around all day to watch the NCAA basketball championship when you can read about it right here, right now.

Tipoff: Kentucky's Nazr Mohammed taps the ball from midcourt, over the heads of five Utah players, and into the basket for a 3-0 lead.

Ute men can't jump. They know it. Everybody knows it.

Kentucky figured this out the minute Utah stepped on the court for pregame warmups.

"Teams come out and see us doing our little layups and they all think, we got these guys," guard Drew Hansen said.

Watching this opening play reminds some of Utah's team dunk contest during its season-opening Midnight Madness practice.

It lost a little steam when only one of the two finalists could actually dunk.

15:00 Remaining In First Half: Utah overcomes the early tip to jump to a 20-3 lead in typically hypnotizing fashion.

Six passes and a shot.

A steal, six passes, and a shot.

A hand in the face, a long-armed rebound, six passes and a shot.

On the Kentucky sideline, Coach Tubby Smith is so upset, during one dead ball, he substitutes six players. During another, he substitutes Cameron Mills for Cameron Mills, confusing the poor guy back into tears. The players shrug. They hate his increasingly erratic rotation, but they are used to it.

"It's hard," Allen Edwards said earlier. "But you know that even if you miss a shot and get taken out right away, you'll be going back in because somebody else is going to miss another shot real soon."

10:00 Remaining In First Half: Kentucky closes the gap to 25-20 with contributions from three guys with one thing in common: They all received their last haircut while wearing a bowl.

Jeff Sheppard makes a three-pointer. Scott Padgett sinks one. Cameron Mills sinks one.

This is particularly nice revenge for Padgett, who, last summer, was cut from the national under-22 basketball team after the head coach cursed him out for criticizing a teammate.

That coach was, uh, Rick Majerus.

"No hard feelings," Majerus said Sunday.

"No ill will," Padgett said Sunday.

Neither of whom was smiling.

5:00 Remaining In First Half: Kentucky takes a 30-25 lead with relentless defense, great guard play, and the cheering of Ashley Judd.

The Wildcats' No. 1 fan shimmies behind the bench wearing a new Kentucky T-shirt purchased in the infants' section.

Halftime: As the teams run off the floor with Utah leading, 34-33, a Kentucky official exhorts the Wildcats to pay attention to Tubby.

In a moment of confusion, they follow the white-sweatered Majerus.

15:00 Remaining: Utah stretches the lead to 42-37 on the strength of 6-foot-11 Michael Doleac, who reminds one of Larry Bird on steroids.

Watching Doleac move easily around Mohammed, Utah folks are also reminded of the day he first set foot on campus.

The Portland, Ore., high school senior was born in San Antonio, raised in Alaska and had never played in a varsity basketball game. Yet Majerus took Doleac to the top of a hill overlooking campus and set out two lawn chairs.

As the sun was setting over the Utes' arena, he turned to him and said, "You can have a scholarship here if you want it."

Doleac responded, "You're kidding me."

The kid admitted later that he and the coach were having a communication problem.

"I didn't even know what a scholarship was," he said. "I'm serious. I had no idea how it worked."

10:00 Remaining: Utah stretches the lead to 50-42, but the real story is on press row.

Billy Packer, who has been ripping Kentucky's poor shooting and perimeter defense, says that CBS should be ashamed of itself for allowing one of its broadcasters to be so negative about the college game.

He say if CBS won't fire him, he will, and promptly quits.

Jim Nantz completes the broadcast with help from new color man Steve Lavin, who had been hanging around and needed a place to sit.

5:00 Remaining: The Wildcats close the gap to 55-54, thanks to some encouragement from Smith. Not with his words, but with his glare.

When Smith gets mad, the players say he looks at them so hard, his eyes pop out.

"Coach Pitino would yell and scream, but Coach Smith, he uses those eyes," Turner said. "Those eyes, they get you."

1:30 Remaining: Kentucky takes a 59-58 lead, at which point the entire 35,000-person Wildcat rooting section rushes the floor.

While order is being restored, one is reminded of Scott Padgett's favorite story about college basketball's most, uh, serious fans.

"Last week, some lady named her baby after me," he said, pausing. "That's pretty weird."

Upon further questioning, Padgett admitted that even he would not name his child after him.

1:00 Remaining: The score is tied at 62-all after Kentucky blows a chance to seal the game when Wayne Turner misses six consecutive free throws.

Perhaps this is because he uses a tight, awkward style that he could have honed only while wearing a straitjacket.

Or maybe it's because he was having the same problems when he missed important free throws in the closing minutes of the semifinal win against Stanford.

"I was thinking, 'We're in the Final Four and these are big free throws," Turner said. "Maybe I thought a little too much."

Final Buzzer: With five seconds remaining, Utah's Andre Miller drives the length of the floor around Turner before dishing to Doleac, who nails a five-footer over Mohammed for the victory.

That's right, Utah, national champions, mind over matter, fundamentals over flash, McDonald's junkies over McDonald's All-Americans, 66-64.

Majerus tears off his sweater and throws it into the stands, plunging three sections into darkness.

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