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NCAA COLLEGE BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

Suddenly, North Carolina Is Stanford's No. 1 Thought

South: Cardinal finishes off South Carolina State, 84-65, then looks forward to Tar Heels.

March 18, 2000|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — This is precisely how a first-round game for a No. 1-seeded team should go.

Stretch the legs, let the possibility of a monumental upset play in the mind of the No. 16 team no more than a few minutes, take a 20-point lead by halftime, move on: Stanford 84, South Carolina State 65.

What awaits Stanford on Sunday, however, is not traditional second-round fare.

It doesn't even sound fair: North Carolina.

"Tough second-round game, tough," Stanford freshman Casey Jacobsen said after scoring 18 points to lead the Cardinal again, making six of nine shots and four of seven three-pointers.

"People say we got a bum deal: North Carolina's a pretty good team in the second round when you're the No. 1 seed," Jacobsen said. "But it really doesn't matter, we're going to have to beat good teams anyway."

Granted, this isn't your traditional Tar Heel powerhouse, not with a 19-13 record.

True, North Carolina barely deserved to make the NCAA field. But now the Tar Heels are coming off their best game of the season--and they match up surprisingly well with the Cardinal.

Stanford is big and a little slow, North Carolina is big and a little slow.

They met last season, and the Tar Heels won the Preseason NIT title over the Cardinal, 57-49, at Madison Square Garden.

Chalk that up to North Carolina point guard Ed Cota, who had 17 points, 11 rebounds and five assists--and that was against Arthur Lee. Michael McDonald will guard him Sunday.

"I think Cota is the key to their team," Stanford Coach Mike Montgomery said.

"Brendan Haywood's big, Kris Lang is big. Jason Capel's talented, Joseph Forte's talented. Cota's the one who has the ball all the time, penetrates and dishes. You have to keep him in front of you."

That would be McDonald's job.

"He's a good point guard. It will be a great challenge," McDonald said. "It's going to be fun. I was kind of hoping they'd win just so I could play against him."

Friday's game against S.C. State was a mere warmup, played in front of a dwindling crowd in the late game of the NCAA South Regional at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center.

About the only thing to hold a spectator's interest was the contrast between the hip rhythms of S.C. State's cheerleaders and the intentionally dippy Stanford brand of cool.

That, and S.C. State's Bulldog mascot pretending to relieve himself on the Stanford tree.

Stanford (27-3) was businesslike, holding S.C. State (20-14) to 29% shooting and making 49% of its shots, including 13 of 23 three-pointers. The Cardinal faltered to a 17-for-30 performance at the line, however.

That's behind now. Fast-forward to Sunday.

North Carolina's 7-foot center, Brendan Haywood, was the star of the Tar Heels' first-round victory over Missouri, finishing with 28 points and 15 rebounds against the Tigers' undersized lineup.

It won't be so easy going against the Collins twins, Jarron and Jason, along with Mark Madsen, who played with Haywood on the U.S. team at the World University Games last summer.

Haywood knows he has a reputation for being soft. He'll be trying to disprove it Sunday against Stanford's front line.

"I've checked them out a few times on TV," said Haywood, who outplayed Tim Young in last season's game. "They're physical, they're well coached, and they really execute well."

It will be a familiar battle, with many of the players remaining from last year's teams.

"I know they're a good opponent," Cota said. "They're a No. 1 seed and they're one of the best teams in the country right now."

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