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NCAA COLLEGE BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

Arizona Finds Itself Constantly Badgered in Loss

West Regional: No. 1-seeded team wilts under the defensive pressure of Wisconsin in 66-59 defeat.

March 19, 2000|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SALT LAKE CITY — Score the tournament's first significant upset to Team Ugly, the Wisconsin Badgers.

Credit the victory to skinned knees, ballhawking defense, shot-clock management and a coach, Dick Bennett, who may have been the first headmaster at "Old School."

Wisconsin started the Big Ten Conference season 1-4 and needed to win four of its last six games to make the NCAA tournament as a No. 8-seeded team, but Saturday it put the season-ending clamps on top-seeded Arizona, 66-59, in the West Regional before a crowd of 13,857 at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.

Wisconsin advances to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1947--before there was a Sweet 16.

Once upon a time, in 1941, Wisconsin claimed a national title, but enough about ancient history.

This is only the school's fourth NCAA appearance since 1947, and the Badgers don't really count last year's debacle in which they scored 32 points in a first-round loss to Southwest Missouri State.

"There's no glory in playing us," Wisconsin guard Mike Kelley admitted. "You know you're going to score 60 and it's going to be ugly."

Arizona didn't even make it to 60.

You could see this game plan unfolding from the salt flats. Wisconsin denied Arizona strongman forward Michael Wright the ball--holding a player who averages 17 points a game to two--let the Wildcat freshman guards shoot themselves out of the game--Jason Gardner and Gilbert Arenas combined to go two for 12 from three-point range--and milked every possession until it got the shot it wanted.

This wasn't Princeton over UCLA, but it was the same vintage.

Bennett said his team executed the game plan "as close to the letter as was humanly possible."

Incredibly, Wisconsin did it with star stopper Kelley on the bench for the last 14:29 of the first half because of foul trouble.

Admittedly, Arizona was a top-seeded team with a noticeable limp. The Wildcats were again without injured center Loren Woods, who certainly would have changed the landscape, and his replacement, Justin Wessel, hobbled for 30 minutes on a sprained right ankle.

"You can't worry about what you don't have," Arizona Coach Lute Olson said.

But when Olson didn't get to have forward Richard Jefferson, who played only 16 minutes because of foul trouble, Arizona was in big trouble.

Wisconsin (20-13) led by five points at the half and then really cranked up the defensive pressure. With Kelley back and shutting down Arenas, and Andy Kowske suffocating Wright inside, Wisconsin outscored Arizona, 11-3, in a span of 6:26 and extended the lead to 17 points after Duany Duany, the Badger with two first names--or is it two last names?--scored with 8:06 left.

Arizona made a last-gasp rally, scoring 15 points in the final two minutes. Consecutive three-point shots by Gardner and Jefferson cut the deficit to six with 1:50 left, and the Wildcats narrowed the gap to five on Arenas' three-point basket with 18.2 seconds left.

Arizona quickly fouled Kelley, who made two free throws with 16 seconds left to cinch the victory.

Kelly, finished with only eight points. but had four assists, five steals and no turnovers, while setting the tone with his intensity.

Arizona could only admire the effort.

"They get up in your face," Olson said of the Wisconsin defense. "When you expose the ball, they have very quick hands. They create a lot of problems with their physical toughness. They bang you and get in you every time you touch the ball."

Arenas led Arizona (27-7) with 21 points, and Mark Vershaw had 15 for Wisconsin.

Louisiana State 72, Texas 67--It was an even game for 38 minutes before the No. 4-seeded Tigers went on a 7-0 run in a one-minute spurt. After guard Torris Bright gave LSU a 62-60 lead on his layup with 2:08 left, LSU's Stromile Swift stuffed Texas' 7-foot center Chris Mihm on a dunk attempt, then raced down court to score a basket to make it 64-60.

"That was really the turning point of the game," Bright said of Swift's block and basket.

On Texas' next possession, Brian Beshara stripped Ivan Wagner of the ball and scored on a layup to make it 66-60, and the Tigers extended the lead to seven on Swift's free throw with 1:08 left.

Mihm, an Associated Press All-American, had only 13 points on five-for-14 shooting. Mihm also made only three of eight free throws.

"I just wasn't hitting my shots," he said. "My turnaround jump shot that I put in 60% to 70%, it just wouldn't fall. I felt like I was overcompensating. It was really frustrating."

Mihm, a junior, would not say if he would declare himself eligible for the NBA draft.

Swift, who appears to have an NBA future, had 23 points and 10 rebounds.

LSU (28-5) plays Wisconsin in the regional semifinals Thursday in Albuquerque. Texas, the regional's No. 5-seeded team, finishes 24-9.

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