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What To Look For

March 21, 2000|CHRIS DUFRESNE

How they got here: Through the back bracket door. Louisiana State, at No. 4, is the highest-seeded team left in the wacky West, followed by No. 6 Purdue, No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 10 Gonzaga.

LSU needed a late three-point basket by Brian Beshara to stave off Southeast Missouri State in round one, then broke a 60-60 tie against No. 5 Texas with a 7-0 spurt in the 38th minute to pull out a 72-67 victory.

Purdue barely survived Dayton, then pulled off an upset against No. 3 Oklahoma at Tucson.

Point-a-minute Wisconsin sucked Fresno State and No. 1 Arizona into its defensive cheese factory to advance to its first post-baby boom Sweet 16.

Gonzaga proved the NCAA selection committee grossly underestimated the West Coast Conference by knocking off basketball icons Louisville and St. John's. For the record, bracket boys, Gonzaga is 5-1 in its last six tournament games.

Difference makers: He's prone to bricking layups, can't shoot a lick, walks with a limp, can't take his man off the dribble and wasn't recruited outside Dairyland. But, with Temple out of the tournament, Wisconsin junior guard Mike Kelley replaces Pepe Sanchez as the most unlikely looking MVP in the field. Kelley is the Big Ten's top dogged defender and his M.O. is to knock superstars off their game. He held Fresno State's Courtney Alexander, the nation's leading scorer at 25 points a game, to 11, and had eight points, four assists, five steals and no turnovers in the upset of Arizona.

Team updates: LSU is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1987.

Purdue guard Jaraan Cornell had a poor shooting season, but made key shots in the Dayton win and three free throws in the final minute in the Oklahoma win.

Gonzaga had only 10 turnovers against St. John's after committing a season-high 24 against Louisville.

Nobody needed a few days off more than Wisconsin's Kelley, who left Salt Lake City battered and bruised.

How it shakes out: This regional is the most wide open. Any one of these teams can pull it out. Wisconsin faces maybe its most daunting challenge against LSU. The Badgers ganged up on the inside to hold Arizona forward Michael Wright to two points, but now must find an answer for 6-foot-9 rim-rattler Stromile Swift and wide-body 6-11 center Jabari Smith. After watching Wisconsin dismantle Arizona and Fresno State, we say Wisconsin goes on! Gonzaga versus Purdue may be decided in the last second on the last shot. We figure the teams are that even. Now that Temple's John Chaney is out of the tournament, Purdue's Coach Gene Keady becomes the sentimental favorite to make his first Final Four.

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