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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | BASKETBALL

Gaze Puts Aussies in Semifinals

September 29, 2000|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — His hair is gray, his bald spot is growing, and Andrew Gaze looks closer to 45 than 35.

Could this be the Michael Jordan of Australia?

That's how guard Shane Heal called it after another dazzling clutch shooting performance by Gaze on Thursday left Australia one victory from its first medal in men's basketball following a dramatic 65-62 quarterfinal victory over Italy.

Gaze, adored by Australian fans, simply looked amused: Michael Jordan?

"It is grossly inaccurate, mainly because I have zero athleticism," he said after scoring 27 points, making four of five three-point shots and scoring 13 of his team's final 15 points.

"The only small, faint resemblance would be the profile in Australia," said Gaze, a one-time Seton Hall player who has 26 NBA games to his name but is a seven-time most valuable player and 13-time scoring champion of Australia's National Basketball League.

"I guess the off-the-court stuff, maybe there's in a very vague, sort of long-distance way, some remote similarity," Gaze said. "But other than that, zero similarities."

Heal agreed on only one point.

"He has no athletic ability whatsoever," he said. "But I think he has what a lot of people don't. That's guts, heart, and he's not afraid to take the big shots."

This is true: Gaze doesn't hesitate if he's 20 feet out or 25, whether he's wide open or coming down the court one-on-three.

Australia had a rocky go of it in the Olympics until making it through to play France in the semifinals today.

The Boomers lost their first two games, then almost blew a 24-point lead to Russia in another preliminary before Gaze made a three-pointer in the final minute, sending the crowd into delirium.

"At that stage of the game, there are not too many people around who would shoot a three-pointer from four feet out [beyond the three-point line]," Heal said.

"God love him for it."

It was the same sort of scene against Italy, which led by three with six minutes left before Gaze took over, scoring 13 points the rest of the way on two three-pointers, a three-point play and four free throws, the last with 13 seconds to play.

"This happened many times in this tournament," said Bogdan Tanjevic, the Italian coach. "This is an honor to him, to be 35 years old and be the best player on the court. I congratulate him."

Italian guard Andrea Meneghin was dumbfounded.

"Mr. Gaze did something out of the ordinary and I still cannot come to terms with what he did," Meneghin said.

Australia has done as well as fourth before, losing to Lithuania in the bronze-medal game in 1996 and to the last U.S. college team in 1988.

Chances are, this is Gaze's last go-round--and the end of an incredible streak for the Gaze family.

Either Andrew or his father, Lindsay, has participated in every Olympics since 1956: Lindsay Gaze played Australian rules football in 1956 when it was an exhibition sport in Melbourne, then played basketball in the next three Olympics and coached in the next four.

Andrew played in '84, '88, '92 and '96 before this year.

What of 2004?

"I would say there is no possibility you'll see me in Greece," Gaze said.

Then he laughed.

"But you never know."

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