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FINAL FOUR NOTES

Arizona Follows '97 Script

April 02, 2001|MIKE TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There are some similar circumstances surrounding this season's Arizona team and the 1997 Wildcat squad that won the NCAA title.

In both seasons, five Pac-10 teams made the tournament. (Arizona finished fifth in the conference that year; this season it was second behind Stanford.) And the Wildcats had to defeat three top seeds--Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky--to win the championship. It was the first time in tournament history that was accomplished.

This season's Wildcats already have defeated top seeds Illinois and Michigan State, and a victory over Duke would make it three.

The last time Arizona lost to a top seed was in 1994, falling to eventual NCAA champion Arkansas, 91-81, in the Final Four at Charlotte, N.C.

In tournament play, Arizona is 6-3 against top seeds.

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On Sunday, Wildcat Coach Lute Olson all but called the 1997 championship a fluke.

"We had one McDonald's All-American on that team and he was a freshman," Olson said. "I've said before that '97 was really a rebuilding year for us where everything just went right, you know, down the stretch."

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Arizona forward Eugene Edgerson is as celebrated for his billowing Afro hairstyle as he is for his jarring screens and rebounding.

"It's a tribute to the guys who played in the '60s, '70s and '80s," said Edgerson, who let his hair grow for three years. "They paved the way. I watch a lot of tape of the old-time players. They played hard and played to win. I want to play just as hard and help my team win."

And the hair will stay, even if the Wildcats win tonight.

"Woe to the person who breaks out some scissors or clippers," Edgerson said. 'They will be in for a very long evening."

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Loren Woods, who in October said Arizona could be one of the greatest teams ever "if we play the way we're capable," described the Wildcats' season as "a mystical year."

"I couldn't have picked a better team for me to be associated with," Woods said. "Right now I have an opportunity a lot of people never have."

As for the "greatest" remarks, Woods backtracked with a little humor.

"We won't compare to the [UCLA] teams that won 80 straight or with the 1990-91 UNLV. But we did create some history. We were the first team in about 30 years to lose their own tournament, and we were the first number one team to almost go out of the top 25 in the first six weeks."

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Gilbert Arenas missed the morning interview sessions while getting treatment for his injured right shoulder. But roommate and backcourt partner Jason Gardner expects Arenas to be ready for Duke.

"Last night he said he was feeling better and this morning he said he was feeling better," Gardner said. "When the ref throws the ball up, he's going to be the regular Gilbert Arenas."

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Duke is 5-0 in the Metrodome and won its last national championship here in 1992. But Coach Mike Krzyzewski said he's not big on karma or deja vu.

"I'm an inner-city guy. I don't do karma stuff,' Krzyzewski said. "Karma played second base on my baseball team in Chicago.

"Seriously, it's just good. It's familiar territory. But each situation is new."

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Duke and Arizona have met six times previously, and each has won three games. The teams never have met in the NCAA tournament, but it will be the fifth time they have played on a neutral court.

The last time they played, Duke won, 95-87, in the 1997 championship game of the Maui Invitational.

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Duke's Chris Duhon, who suffered a slight concussion after his collision with Maryland's Steve Blake as the two went after an errant pass Saturday, said he couldn't recall much about the play.

"The only thing I remember was the ball was in the air," said Duhon, who expects to be ready to play tonight. "I tried to go for the steal; we collided. My head hit the floor, and I blacked out a little.

"My head still hurts, but I'm not feeling any signs of dizziness or anything like that."

This was the second concussion Duhon has sustained in the tournament. He was injured during Duke's game against Missouri in the second round.

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