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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT | TODAY / AT SAN ANTONIO

ARIZONA vs. MISSISSIPPI

March 23, 2001|JIM RHODE

* STYLE OF PLAY: It's fast-and-loose vs. bump-and-grind. Arizona has flair for the daring--Gilbert Arenas' jumpers from the outer limits and Richard Jefferson's high-wire act on lob passes. Mississippi likes to get its opponents in the mud and slog around.

* MATCHUP TO WATCH: The clash of the titans: Arizona's 6-foot-7, 238-pound Michael Wright and Mississippi's 6-8, 250-pound Rahim Lockhart. Wright and Lockhart like to have plenty of elbow room so pity the player who ventures into the pit when these gladiators lock up.

* INTANGIBLES: The Wildcats have ridden an emotional roller-coaster to the round of 16 with the death of Coach Lute Olson's wife, Bobbi, in January, and suspensions of Jefferson and enigmatic 7-footer Loren Woods. In the face of adversity, they have risen to their highest level in winning nine of their final 10 regular-season games and polishing off their two tournament opponents by an average of 23 points. The Rebels are no rousers, rather workmanlike players who are always on the clock. When allowed to chip away at an opponent, they usually prevail when the chips are down.

* MAGIC NUMBERS: For Arizona it's 82--the Wildcats are 14-0 in games they scored that number of points or exceeded it. For Mississippi it's 65--the Rebels won each of the 15 games in which their opponents scored at or below that number.

* FINAL ANALYSIS: Mississippi's season has been the mystery achievement of college basketball. The Rebels were picked to finish last in the Southeastern Conference West Division, yet finished first. At this level, they become the Great Pretenders and the Wildcats go on to the Great Eight.

KANSAS vs. ILLINOIS

* STYLE OF PLAY: Illinois always has a controlling interest in its games with guard Frank Williams, the Big Ten player of the year. The Illini offense revolves around Williams, who can break down any defense on the dribble but is equally adept at finding a teammate for an uncontested shot. He's also the first line of defense when the opposition is in the half-court game, a master thief when the ball hangs around the perimeter too long. Kansas likes to soften up the opposition with its physical front line, then have guards Kirt Hinrich and Jeff Boschee deliver the knockout punch from long range.

* MATCHUP TO WATCH: Illinois' one-man wrecking crew Lucas Johnson (6-8, 240) against Kansas' Drew Gooden (6-9, 225), Nick Collison (6-9, 240) and Eric Chenowith (7-1, 260). Johnson, who seems destined for a Dennis Rodman-type career in the NBA, will go for the pound-for-pound title.

* INTANGIBLES: Kansas Coach Roy Williams thought he got the monkey off his back by winning in the second round for the first time in five years, but he must still deal with one nagging reminder of past Jayhawk disappointments--poor free-throw shooting (.667). Illinois also has considerable tournament baggage, with this being its first Sweet 16 appearance in eight attempts since reaching the Final Four in 1989.

* MAGIC NUMBERS: For Kansas it's 78--the Jayhawks won each of the 19 times they reached or exceeded that many points. For Illinois, it's .325--the opposition's three-point shooting percentage.

* FINAL ANALYSIS: Both schools took more NCAA lumps than they should have in the 1990s, but this tough-enough version of the Illini can take whatever the Jayhawks dish out.

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