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Vermont Snowed Under

Weather delays Catamounts' arrival, then No. 1 Arizona unleashes another storm on the court in 80-51 victory.

March 21, 2003|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

SALT LAKE CITY — It took the Vermont Catamounts 103 years to get here, so what was another 42 hours?

A lot.

"We spent two days in the biggest snowstorm in the history of Denver," Catamount Coach Tom Brennan said Thursday. "Who knew that it would be the calm before the storm."

Handed one of the most unlucky hands dealt a first-time NCAA entrant, Vermont got stuck with the worst weather imaginable en route from Burlington and then had to battle Hurricane Arizona.

The result was predictable.

In fact, you could look at it this way: In No. 1 Arizona's 80-51 first-round West Regional romp over No. 16 Vermont at the Huntsman Center, the Catamounts scored only nine more points than hours it took to make it to Salt Lake.

Leg weary?

You bet.

Vermont stayed close for a while, trailing, 15-13, with 11:19 left in the first half, the crowd cheering for one of the all-time underdogs.

But then came the inevitable unraveling, Arizona exercising its superior talent even as Coach Lute Olson would complain about the rough edges -- 16 turnovers, Jason Gardner's continued shooting slump.

Vermont wasn't going to win this game anyway but didn't get any help. The team was stranded overnight Tuesday in Denver and most of Wednesday before busing to Colorado Springs and arranging for a charter flight to deliver the team to Salt Lake late Wednesday night.

Most of the players didn't make it to bed until after midnight and then had to tip off at 1:20 p.m. local time.

On top of that, there was the altitude to deal with.

At one point in the second half, Vermont forward Taylor Coppenrath struck up an on-court conversation with Arizona star Luke Walton.

"I was talking to him about how hard it was to breathe, because of the difference in air," Coppenrath said. "And he agreed."

Vermont (21-12) left the tournament with maybe the shortest, and classiest, stay.

With a million excuses to draw from, the Catamounts made few.

"No, no, no," Brennan said. "We weren't in a fox hole, or in a cave, we were in a Holiday Inn, with covers, watching 'SportsCenter.' It takes that long for us to get to Maine sometimes."

Vermont goes home with its tournament watches and short-term memories. Coppenrath finished with 18 points; center Matt Sheftic added 10.

"When you're on the road for two days it's hard to get your legs under you," Sheftic said. "But they were very tough on defense."

Arizona (26-3) moves on to face Gonzaga on Saturday in one of the tournament's best early-round matchups.

It's tough to nitpick about a 29-point win, but Olson does have concerns. His Wildcats were sloppy at times in the first half, shooting only 39%.

Also, there's a budding Gardner problem. The senior guard and team leader followed up a two-for-20 shooting day last week against UCLA by making only two of nine shots Thursday.

Wildcat teammates say they are not concerned ... for now. Thursday, they got enough offense from everyone else to compensate for Gardner. Four Arizona players finished with 12 points or more, led by Salim Stoudamire's 18.

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