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SPOTLIGHT

Dean May Be Out, but Vermont's In

March 14, 2004|From Times staff and wire reports

On the shores of a lake whose name outsiders often mispronounce, in an overcrowded gymnasium, in front of a former governor, the Vermont Catamounts once again showed the depth they first displayed all those weeks ago at UCLA.

Remarkable as it might seem to some, Vermont is heading to the NCAA tournament and the Bruins are staying home.

The man who nearly led the Catamounts to an upset victory Nov. 29 over the Bruins also led his teammates to the NCAA tournament Saturday.

And it wasn't former Gov. Howard Dean.

Despite sitting out since Feb. 15 because of a broken wrist, Taylor Coppenrath returned to score 43 points in Vermont's 72-53 victory over Maine in the America East Conference tournament title game at Burlington, Vt.

"Coppenrath was amazing," Maine Coach John Giannini said of Vermont's 6-foot-9 forward.

The Bruins already knew that, watching him go for 38 in a game the Catamounts should have won, but didn't (in large part) because referee Bill Kennedy chose not to call an obvious hack of Vermont's T.J. Sorrentine at the buzzer.

In the end, UCLA's 68-67 escape was one of the season's few highlights.

The story of Vermont's season remains incomplete, although there seems to be little chance the Catamounts (21-8) can top Saturday's victory or last season's NCAA tournament experience, their first in 103 years.

A springtime blizzard kept the Catamounts grounded in Denver for two days en route to an 80-51 first-round loss to Arizona at Salt Lake City in March.

But it's difficult to keep a good team down, and with Coppenrath back from his injury earlier than expected and no reason to think they'll be snowbound again, the word is out: Beware of the boys from the shores of Lake Champlain.

It's pronounced Sham-plain, by the way, not Champagne, although the bubbly probably was flowing after Vermont's main man led the Catamounts past Maine.

Words From Mr. Optimism

After his team won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament title, Florida A&M Coach Mike Gillespie said he expects the Rattlers will have to face another low-seeded team in the play-in game that narrows the field to 64 teams.

"That's fine," he said after the Rattlers' 58-51 victory over Coppin State at Richmond, Va. "That'll give us a chance to get another win and then go upset Kentucky or whoever we play."

For the record, Florida A&M is 14-16, a better mark than the Rattlers had before their last tournament appearance. They were 12-18 after winning the MEAC tournament in 1999.

Kentucky (25-4) plays Florida for the Southeastern Conference title today and could earn a top seeding in a regional with a victory.

Now That's Not Nice

Tony Bobbitt wore a net around his neck after Cincinnati's 55-50 victory over DePaul in the Conference USA championship game at Cincinnati, which sure beat rolling around on the floor in agony during the game.

You see, Bobbitt took a punch to the groin from DePaul's LeVar Seals but managed to stay in the game and provide a key three-point basket and a driving layup for the No. 13 Bearcats. Seals was ejected for his low blow.

"It doesn't matter," Bobbitt said of getting slugged. "We got the win."

Seals apparently struck Bobbitt because Bobbitt kept woofing about making a three-pointer on Cincinnati's previous trip.

"We were both talking, and I'm not going to shut my mouth," Bobbitt said.

Maybe he should.

Blue Devils Go Streaking

A victory today over Maryland would give Duke its sixth consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference championship and its 18th tournament victory in a row. The Blue Devils last lost an ACC tournament game in 1998, an 83-68 defeat to North Carolina.

No. 5 Duke tuned up for today's title game with an 85-71 victory over No. 14 Georgia Tech at Greensboro, N.C.

"It's just really as efficient on the offensive end as we've played all year. To me, it was beautiful basketball," Coach Mike Krzyzewski said, ditching his customary postgame practice of saying nothing of note.

Begging His Forgiveness

Oklahoma State used a zone defense to subdue Texas Tech during a Big 12 tournament semifinal game at Dallas.

"Our zone saved us," Cowboy Coach Eddie Sutton said after an 82-77 victory over the Red Raiders put No. 7 Oklahoma State into the Big 12 title game today against No. 11 Texas.

"We couldn't cover them. They were just picking us to death, screening us to death."

Knowing the late Henry Iba, a coaching legend at Oklahoma State, hated zones, Sutton felt the need to explain himself to Texas Tech Coach Bob Knight, a longtime friend who also is no fan of zones.

"You know, Mr. Iba is probably frowning down right now, but we can't cover you," Sutton said he told Knight.

Nevertheless, not long after going to the zone, Oklahoma State took control of the game by going on a 14-1 run late in the first half.

Yo, Hawks, Wish You Were Here

With top-ranked Saint Joseph's back home in Philadelphia after a first-round loss in the Atlantic 10 tournament, Xavier and Dayton turned the championship game into a battle of Ohio.

Despite playing on Dayton's home floor, Xavier, situated an hour away in Cincinnati, clinched its fourth consecutive NCAA tournament berth with a 58-49 victory. Dayton also expects to be selected to the tournament.

Dedrick Finn scored 11 points, including two on a 12-foot jump shot that gave the Musketeers the lead for good at 49-47 with 3:34 remaining.

Dayton scored only two points in the game's final 7 1/2 minutes, on free throws by Ramod Marshall.

There was no immediate reaction from Saint Joe's, but the pockets of Xavier supporters surrounded by red-clad Dayton fans loved the final result.

-- Compiled by Elliott Teaford

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