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TOURNAMENT HAD ALL A COLLEGE FAN COULD WANT

Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / April 6, 1998

Do you remember going to an amusement park and seeing a ride that you could not wait to get on? And when the ride ended, you wanted to get on it again and again? That was what the 1998 NCAA Tournament felt like.

Too often in sports, the anticipation is greater than the actual event. Notso with the tournament, one that had a little of everything for a college hoops fan.

You want upsets? Where do you start? How about Richmond knocking off South Carolina? Or Western Michigan bringing down Clemson. There wasWashington upsetting Xavier, Detroit stunning St. John’s and Rhode Islandsurprising No. 1-seed Kansas. The list goes on and on.You like buzzer beaters? Ok, there was Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew sinking a 3-pointer to eliminate Ole Miss in the first round. West Virginia’s JarrodWest banking in a shot as the horn sounded to stun Cincinnati in the second round. And Connecticut’s Richard Hamilton popping in a rebound to endWashington’s season in the regionals.

Close games? Sixteen games were decided by three points or less and four went in to overtime.

Comebacks? All you have to do is look at the national champion Kentucky Wildcats. Down 17 points to No. 1 seed Duke in the final nine minutes inthe regional semifinals? No problem. Trailing Stanford by 10 in the in theFinal Four? Just send the game into overtime and win by a point.

And then there was Monday’s classic championship game. First, it wasUtah rallying from an early deficit, using a stifling defense to take a 41- 31 lead at the half. The lead grew to 12 early in the second half, but theWildcats started chipping away at the deficit, finally overtaking the Utes with seven minutes left. The 12-point deficit was the largest margin evererased in a championship game.

Despite the loss, fans of the Utes should be proud. This was a team thatwas the model of everything that the NCAA should stand for. Twoacademic All-Americans. One Rhodes Scholar finalist. A Prop 48 candidatewho became an honor role student. And one of the truly good guys in thesport, coach Rick Majerus.

Utah advanced through the tournament using old-fashioned defense. Herewas a team that was lightly regarded before the season yet came back to defeat Arizona by 25 points in the regional finals, then upset No. 1 NorthCarolina in the Final Four. And they did it without a true star – how manypeople outside of Utah could name one starter before the tournament began? The Utes were a microcosm of what the NCAA tournament was all about.

Three weeks ago, 64 teams began the journey to San Antonio. There couldbe only one champion at the end and Kentucky, a team that never quit no matter what the deficit was, is a deserving one. But in this tournament,there were no losers.

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