March 22, 1998 in Sports

Fate Sends Champs In Opposite Directions Utah Reaches Final Four By Handing Arizona Its Worst Loss In Olson’s 15 Years

Don Bosley Sacramento Bee

The nerds got their revenge Saturday, but good. That’s the last time Rick Majerus or anyone else complains about the Utah basketball players being a bunch of sweet guys.

On a day when March Madness made a full segue to March Say-What?-ness, the Utes showed Arizona that bookworms actually know how to snarl. They yanked the magic carpet out from under the defending national champs, then stood there and beat the thing to death before 17,851 stunned witnesses at The Pond.

They walloped Arizona by the inconceivable count of 76-51 in the NCAA West Regional basketball final, landing Majerus in his first Final Four and sending the Wildcats home to cuddle up with last year’s highlight reels.

Most stunning of all, the 10-1/2-point underdogs did it in dominating fashion - handing Lute Olson his worst loss in his 15 years at Arizona, holding the Wildcats to their lowest point total in 421 games, and never leading by less than eight for the last 25 minutes.

“I’m just so fortunate to be their coach. I’m just so proud of them. I’m just overwhelmed,” said Majerus, who stood atop a ladder after the game, pumping a fist with the game net clenched in it.

The Utes’ next stop is San Antonio, where they’ll face North Carolina in a national semifinal Saturday. They’ll be the first Western Athletic Conference team there in 32 years, since Utah last did it in 1966.

Already deemed one of the best X’s-and-O’s coaches anywhere, Majerus cemented that label Saturday by dusting off an old triangle-and-two defense that smothered Arizona’s two All-America guards, Mike Bibby and Miles Simon. Majerus’ roster, featuring two Academic All-Americans and 11 honor-roll students, applied the concept with formulaic precision.

The best guard on the floor Saturday was Utah’s irrepressible Andre Miller, who had 18 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists and only three turnovers.

It was the first triple-double of Miller’s career.

In his wildest dreams, Majerus could never have hoped that his defensive gambit would pay off this well against Arizona’s outside shooters.

Bibby: 3 of 15 from the field, seven points.

Simon: 1 of 9 from the field, six points.

Dickerson: 2 of 12 from the field, six points.


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