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Incident Sparks Denials

The Utes and the Tar Heels denied accusations Sunday that an on-court argument between two players during their NCAA tournament semifinal game included spitting and the use of a racial slur.

Utah’s Britton Johnsen was accused of calling North Carolina’s Makhtar Ndiaye a “nigger” and Ndiaye was accused of spitting on Johnsen. Both sides denied the claims but agreed there had been a nasty argument during the Utes’ 65-59 upset victory that put them in tonight’s championship game against Kentucky.

Utah coach Rick Majerus was so sure Johnsen didn’t use the slur he said he would resign if it turned out to be true.

“I stand by this boy’s statement 100 percent,” Majerus said.

Johnsen said that during the game Ndiaye “slapped me across the face and told me he was going to kick my (expletive deleted).”

“The only words that came out of my mouth were I told him, ‘I’m 100 pounds lighter than you and I’m kicking your butt,”’ Johnsen said. “Then he spit on me.

“I never called him the N-word. It’s a joke that this is even happening. This is like blocking some of our success and happiness. This shouldn’t even be an issue.”

After the game Ndiaye said: “I don’t have anything to say about spitting on him. Why don’t you ask him about what he said to me? He has no right to use the ‘N-word.’ He used it more than once. He said it to me the whole game.”

Rocky Mountain high

“U PHORIA!” The Salt Lake Tribune trumpeted across its front page Sunday, and the rival Deseret News agreed, bannering its A-1 with “U-four-ia.”

No matter how you spelled it, “euphoria” best described the revelry that rocked the city into the early morning after Utah’s 65-59 upset of North Carolina.

Not since 1944, when the Runnin’ Utes beat Dartmouth 42-40 in overtime to claim their only collegiate crown, has University of Utah basketball reached such heights.

Diet shapes Mohammed

Nazr Mohammed never really thought he was fat in high school, just very tall with 303 pounds distributed throughout his massive frame.

When the 6-foot-10 center was being recruited by Kentucky, however, he realized there was much work to be done - on the court and on the treadmill.

“I see some old pictures of myself and notice I look a lot different,” said Mohammed, who has trimmed down to a firm 240 pounds. “But at the time, I considered myself to be so tall that it almost seemed natural to be as big as I was. I’m happy to be where I am now, so I don’t even think about that too much.”

As a senior at Kenwood Academy in Chicago in 1995, the rotund Mohammed wasn’t the most mobile player, but he showed enough potential to attract the attention of some big-time programs.

Teammate Allen Edwards remembered Mohammed’s visit to Kentucky on an evening the Wildcats beat Georgia but didn’t play well. Coach Rick Pitino had the squad back on the floor for a midnight practice.

“That’s one recruit we lost out on,” Edwards said about his thoughts at the time.

Instead, Pitino’s tough regimen appealed to Mohammed.

“He said that was the type of stuff he needed to become a better player,” Edwards said.

Ratings keep rising

Another night of close finishes helped CBS keep its NCAA tournament ratings the highest in four years.

The Stanford-Kentucky overtime thriller Saturday got a 10.5 rating-22 share, 3 percent higher than the 10.2-22 last year for North Carolina-Arizona. In the second game, Utah’s upset of North Carolina got a 11.9-21, 2 percent higher than Kentucky-Minnesota last year.

The Final Four gave CBS a prime-time sweep, winning all six half hours with an average of 12.0 from 8 p.m.-11 p.m.