March 31, 1998 in Sports

Utes Will Long Be Remembered For Their Gallant Battle

Bernie Lincicome Chicago Tribun
 

Just a few blocks from where Kentucky and Utah played a little basketball game of Cats and dogs Monday night - Wildcats and Underdogs, that is - the Alamo sits amid modern clutter, pale, out of place and unimpressive on first viewing, not unlike the Utah basketball team.

They played defense at the Alamo, too. Col. Travis and Davey Crockett and Ol’ Jim Bowie, the whole overmatched few, D’d up and blocked out, but they lost the battle, not unlike the Utah basketball team.

Yet their legacy to this day is they are remembered as winners. Utah will be, too.

Kentucky won its seventh national title Monday night. That is what Kentucky is supposed to do. But in the years ahead, it is likely this one will be recalled more for who did not win than who did.

And so it ends, another March Madness, this one subtitled a Taste of Majerus, delicious for any appetite, fit for any taste.

Buzzer-beaters and blowouts, Cinderellas and creeps, the unfamed and the overblown, the winners and the whiners.

And there was Rick Majerus, bigger than all of it, bigger than life, bigger than several lives and most parade floats, restoring for all coaches the simple joy of success, not of the prize but of the journey, the anti-Bobby Knight, the anti-Lute Olson.

This should have been Tubby Smith’s night, but it wasn’t. This will be Smith’s year, as it was Rick Pitino’s and Joe B. Hall’s and Adolph Rupp’s. Winning Kentucky coaches are never forgotten.

But even in winning, Tubby Smith will not receive the boost out of this that Majerus will. Nobody sends congratulations for not dropping the baby.

Utah’s story was fantasy. And that is much harder to let go.

Utah center Mike Doleac said: “It’s kind of like the ‘Hoosiers’ story. We’re a bunch of fundamentally sound guys who play hard.”

How much for the movies rights?

Kentucky’s story is nonetheless remarkable. A coach left, two lottery players went with him, a parent died, and expectations never diminished.

Things were as things are supposed to be at Kentucky, a third consecutive visit to the final game, and an opportunity for a second championship in three seasons.

Utah got the stares and cheers from strangers. Kentucky got the shrugs.

“We lost all those guys, and everyone thought this was going to be a rebuilding year for us,” said senior Allen Edwards. “So there’s a lot of satisfaction in being here.

“But just getting here isn’t what our goal is. Our goal from the beginning has been to win the national championship. That never changed.”

Majerus emerges from this thing as a man of conviction and trust growing out of a matter he handled with just the right amount of sensitivity and firmness.

After North Carolina had lost to Utah on Saturday night, Carolina’s Makhtar Ndiaye accused Utah freshman Britt Johnsen of a racial slur and Johnsen said Ndiaye had spat on him.

Majerus had offered to resign if Johnsen did what Ndiaye said he did.

Before game time Monday, apologies were issued and accepted.

“I have sent Britt a letter of apology and wish him and the Utah team well in the championship game,” said Ndiaye.

Too late.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Bernie Lincicome Chicago Tribune


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