Sunday, March 14, 1999

Utah stands tall in Miami's path


RedHawks will take a win any way they can

BY JOHN FAY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEW ORLEANS — Somebody asked Charlie Coles if he wanted better balance on offense when his Miami team plays Utah today.

MIAMI (10) vs. UTAH (2)
  • Tipoff: 2:30 p.m.
  • Where: Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans.
  • Records: Miami 23-7, Utah 28-4.
  • TV: Channel 64.
  • Radio: WCKY (1360-AM), WMOH (1450-AM), WFMG (101.3-FM), WYLX (97.3-AM).
  BY THE NUMBERS
  • 23: Number of games Utah has won in a row.
  • 0: Number of times Miami has won a second-round game.
  • 93.2: Percent of Miami's points scored by Wally Szczerbiak and Damon Frierson against Washington.
  • 4: Number of No. 10 seeds, including Miami, that advanced in round 1.
        “I want a victory,” Coles said. “We talked about balance before the Washington game, and Wally proved you don't need balance to win.”

        Wally would be Wally Szczerbiak, the star of the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the guy who threw in 43 points in Miami's 59-58 win over Washington Friday.

        If Miami, the No. 10 seed in the Midwest, is to beat second-seeded Utah today (2:30 p.m. Channel 64), Szczerbiak is likely to need more help.

        “We have to play better than (Friday),” Coles said. “It's a great opportunity for us, but it's a tough opportunity.”

        Utah, last year's national runnerup, comes in with a 23-game winning streak. The Utes finished the regular-season ranked No. 5. Its star, Andre Miller, was the second leading voter-getter on the Associated Press All-America team.

        The Utes play four players 6-foot-9 or taller. No one taller than 6-8 gets any playing time for Miami.

        Utah has gone to Sweet 16, Elite Eight and final game in the last three years. Miami never has won a second round NCAA game.

        But, all that said, Miami has a chance to win today. Just ask Utah coach Rick Majerus.

MIAMI KEYS
  • Stay balanced: If the offense relies on only Wally Szczerbiak and Damon Frierson to score, it becomes considerably easier to stop. We said that before the Washington game and look what happened: Szczerbiak scored 43, Frierson 12 and the rest of the team four. But Utah may employee a triangle and two today and dare the rest of RedHawks to score.
  • Hit the glass: Utah's rebounding margin is plus-9.2 per game. Miami will be giving up a lot of size on the front line so it's critical that Miami box out and be aggressive on the boards.
  • Don't turn it over: Miami is 21-1 when committing fewer turnovers than its opponents. Miami only turned it over five times against Washington in the first round.
        “They have a really good team,” Majerus said. “Szczerbiak is the elite of the elite. The fact that he's so good overshadows what the other guys do ... (Damon) Frierson is a great player without a reputation. I like (Rob) Mestas. I like their team.”

        As Gonzaga proved to Stanford Saturday, No. 10 seeds upsetting No. 2s isn't all that rare. Since the NCAA went to a 64-team field in 1984, No. 10s have won eight-of-21 meetings with No. 2s.

        “Look at their stats,” Coles said. “They're plus nine in rebounds. They have two guards whose assist-to-turnover ratio is off the boards. This is the best team I've ever coached against in terms of coaching, players, and tournament experience.”

        Washington coach Bob Bender decided to play Szczerbiak pretty much straight up. Majerus isn't likely to do that.

        Alex Jensen, the Ute who will guard Szczerbiak, compares him to Fresno State's Courtney Alexander.

        “Al did a good job on Alexander and he went for 40,” Majerus said. “Sometimes you do your best and the guy still does that.”

        The key today might be Miami's other three-pointer shooters. Szczerbiak does a great job of reading the double team and hitting the open man. Mestas and Jason Stewart are both in prolonged shooting slumps. Stewart is 7-for-31 (22.5 percent) during his past 10 games; Mestas is 11-for-43 (25.5 percent) during his past 12 games.

        Coles joked after the Washington game, in which Szczerbiak and Frierson scored all but four of Miami's points, that he had a day and half to teach his other players to score.

        Saturday, time was running out.

        “I've got an hour and half practice to do it,” Coles said.

        Miami will get a boost today, if Jason Grunkemeyer is healthy. Grunkemeyer, who shoots 52.3 percent from three-point range, saw his first action Friday against Washington. He missed two weeks with back spasms.

        Miami must also keep Utah from dominating the boards. Utah is taller, but Miami is stronger and quicker.

        “We've got good athletes,” center John Estick said. “Just because they're taller doesn't make them better rebounders.”



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