Monday, March 15, 1999


Seniors send Cinderella to the ball

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jubilant Miami players mug for a camera
(Steven Herppich photo)
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        NEW ORLEANS — Way back in November, Wally Szczerbiak and Damon Frierson talked about going out as the greatest team in Miami history.

        They took care of the greatest part Sunday, but the Miami's seniors aren't quite ready to go out. They took care of that Sunday, too.

        Miami stunned No. 2 seeded and last season's national runnerup, Utah, 66-58 Sunday at Superdome. The victory was 24th of the year, tying the Miami record, but the fact that it came in the second round of the NCAA Tournament is what sets this team apart.

        No Miami team has won two games in the NCAA.

        The RedHawks advance to the Sweet 16. They will take on defending national champion Kentucky in the Midwest Regional semifinals Friday in St. Louis.

        “It's special,” Frierson said. “We knew by the time we were seniors we had a chance to be a great team. It's paid off.”

        Friday victory's over Washington the first round was emotional and stunning. And it was a result of a splendid game by the Miami star, Szczerbiak. Sunday's win over Utah was workman-like and less surprising given the tone of the game. And it was the result of splen did games by the Miami role players.

John Estick
(Steven Herppich photo)
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        “We've got a team here,” Miami coach Charlie Coles said. “Everyone misread what happened Friday. That was a great team game, too. Wally just happened to score all the points.

        “But I also told the players that there was no way Utah was going to let Wally get 43 points.“

        Szczerbiak still led Miami with 24 points and seven rebounds. But many RedHawks contributed in a big way:

        • John Estick had 18 points, exploiting a flaw Coles saw in the Utah defense.

        • Frierson had seven points, six assists and only one turnover.

        • Jason Stewart came off the bench to turn around the game. Each of his 12 points were critical.

        • Rob Metas, the littlest man on the floor, collected a game-high eight rebounds and forced Utah All-American Andre Miller into four turnovers. Frierson and Mestas protected the ball so well that the RedHawks committed only six turnovers.

Jason Stewart.
(Gary Landers photo)
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        But early on, Utah looked as though it might blow Miami right out of the Superdome as its 24th consecutive victim.

        Alex Jensen, Utah's defensive stopper, was holding down Szczerbiak, and the Miami inside game was going nowhere in the forest of the Utah frontline.

        Utah took a 24-13 lead.

        “I'm an honest guy,” Szczerbiak said. “We were down. Then along come Jason Stewart, who might be the hardest headed guy in America, and he hits three threes in row.”

        The threes came in an 85-second sequence. They cut Utah's lead for 24-13 to 24-22.

        “We started putting pressure on them,” Szczerbiak said. “They don't like that.”

        Utah would take 32-29 lead to the break.

        “But we had discovered we could play with them,” Coles said.

Utah's Andre Miller is surrounded by Damon Frierson and Anthony Taylor.
(AP photo)
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        Stewart's fourth three-pointer tied the game at 32 a minute nto the second half. It would be Stewart's last basket of the game. But he had changed the tone. The Utes would lead only once more the rest of the game.

        Frierson and Szczerbiak began running the pick-and-roll with Estick like they were pick-and-roll legends John Stockton and Karl Malone of the NBA's Utah Jazz.

        The game got away from the Utah Utes about halfway through the second half. The Utes pulled within 42-41 with 10:48 to play. Then Miami scored nine unanswered points.

        Szczerbiak started the run with a pretty driving layup.

        But then Miami's defense, its strength late in the year, made the Utes work 25 or 30 seconds for a shot. And the RedHawks were contesting everything from everywhere: Utah was 2-for-13 from beyond the arc in the second half.

        After a stop, Frierson got Utah's Jeremy Killion on the air with a fake. Killion came down on Frierson for a foul behind the three line. Frierson hit all three free throws.

Damon Frierson and Wally Szczerbiak.
(AP photo)
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        Szczerbiak got a steal on the other end.

        Then he and Estick worked the pick-and-roll for a layup.

        Mestas and Szczerbiak forced Miller into a turnover. Szczerbiak drove and was fouled on the next possession.

        He hit both free throws — he was 10-for-10 in the second half — to give Miami a 51-41 lead with 8:04 to go.

        Miami was able to keep the lead around 10 for the next three minutes or so, thanks to two plays that kind of gave you the feeling that Miami might be a team of destiny.

        Both came with the shot clock running out. The first was a fade-way jumper by Szczerbiak with 6:52 left. The second came when Szczerbiak lost control of the ball near the baseline. He tipped out to Mestas, who hit a three.

        Miller led a Utah charge that got it to three at 58-55 with 1:45 left.

        But Szczerbiak and Frierson hit 8-of-10 free throws in the last 99 seconds to preserve the win.

        The celebration after the win wasn't as spectacular as the one Friday. But it was no less sweet.

        “It feels good,” Coles said. “I guess if you're around long enough you get there. And I've been around a long time.”

        But in his 34 years of coaching, Coles has never had two seniors as good as Frierson and Szczerbiak.

        “I've always said as a coach you look good when you're players play their best game on that day,” Coles said. “That doesn't happen often. But we've got seniors. Frierson and Szczerbiak are four-year guys. Mestas, too. We knew we had a chance to have a special year when they were seniors.”

        But it wasn't just the seniors who made Sunday arguably the most special day in the most special year in Miami basketball history.


Miami Stories
- MIAMI 66, UTAH 58
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 MIAMI  (66)
                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Estick          38  9-15   0-0   4-6  0  1   18
Szczerbiak      40  6-11 10-10   1-7  5  2   24
Ensminger        7   0-0   0-0   0-1  0  0    0
Mestas          35   2-5   0-0   0-8  2  3    5
Frierson        40   1-5   5-7   0-0  6  1    7
Grunkemeyer      6   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  2    0
Stewart         28  4-10   0-0   0-2  1  1   12
Taylor           5   0-0   0-0   0-1  0  2    0
Lethunya         1   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
TOTALS         200 22-46 15-17  5-25 14 12   66

Percentages: FG-.478, FT-.882. 3-Point Goals: 7-18, .389 (Szczerbiak 2-5, Mestas 1-2, Frierson 0-2, Stewart 4-9). Team rebounds: 2. Blocked shots: 3 (Szczerbiak 2, Estick). Turnovers: 6 (Szczerbiak 2, Estick, Frierson, Mestas, Taylor). Steals: 4 (Szczerbiak 2, Frierson, Mestas).

UTAH (58) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Mottola 35 5-11 2-2 0-2 3 4 12 Jensen 31 3-6 0-0 2-5 3 4 8 Althoff 26 3-3 1-2 0-2 0 1 7 Miller 37 8-16 3-5 1-5 3 2 20 Killion 29 1-6 0-0 0-4 0 2 3 Sharp 9 0-0 0-0 0-1 0 0 0 Harvey 27 2-7 0-0 4-6 5 3 5 Cullen 6 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 3 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 23-50 6-9 7-25 14 17 58 _______________________________________________

Percentages: FG-.460, FT-.667. 3-Point Goals: 6-22, .273 (Mottola 0-4, Jensen 2-5, Miller 1-5, Killion 1-4, Harvey 1-3, Cullen 1-1). Team rebounds: 2. Blocked shots: 3 (Althoff 2, Jensen). Turnovers: 9 (Miller 4, Jensen 2, Cullen, Killion, Mottola). Steals: 5 (Sharp 2, Harvey, Jensen, Miller). __________________________________ Miami 29 37 - 66 Utah 32 26 - 58 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. Officials: Mike Patterson, Michael Kitts, Arnie Mcdonald.