Friday, November 19, 1999

Majerus miffed to be at Rupp

Utah coach criticizes ESPN

The Associated Press

        LEXINGTON, Ky. — Rick Majerus is not happy to be in Kentucky for the second round of the Preseason NIT.

        Don't get him wrong. He's not upset that his 16th-ranked Utah team won its opener Tuesday over Arkansas State.

        And he doesn't mind playing No.14 Kentucky, even though the Wildcats have knocked the Utes out of the NCAA Tournament four times this decade, including a victory in the 1998 national championship game.

        It's just that when he committed his team to play in the 16-team Preseason NIT, Majerus was promised the Utes would play at home in the first and second rounds.

        Instead, Utah, winner of five straight Western Athletic Conference titles and national runner-up two years ago, plays in hostile Rupp Arena tonight. The winner advances to the semifinals in New York next week.

        Majerus blames the schedule-makers at ESPN, which is broadcasting the tournament.

        “I'm upset about it,” he said Thursday. “It was driven by TV. ESPN doesn't want us on TV or doesn't want us back in New York.

        “The business decision was maybe they felt we don't have the television audience,” he said. “Maybe there aren't a lot of Mormons in New York. Maybe they sell a lot of beer ads, and we don't appeal to that audience. We're not a pizazz team. We don't go airborne for any dunks.”

        Officials at ESPN did not immediately respond to a request Thursday for comment on Majerus' charges.

        If the Utes are to buck the odds and make a Madison Square Garden appearance, they'll have to get by Kentucky, which advanced with a 67-50 win over Pennsylvania on Wednesday.

        “When you can sub five at once” — as Kentucky coach Tubby Smith did during that win — “you know you've got talented players,” Majerus said.

        Freshman big man Marvin Stone scored 12 points in his debut for the Wildcats; center Jamaal Magloire had 11 points and nine rebounds. Smith was concerned, though, that Penn grabbed 13 offensive rebounds to just 11 for Kentucky.

        “Against Utah, we'll have to play a much better game, especially in some of the boxing out and rebounding, because they're very aggressive, very strong on the boards,” Smith said. “I didn't see any of the gang rebounding that we're going to need against a Utah team.”

        The Wildcats also were tentative offensively, shooting just 40.7 percent from the field.

        “We didn't have much fluidity to (the halfcourt offense), and that's probably coaching, because we haven't had a whole lot of time,” Smith said. “We're going to have to make some adjustments in our motion offense to maximize our players' potential.”

        The Utes opened with a 76-43 home win over Arkansas State on Tuesday, getting 14 rebounds from Alex Jensen and 14 points and seven rebounds from Nate Althoff. Against Kentucky, Utah again will be without starting forward Hanno Mottola, who is recovering from a torn knee ligament he suffered in preseason. ESPN did not broadcast the Utah-Arkansas State game — more fuel for Majerus' grudge — forcing Kentucky to scramble for a tape of the local broadcast to watch Thursday. One of those assisting in the effort was former Wildcat Scott Padgett, a rookie with the Utah Jazz, who sent a videotape by overnight mail.

        Another home win for the Wildcats would give them a 5-0 mark against Utah this decade.

        Majerus said when the NIT informed him he probably would not get a second-round home game, he was offered a chance to pick the bracket in which his team would play.

        He chose UK's bracket.

        “I picked Kentucky because it's close to Milwaukee and my family, so they can come watch the game,” he said.


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