Thursday, March 20, 2003

No. 2 seed Kansas feels slighted



By Jim Vertuno
The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY - Kansas thought it deserved to be a No. 1 seed. Perhaps the Jayhawks should feel lucky they're a No. 2. The last time they came to Oklahoma City as a No. 1 in 1998, the Jayhawks were promptly sent packing with a second-round loss to Rhode Island. It was one of most difficult defeats in coach Roy Williams' 15-year career.

"It rates way up there," Williams said. "It was very disappointing."

But that game is ancient history to this Kansas team, the No. 2 seed in the West this year.

The current Jayhawks were still in high school or younger in '98. And senior standouts Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison don't plan to end their Kansas careers the way former Jayhawks Paul Pierce and Raef LaFrentz did.

Kansas (25-7) begins its quest for the school's third national title Thursday night against No. 15 seed Utah State (24-8).

Seventh-seeded Memphis (23-6) plays No. 10 Arizona State (19-11) in the other West subregional game here.

In East regional games Thursday, No. 1 Oklahoma played No. 16 South Carolina State and No. 8 California played No. 9 North Carolina State.

Kansas thought it deserved a No. 1 seed after winning the Big 12 regular season title and splitting two games against Texas and Oklahoma, teams that finished second and third in the conference but were still awarded top seeds.

Even Williams said Sunday he was "mystified" by the No. 2 seed. By Wednesday, he said the seeds no longer mattered.

"I think we cut the talk off basically Sunday night," Williams said. "We met Monday and said all that's over with. We've got to go play.

"There's not going to be any numbers beside our names that mean anything. They're not going give us any points or take them away."

Collison and Hinrich provide the inside-outside punch to a high-octane offense that ranked third nationally with 83.3 points per game.

Hinrich drilled a key 3-pointer to help in a win over Missouri that clinched the Big 12 title in the regular-season finale. Collison is already the Big 12 career rebounding leader (1,062) and is just five points (1,985) behind Big 12 record holder Bernard King of Texas A&M.

Utah State earned its fourth NCAA appearance in six years by winning the Big West tournament. The last time Utah State and Kansas played at the same first-round site, in Lincoln, Neb. in 1988, the Jayhawks won the national title.

Memphis, which won the National Invitation Tournament last year, returns to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996 under third-year coach John Calipari.

The NIT championship was the school's first postseason title in any sport, yet it only left the Tigers wanting more.

"This is all new and they're jumping and dunking and doing all kinds of crazy stuff," said Calipari, who led Massachusetts to the Final Four in 1996.

The coach spent three years with the New Jersey Nets before returning to the college ranks. He sounded as excited as his players about the Tigers' return.

"This is it," Calipari said. "This is what you coach for."

The Tigers are led by senior Chris Massie, who averaged 16.5 points this season after an aborted attempt to enter the NBA draft last year. A junior-college transfer, Massie declared for the NBA after only one season but returned when it became clear he wouldn't be selected.

He still had to sit out seven games while passing 21 hours in one semester to regain his eligibility.

Arizona State earned its first tournament bid since 1995 with a starting lineup of four seniors around forward Ike Diogu, the Pac-10 freshman of the year who leads the Sun Devils with 19.1 points and 7.9 rebounds.

"It's kind of easy to accept a guy who's putting up 20 points a game," said Sun Devils forward Tommy Smith. "If he wants the ball down low, give it to him."

But the NCAA tournament is a tough place to expect a freshman to lift a team on his shoulders.

And like Kansas, Arizona State coach Rob Evans knows about getting stung in Oklahoma City.

The same year the Jayhawks lost here, Evans was coaching Mississippi when Valparaiso upset the Rebels on a famous buzzer-beater by Bryce Drew.

"Life," Evans said, "goes on."




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