Sunday, March 23, 2003
UK, Utah still have ties to '98
By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - For a game that was played five years ago, the Kentucky-Utah NCAA championship final in 1998 was quite alive in both locker rooms Saturday.
Both coaches, UK's Tubby Smith and Utah's Rick Majerus, are still at their respective schools.
Allen Edwards, who played in that game for UK, is now a Wildcat assistant coach. Utah still has two current players, sixth-year seniors Britton Johnsen and Trace Caton, who played that day.
"I can recapitulate that game in sequence to this day," Majerus said.
With that, he recounted his memory of switching his point guard, Andre Miller, to guard Jeff Sheppard late in the game to give him "rest" from guarding UK point guard Wayne Turner. Yet Sheppard curled off a screen to hit a big 3-pointer.
Majerus, Johnsen and Caton all spoke of how tough it was to have victory so close. Utah led by 12 points early in the second half and still held a four-point lead with about six minutes to play.
UK outscored the Utes 18-5 down the stretch, as Utah missed its final 11 shots.
"After the Duke game (a comeback from an 18-point deficit), we had a never-give-up mentality," Edwards said Saturday. "We were a well-conditioned team, and we were able to make them play our up-tempo game. They got tired."
Johnsen scored seven points in 16 minutes, and Caton was scoreless in five minutes. Both went on a two-year Mormon mission after that season, so they're just now finishing their eligibility.
"Their 'three' man (forward Heshimu Evans) hit a couple 3-pointers, and that was a shock to us," Caton said. "They were deep."
Said Johnsen: "I just remember being so close and thinking, 'How did we let it get away?' "
JOHNSEN OUT: Johnsen, Utah's best player, had been diagnosed with mononucleosis and ruled out of the NCAA Tournament because of an enlarged spleen. He went to see a doctor to get a second opinion Friday, but he's still ruled out.
"I would have played Britton tomorrow if I thought he could play," Majerus said. "But could he help us? Absolutely not. He couldn't get out of bed for our conference tournament last week, so he wouldn't have been all the way back by tomorrow."
POUND IT IN: Losing the 6-foot-10 Johnsen leaves Utah thinner inside. Oregon tried to attack Utah Friday and succeeded in fouling out 6-10 Tim Frost, 6-11 Chris Jackson and 7-foot Cameron Koford. The Ducks just ran out of time to exploit that.
"With Britton out of the lineup, it takes away their experience, but they still have the size and talent inside," UK sophomore forward Chuck Hayes said.
GIANT-KILLERS: Utah already has knocked off a top-ranked team this season, beating Alabama Dec. 30 when it was ranked No. 1.
In 1998, Utah beat two No. 1 seeds in the NCAAs - Arizona and North Carolina - and the Tar Heels were the nation's No. 1 team at the time.
UK vs. Utah
Tipoff: Approximately 7:10 p.m. today, Gaylord Entertainment Center (18,500), Nashville, Tenn.
Records: UK 30-3, Utah 25-7.
TV: Ch. 12, 7.
Radio: WSAI-AM (1530).
Series: UK leads 7-2.
Coach: Tubby Smith (162-46, sixth season; 286-108 overall)
Coach: Rick Majerus (308-89, 14th season; 407-141 overall)
Full coverage at Cincinnati.com
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