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Archive for Monday, April 1, 2002

Kansas fans have reasons to support IU, Maryland

April 1, 2002

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— Consolation is about as appetizing as cold refried beans, but that's about all Kansas University basketball fans have today.

If Maryland, for example, skunks Indiana, as expected, in tonight's NCAA championship game, then KU boosters can say, "Well, we lost but it was to the eventual national champs."

Yet if lightly regarded Indiana should happen to pull the rug on the Terrapins tonight, then Kansas fans will have nothing to rationalize other than that the outcome would have been different if All-American Drew Gooden hadn't waited until six minutes remained to start his engine.

Then again, everybody loves an underdog and Kansas fans shouldn't be so short-memoried as to deny Indiana the euphoria they enjoyed 14 years ago when Kansas, a sixth seed, stunned Oklahoma in the NCAA title game.

This year's Indiana outfit is a fifth seed, but its record is remarkably similar to the 1988 champs. Kansas went into the '88 tournament with a 21-11 record and emerged 27-11 to become the first team with as many as 11 defeats to reach the pinnacle. IU entered the 2002 tourney at 20-11 and is now 25-11 after disposing of favored Oklahoma, 73-64, on Saturday night.

"We don't consider ourselves underdogs," Indiana senior guard Dane Fife said on Sunday, "although everybody else does."

Teammate Jarrad Odle sang the same song. "As the season progressed, our hearts got bigger and we played hard every game. It seems like we play a little bit better when we're the underdog."

Yes, but often when they let the 'dogs out they become road kill. Indiana could become court kill very easily against a talented, motivated Maryland team that punctured KU's dreams the old-fashioned way with skill and cunning.

Indiana may have the cunning, but the skill? Even second-year coach Mike Davis wonders from time to time.

"I look at us sometimes and I'm like, 'Boy, this is a bad team,'" Davis said with a throwaway grin. "You should shake your head because if you look at us, you probably say, 'There's no way these people can win.'" OK, so the Hoosiers don't look good in suits. So what?

"They're very good basketball players," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said following Saturday's galling defeat. "Sometimes we get carried away with athleticism, but they're very good basketball players."

Athleticism was the hallmark of Oklahoma's storybook 31-5 season, but Indiana is playing for the national championship, not the Sooners.

It is Fife who personifies the grit and guile of the Hoosiers, much like Kirk Hinrich established the perception of Kansas as a relentless whirlwind.

"Dane Fife will cut your heart out," IU coach Davis said. "I mean, he's a little psycho sometimes, but he is really a hard-nosed guy. When I lose, it bothers me for days and days. Dane is the same way."

Fife not only surgically removed Oklahoma's heart, he stomped on it by helping force All-Big 12 guard Hollis Price to miss 10 of 11 shots. Remember, it was Price's hot shooting in the second half that carried the Sooners to that 64-55 win over Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament final.

Throw junior guard Tom Coverdale into the same Indiana stew. Coverdale is a red-haired, bushy-eyebrowed junior who wasn't expected to play against Oklahoma because of a sprained ankle, but arose Hinrich-like and started.

"He's about 80 percent," Davis said Sunday. "You can't measure heart. No way."

So take your pick tonight.

Go with Maryland's Gary Williams who has never won the national title in 25 years of coaching, but has the steeds to do it this time. Or go with second-year coach Mike Davis and his plow horses with the slipper-fitting feet.

Sure, a Kansas-Indiana game would have been preferable, but guarantees come only with appliances and new cars. If you can't revel in your own joy, it isn't against the law to empathize with others.

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