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Archive for Sunday, March 30, 2003

Williams earns another shot at title

March 30, 2003

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— It has been a long, hard basketball season for Roy Williams.

It isn't over yet.

Second-seeded Kansas University defeated top-seeded Arizona, 78-75, Saturday night in the NCAA West Regional final, sending Williams to his fourth Final Four in search of his first national title.

"Roy has been one of the best coaches in the country for a lot of years," Arizona coach Lute Olson said. "I don't think he's been given the credit he deserves."

No one gave Williams credit early in the season when Kansas lost to North Carolina and Florida in the Preseason NIT and lost another nonconference game at Oregon.

"This season has really been satisfying because we had adversity," said Williams, whose team is 29-7 heading into Saturday's national semifinal against Marquette at New Orleans. "We had problems. We started out 3-3. I have the clipping on my desk. It says 'Biggest disappointment this season is Kansas.'"

Kansas suffered its first blow soon after the Jayhawks' run to the 2002 Final Four when All-American junior Drew Gooden announced he would enter the NBA draft.

In the preseason, junior-college transfer Jeff Graves, who was counted on heavily to help fill the void left by Gooden, reported to school out of shape and was dealt a setback in his bid to improve when he was injured in a car accident.

Senior guard Kirk Hinrich struggled with a bad back early in the year, but the worst was yet to come. Sophomore Wayne Simien dislocated his shoulder in the 12th game of the season and sat out 11 games.

KU posted a 9-2 record without the injured starter. Simien, who averaged 14.8 points and 8.2 rebounds, returned to the lineup Feb. 16 in a victory against Iowa State, but was shut down for the season when he reaggravated the injury three games later against Texas A&M.

Despite the adversity, Williams won his ninth conference title and led his team into the NCAA Tournament for the 14th straight season.

"He's done a great job," senior forward Nick Collison said. "He's really earned his money this year."

Now Williams will try to fill the final spot on his resume. He led KU to the Final Four in 1991 -- his third season in Lawrence -- when the Jayhawks fell to Duke in the national title game. KU's 1993 and 2002 squads both fell in the national semifinals.

Williams is 417-100, including a 33-13 record in the NCAA Tournament, but his critics often take aim at his lack of a national title.

"We want to win, especially for coach," senior guard Kirk Hinrich said. "He takes a lot of unfair criticism."

Olson can relate. He was considered one of the best coaches without a national championship before his team upended top-ranked Kansas en route to the NCAA crown in 1997.

"No one in the country has done a better job than Roy Williams has," Olson said. "If there's anyone that deserves the opportunity to win it all, he certainly does. I think there will be a lot of people who are neutral that would like to see him get it."

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