Archive for Monday, March 31, 2003

Versatile Marquette has eye on title

March 31, 2003


— Marquette was marvelous, and the reward for the versatile Golden Eagles and energetic coach Tom Crean is what they believed was possible all season -- a trip to the Final Four.

Now, after dismantling Kentucky and riddling the nation's toughest defense to win the Midwest Regional, Marquette has a shot at its first NCAA title since 1977.

"Our goal has been to make the Final Four and win the national championship," guard Travis Diener said.

The frenetic Crean, who must pace a couple of miles on the sideline during each game, revs up his team's emotions, but also makes sure they stay cool in tight situations.

There's a balance there, one very evident in Saturday's surprisingly lopsided win over Kentucky. Marquette has what every championship-caliber team needs -- a star who can take over, as Dwyane Wade did Saturday.

"Emotion is great, but without execution, you don't have a chance to win," said Crean, who has been at Marquette four years.

"We knew this game would be a test of all the little things. Our players care about each other so much, and it carries over on to the court. Our guys get along well and are together a lot. I don't think you win this time of year if you don't."

Marquette got by Holy Cross in its NCAA Tournament opener; beat Missouri in overtime by making all six of its shots in the extra period; held off another great defensive team, Pitt, in the regional semifinals to end the Panthers' 11-game winning streak; and then ran away from top-seeded Kentucky, ending the Wildcats' 26-game winning spree.

Kentucky had yielded an average of 61 points during its long winning streak that began Dec. 30 and had allowed teams to shoot just 41 percent in its first 34 games.

But behind 11-of-16 shooting from Wade, who had several spectacular dunks while compiling a triple-double with 29 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds, Marquette made it look easy at times against the Wildcats and their injured guard Keith Bogans, who was slowed by a sprained ankle. The Golden Eagles hit 56 percent of their shots.

Even with a healthy Bogans, Kentucky would have been hard pressed to deal with the Golden Eagles and their variety of offensive options.

Burly 6-foot-10 Robert Jackson controlled the inside, shooting 10-of-16 to finish with 24 points and 15 rebounds, and Steve Novak continued his uncanny three-point shooting -- he made three in overtime against Missouri -- by hitting five more. The freshman is 14-for-20 on three-pointers in the four tournament games.

Now it's a matchup Saturday with Kansas University in New Orleans, where the Golden Eagles got a look at the Superdome earlier this season when they played Tulane.

"We walked around and saw how big it is," Diener said. "That's when we said, 'We want to be there."'

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