Originally created 03/31/97

Wildcats vs. Wildcats

INDIANAPOLIS - At first you thought maybe he was talking about the Atlanta Braves second baseman, but that didn't make any sense.

When Kentucky basketball coach Rick Pitino mentioned a certain "da-lemmer" Saturday night after his team's Final Four victory over scrappy Minnesota, he wasn't referring to Mark Lemke.

Rather, Pitino - in that classic Noo Yawk accent - was nodding to the remarkable overall quickness of the Arizona Wildcats, the only team left standing between Kentucky and a second straight national championship.

"The thing I like most about their ballclub is the way they handle pressure and spread you out with unbelievable quickness," Pitino said of Arizona, making its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament final. "Our dilemma is: Can we press this team with awesome quickness?"

We'll find out tonight at the RCA Dome. Tipoff is set for 9:16 p.m.

Of course, Pitino's fretting is nothing new. He probably wondered if his team's vaunted full-court press would work against Montana, and the Wildcats (35-4) only won that first-round NCAA game by 38 points.

But Arizona (24-9) could be a different story. What the other Wildcats lack in experience - no seniors grace the nine-man rotation - they offset with anticipation and turbo boosters in their high-tops.

They flashed that quickness against Kansas in the Southeast Regional semifinals. It didn't matter that the top-ranked Jayhawks had 7-footers Raef LaFrentz and Scot Pollard on the front line. The smaller Wildcats simply maneuvered in and out, under and around their towering foes.

The result was an 85-82 Arizona upset that convinced the Pacific-10 runners-up that they could play with anyone.

"I think the Kansas win gave us a lot of confidence that, `Hey, if we can beat Kansas, then there shouldn't be any reason that we can't beat any team that we have to come up against,"' said Arizona coach Lute Olson, in his fourth trip to the Final Four. "And I don't want you to take that as a cocky statement; it's not. But the thing that you learn is that if your guys don't believe that they can win, you're not going to win."

Since closing the regular season with back-to-back road losses, Arizona has reeled off five straight wins to get this opportunity. The biggest reason for that success, besides the exemplary shooting of guards Miles Simon and Mike Bibby, is quickness.

"Our quickness causes a lot of problems for a lot of bigger guys," said A.J. Bramlett, a junior center who spreads just 222 pounds over his 6-foot-11 frame. "We've been able to use our quickness and foot speed and hand speed to cause problems for the bigger guys. Most of our inside guys are as quick as most of the guards out there."

And it's not just Bramlett and fellow low-posters Bennett Davison and Donnell Harris. Seemingly everybody in the Arizona rotation can make you look silly in the blink of an eye.

Just ask North Carolina, which lost 66-58 to the Wildcats in Saturday's other semifinal. Despite a marked height advantage, the Tar Heels surrendered 48 rebounds to Arizona, including 17 at the offensive end.

"This team has great quicks," Olson said. "We've said all week long, when the shot goes up, we've got to have five people in the vicinity of the paint. When it comes to those big guys, we may not be able to go up and get it. But if we can get our hand on it and knock it loose, our quickness will take over and we'll be able to get to those loose balls."

And that, in a word, is Kentucky's da-lemmer.


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