NCAA - Midwest
Marquette's Dwyane Wade gets first triple double to lead his team past Kentucky 83-69.
By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 30, 2003
MINNEAPOLIS -- Just before he released the rim after a dazzling, reverse dunk late in the second half, Marquette's Dwyane Wade stepped out of character and pointed toward the crowd.
"I really don't get too excited, but I did get very excited then," he said.
With good cause. That was the exclamation point on a virtuoso performance -- 29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists -- as he and his teammates overwhelmed Kentucky 83-69 in the Midwest Region final Saturday before 28,383 at the Metrodome.
The No.3-seeded Golden Eagles (27-5) advanced to New Orleans for their third Final Four appearance and first since legendary coach Al McGuire's team won the NCAA title in 1977. None of the current players were even born then.
"It's a great feeling. I can't describe it," said Marquette coach Tom Crean, who had his players sign an enlarged photo of the New Orleans Superdome during the preseason and has had it with them in every meeting and in every locker room.
"It was our goal from Day One to win a national championship," senior center Robert Jackson said. "That's easier said than done, but every day we go out on the practice floor, we're thinking about getting better as a team. We've been doing it all year, and that's why we're able to be playing our best basketball right now."
How else could they have dispatched Kentucky so easily? The Wildcats (32-4) were the region's top-seeded team, the nation's top-ranked team and the nation's hottest team, riding a 26-game winning streak.
"It's been a wonderful year for us; it's been a fun year," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "But Marquette, I've got to give it to them. They were ready to play, and they came out focused."
His Wildcats were not.
Even with senior guard Keith Bogans, the team's top scorer and inspirational leader who suffered a high left ankle sprain late in the first half of Thursday's region semifinal win against Wisconsin. Though he said he couldn't really pivot or push off with his left foot, Bogans scored 15.
"Just being out there, I was trying to show my teammates how badly I wanted to play," he said. "It meant a lot to me to be out there playing in this game."
"We made the decision to start him to see if that would inspire the team," Smith said. "We hoped people would really feed off of him, but we couldn't seem to execute."
Jackson had a lot to do with that, using his power and size (6-10, 260 pounds) to contain senior center Marquis Estill. But then Jackson, who spent his first three seasons at Mississippi State, had some motivation compliments of Estill.
Estill said he didn't remember Jackson, a point the Golden Eagles emphasized -- in a good-natured way, of course -- to their teammate on the bus ride to the dome.
"I'm quite sure he knows me now," Jackson said. "I tried to establish myself early, and my teammates did a great job of getting me open for easy baskets. I just tried to play with a lot of emotion tonight."
Estill, coming off a career-high 28 points, finished with just 10 on 3 of 8 shooting from the field.
Jackson scored 14 of his 24 in the first.
His play at both ends as well as the long-range shooting of reserve forward Steve Novak, who had three 3-pointers in a 2:29 span late in the first, helped stake Marquette to a 45-26 lead at halftime.
But the Wildcats had been down at the half before during this winning streak and had rallied. And Kentucky players could not forget that the 1998 team erased a 17-point deficit in the final 9:38 to beat Duke in a region final in St. Petersburg.
Wade, the region's most outstanding player, made sure that didn't happen.
Midway through the second, he re-entered with his team up 59-47 and scored 13 of his team's next 17 -- including 11 straight -- to extend the lead to 19 again, 76-57, with 5:06 left.
"Right before I went on that run, I was on the bench. I had turned the ball over a couple times and wasn't really playing the way I could have been playing," said Wade, who was still wearing one of the nets long after the game. "(Coach Crean) told me, 'Let the game come to you. It's a long game. Let it come to you. Your run is going to come."'
After Wade had consecutive three-point plays, Crean met him at midcourt during a timeout and escorted him to the bench.
"He just said, 'Keep this up,"' Wade said.
He happily complied, capping his first career triple double with his breakaway dunk.
"Certainly, we didn't have an answer for Dwyane Wade," Smith said.
"Dwyane Wade is a complete player," Crean added. "It was amazing that we were winning by that margin, but what you saw with Wade, (Travis) Diener and Jackson, they are all that kind of people. Dwyane gets it done at both ends of the floor."
He made that point quite well.