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NCAA tournament notes

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 14, 2001


Oklahoma State earns award for success after crash

Oklahoma State will be presented with the Most Courageous Award by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association for making the NCAA Tournament after a plane crash killed 10 people associated with the team.

"Just restarting the season was a triumph of spirit," association president Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star said. "And every game since then was a continuing act of courage."

Coach Eddie Sutton will accept the annual award at the association's meeting at the Final Four on April 2 in Minneapolis. Sutton was on one of the two planes that safely returned to Stillwater, Okla. He spent the night of the crash contacting each family involved.

The victims, including two players, died Jan. 27 returning from a game at Colorado. Also killed were five support members of the program, a radio announcer and two pilots.

DUKE: Jason Williams is in and Carlos Boozer is out of Duke's lineup for the opener against Monmouth.

Williams, the team's All-America point guard and leading scorer, went through a light practice for the first time since spraining his left ankle in Duke's 26-point victory over North Carolina in the ACC title game Sunday.

Boozer started 28 games at center before breaking a bone in his right foot Feb. 27 against Maryland. The first diagnosis was he would miss 3-4 weeks. Boozer is off crutches and began walking on a treadmill and shooting free throws Monday, and he may play if Duke makes it through the weekend. The Blue Devils are 4-0 since Boozer went down.

Midwest

Stanley Hill, the black former Iona player whose presence caused Mississippi to forfeit a 1957 game, will attend Friday's game between the schools as a guest of Ole Miss.

Hill and his wife accepted an invitation from Mississippi chancellor Robert Khayat. Ole Miss forfeited its game against Iona in Owensboro, Ky., on January 2, 1957, when Mississippi Gov. J.P. Coleman ordered the school not to play the integrated team.

"Sports has played a tremendous role in changing American society for the better," Hill said. "When I saw that Mississippi now has a black coach (Rod Barnes), I thought it was wonderful to see the changes that have occurred."

WAKE FOREST: No one needs to tell coach Dave Odom how dangerous first-round opponent Butler is. Odom saw it first-hand last season at Wake's Joel Coliseum, when Butler nearly beat eventual national runner-up Florida in overtime in the first round.

"I remember saying to my wife, "The best team did not win that game,' " Odom said. "The only thing I can say to people is Butler beating Wake would not be an upset. To me, if we beat them, maybe that's the upset."

KANSAS: Freshman forward Bryant Nash will miss the tournament with a knee injury. Coach Roy Williams said Nash sprained a medial collateral ligament during Monday's practice.

West

The end might have come 15 years ago, when Lefty Driesell left Maryland. He could have packed it in four years ago after James Madison gave him an unceremonious kick out the door. But Driesell is still kicking at age 69, taking another school to the tournament.

"I don't know what I'd be doing if I wasn't coaching," said Driesell, who guided Georgia State into the field for the second time. "I don't play golf. I don't fish. I don't hunt. I don't read a lot, unless it's a basketball book."

The Panthers, the program with the most losses in Division I when Driesell arrived in '97, now are one of the most successful at 28-4. They cruised to the Trans America Athletic Conference championship and enter the NCAAs with more victories than all other schools except Duke (29-4) and Stanford (28-2), a pair of No. 1 seeds.

Georgia State is an 11th seed but hopes to shake things up Thursday in a first-round matchup against Wisconsin, which reached the Final Four a year ago. For a team that has never won a tournament game, the Panthers exude confidence. Much of it comes from their coach, who makes his 13th trip to the NCAAs and has gotten as far as the regional finals four times.

"We want to win a game or two," Driesell said. "Heck, I was reading the other day that LSU was an 11th seed and got to the Final Four. If they can do it, we can do it. At least that's what I want our players to believe."

ARKANSAS: The scouting report heading into the tournament is rather simple: The Hogs go as Joe goes.

Joe Johnson, Arkansas's All-Southeastern Conference sophomore swingman, seems to be finally shaking the physical and mental effects of a preseason ankle surgery. His back-to-back 20-point-plus games against LSU and Kentucky in the SEC tournament indicate he is ready to take over.

As the seventh-seeded Razorbacks prepare to play Thursday against No. 10 seed Georgetown in Boise, Idaho, Johnson is playing his best. He looks much like the player he was last season when he led his team to the SEC tournament championship and an NCAA bid.

"I think I'm playing pretty good right now," Johnson said. "I felt I had to step up my game (in the SEC tourney) for the team. As long as we win, I'm happy."

South

So this is how the NCAA selection committee works:

It pairs two California teams -- Fresno State vs. California -- and has them travel halfway across the country to play in the South Region on Friday in the Pyramid at Memphis, Tenn.

"That's what I call the far left side of the bracket," joked Alan Freeman, The Pyramid's general manager.

Freeman is doing his best to put on a happy face about a tournament selection committee that did Memphis no favors. No Mid-South area SEC schools -- Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee and to an extent Kentucky -- were placed in Memphis.

Instead, there are the two California teams, Gonzaga from Washington, Michigan State, Virginia, Indiana State, Oklahoma and Alabama State.

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