BRACKET BUSTERS Cinderellas abound, but glass slippers face more tight fits before final dance


This was Friday at the NCAA Midwest Regional outside Chicago. California had beaten Louisiana State the night before on a last-second shot and was getting ready to play Duke, the two-time defending national champion.

Somebody asked newly hired Bears head coach Todd Bozeman if his team was looking forward to playing the Blue Devils for the opportunity or merely for the experience. Bozeman didn't blink.

"We're not here to be wallflowers," he said. "We're here to dance."

Put on those dancing shoes. Or would you prefer glass slippers?

Whatever the footwear of choice is these days, whatever the terminology used to describe this year's Cinderella teams, the NCAA's Sweet 16 is filled with teams coming off one upset and hungry for another.

They have beaten some of the more established powers and burgeoning powers in the game: aside from Duke, conference champions Seton Hall and Arizona, as well as ACC tournament winner Georgia Tech, went out to teams seeded sixth or lower.

"I think there's no question that there are so many good players that, on any given day, any team can beat another team," Florida State coach Pat Kennedy said yesterday from Tallahassee. "There are a lot of very good teams out there that aren't getting the recognition until now."

Said Virginia coach Jeff Jones, whose Cavaliers have advanced to Friday's East Regional semifinal against Cincinnati: "To me, a Cinderella is a team that has really struggled at one point in the year but then hits its stride, where no one expected them to get this far. I think we're a long shot, but I don't think we're a Cinderella."

2l There are three legitimate Cinderellas left in the tournament:

* California: Led by magical freshman point guard Jason Kidd and sophomore forward Lamond Murray, the Bears have won 11 of 12 since Bozeman was hired to replace Lou Campanelli last month. Fresh off its stunning, 82-77 win over third-seeded Duke Saturday night at the Rosemont Horizon, Cal is looking ahead to Thursday's date with second-seeded Kansas at the Arena in St. Louis. It marks the school's first appearance in the Sweet 16 since losing in the 1960 championship game to Ohio State.

* Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers haven't gotten this far since losing in the 1971 national semifinals, and few expected them to be around now. But after holding off Seton Hall at the Southeast Regional in Orlando, former Kentucky assistant Ralph Willard and his players are holding onto their dream, heading into the Charlotte Coliseum Thursday against the Seminoles.

* George Washington: Half of that Atlantic 10 duo (Temple is the other) in the wacky, wacky West Regional at the Kingdome in Seattle. The Colonials, whose place in the tournament was in doubt after losing three of its last four games before the pairings were announced, turned Southern back into pretenders Sunday in Tucson. Now, they have the unenviable task of playing suddenly aroused Michigan. Not bad for a team making only its second NCAA tournament appearance ever, its first since 1961.

Chances are, these teams won't be around when the last dance is held April 5 at the Superdome in New Orleans. There's even a good chance they won't be around by the regional finals. (If you're picking one, go with the good-news Bears.)

But why not dream a little?

This is the 10th anniversary of one of the biggest Cinderella stories in tournament history: North Carolina State over Houston in Albuquerque, and the 30th of little Loyola of Chicago's upset of two-time defending champion Cincinnati.

"I've been dreaming this dream for years," said George Washington coach Mike Jarvis. "It's a wonderful ride, and it takes you to magical places."

Truth is, the NCAA tournament is due for a real Cinderella. Since Villanova upset Georgetown at Lexington, Ky., eight years ago, the title game has been dominated by the elite: Louisville over Duke in 1986, Indiana over Syracuse in 1987, Kansas over Oklahoma in 1988, Michigan over Seton Hall in 1989, Nevada-Las Vegas over Duke in 1990.

Then came the two-year run by the Blue Devils, with victories over Kansas and Michigan. It ended with a heroic comeback by Duke and Kidd's second game-winning shot in as many tournament games. Not even Magic Johnson or Larry Bird could make the same claim at similar points in their storied careers.

But the lack of great teams in the country this year, even the lack of very good ones -- "there aren't 64 good teams in the country," said Indiana coach Bob Knight -- has made for an interesting first week of the tournament.

While it led to more blowouts than anyone would care to watch, it also led to some of the more significant upsets in recent history.

Santa Clara over second seed Arizona in the West. Western Kentucky over second seed Seton Hall in the Southeast. Southern over fourth seed Georgia Tech in the other half of the Southeast bracket.

And, finally, Cal over Duke.

"They can beat anybody," said Krzyzewski.

Keep on dancing.

By the way, the glass slipper comes in one size: extra large. Just like the dream.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad