ST. LOUIS -- The magical ride of Jason Kidd, Todd Bozeman and the rest of California Bears ended last night in the semifinals of the NCAA Midwest Regional, six weeks after it began and three games short of where they wanted it to finish.
The freshman point guard and the second-month coach showed their inexperience down the stretch, and neither could stop the steamroller disguised as the second-seeded Kansas Jayhawks from running away with a 93-76 victory.
"We came here to win and you have to think you can or else you won't succeed," said a tearful Bozeman after his team suffered only its second loss in the 13 games since he replaced Lou Campanelli as the team's head coach. "It just didn't go our way tonight."
Said Kidd: "I know we didn't make a lot of shots down the stretch. We started some runs, but we didn't finish them. You have to finish the plays. We didn't finish them tonight."
Kansas (28-6) did. Using their experience and depth, as well as the continued hot shooting of senior guard Rex Walters, the Jayhawks moved decisively into their showdown tomorrow with top-seeded Indiana.
The Hoosiers, who lost to Kansas by five points at the Hoosier Dome in early December, beat Louisville in the first game last night, 82-69, behind a scintillating 32-point performance by Calbert Cheaney.
The winner will advance to next week's Final Four at the Superdome in New Orleans.
"We had to play very well to beat Cal," said Kansas coach Roy Williams. "And we're going to have play just as well, or better, to beat Indiana. Maybe if we're lucky, Calbert Cheaney will graduate by Saturday."
If the Hoosiers are lucky, maybe Walters will run out of eligibility by gametime. He again showed why he is one of the best shooting guards in the country.
Walters finished with 24 points on eight of nine from the field, including the last five points of an 11-0 run that turned a 52-48 deficit into a 59-52 lead. The Jayhawks eventually built their lead to 70-58, despite starting center Eric Pauley's foul trouble and foot injuries to forwards Richard Scott and Darrin Hancock.
"When we fell behind, I called time out and challenged the kids," said Williams. "I told them not to forget about what we've been working for since Nov. 1."
There were moments last night when Kidd showed why he might be the nation's best point guard next season and Cal (21-9) showed why it might be a Bear to handle in the next couple of years. But Bozeman's young team showed why it wasn't quite ready to complete what had been a marvelous run.
Five days after upsetting two-time defending champion Duke, Cal couldn't keep making big shots, Kidd couldn't keep making big plays and Bozeman couldn't keep making the right moves. The Bears got as close as seven with 1:32 left, but Kidd fouled out 11 seconds later. He finished with 13 points and 10 assists.
"I'm very proud of my team," said Bozeman, who, like Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski did after losing to Cal, broke down after last night's game. "They're a very special group of guys. No one can imagine what we've been through. I'll tell you it was tough. They've shown a lot of character. It's been a struggle."
The struggle ended last night.