For Mount, odds greater than 16 to 1 NCAA TOURNAMENT THE ROAD STARTS HERE


MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Where many others have failed, can Mount St. Mary's succeed?

Forty have tried. A few have come close. Even fewer very close. But, since the NCAA Division I tournament went to its current format in 1985, no 16th seed has upset a top-seeded opponent in the first round.

In its maiden appearance at this level, the Mount receives its opportunity tonight in the Southeast Regional at the Pyramid, facing second-ranked and heavily favored Kentucky.

"It's never been done, so there is no pressure on us," said Mount point guard Riley Inge. "If we lose, everybody will just say, 'There's another one.' If we win, it'll be the story of the tourney."

Coach Jim Phelan was the hit of the pre-tourney news conferences yesterday, as he strode onto the national podium for the first time.

Since the Mount arrived here Tuesday, he has answered all questions about the Wildcats with this quip: "They've got 10 McDonald's All-Americans, and we've got at least 10 guys who eat at McDonald's."

That summarizes this David-vs.-Goliath story line, but beneath the humor, Phelan is taking the game very seriously.

Mount St. Mary's has conducted two practices at Christian Brothers College since arriving in Memphis, and Phelan has expressed concern that "some of my players seem to be awe-struck by this. I kind of hope they can leave that behind them."

Little discussion was devoted to the Mount during the Kentucky portion of the session, which dealt primarily with the Wildcats' second-round flop against Marquette last year and the lofty expectations that surround the program.

Wildcat Mark Pope tried to stress "the crazy things that happen in March," and teammate Tony Delk said: "I think you take every matchup seriously."

Kentucky coach Rick Pitino said the thing to do when your team is playing a decided underdog is to "put yourself in Coach Phelan's shoes. There are two trains of thought approaching the game."

Those are either to play your usual style and hope for the best or to limit the number of possessions and run down the clock and the score.

Kentucky, with its all-out pressure, will be a difficult team to confront with a controlled offense, so the Mount may be forced into the full-court game it doesn't want.

"One thing we want to do is make sure we defend their backcourt," Pitino said of Inge and top scorer Chris McGuthrie.

Phelan said the television timeouts -- to which he is not accustomed-- may help his team counter Kentucky's 10-deep rotation.

"I'll probably run out of things to say to them," said Phelan. "I'm a little like Dean Smith in that, 'He who calls the first timeout loses.' "

Phelan said it is crucial that his team withhold the initial surge by Kentucky. "We know they're going to throw it at us, and we have to make them realize this is going to be a game," he said.

Pitino has been a speaker at Phelan's camps and professes great respect for the 41-year veteran of coaching.

"Everyone can sit back and admire someone who's been in the business that long," said Pitino. "He has always been a star and never looked for stardom. I've admired him from afar. Now, I can admire him up close."

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