EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- To the end, John Wallace wouldn't give an inch.
From Wallace's point of view, it was the officials, and not Kentucky, who took him out of last night's NCAA title game. The senior forward had carried Syracuse this far, and believed he was denied a chance to finish the job.
"We played very well, and we should have won the game," Wallace said. "Personally, I feel we got a couple of bad calls that could've went our way but didn't. In my opinion, we won the game."
The second-place trophy in the corner of the Syracuse locker room said otherwise. Tony Delk was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four after tying a record with seven three-pointers, but that announcement was greeted with boos. Wallace had a game-high 29 points and 10 rebounds, but " he also fouled out with 1: 06 to go.
Midway through the first half, when Syracuse was up by a point and Kentucky's Antoine Walker was called for a hand-check on Wallace, he yelled, "They can't stop me!" and he never stopped voicing his opinion.
When Wallace got his first foul, with 5: 14 left, he probably deserved a technical, too. He got his second foul less than two minutes later, when he dived for a loose ball but also got Kentucky's Mark Pope in a headlock.
His fourth foul, with 2: 25 left, was player control, as Wallace beat the press, but instead of pulling up, barreled into the lane.
After his fifth foul, he took his time leaving the floor.
"It's a bad thing to foul out, and leave your teammates hanging," said Wallace, who refused to consider a conservative approach when he was in danger of disqualification. "It was the last game of my college career, and I wasn't going to let it hinder my game."
Wallace rebounded better in the championship game than he did in the semifinal win over Mississippi State, but he and Otis Hill failed to seal off the defensive board down the stretch.
The Orangemen were within 64-62, but then Walter McCarty got a tap-in, and Pope's second-chance basket made it 71-64.
If there was a central figure in this tournament, it wasn't Delk or Marcus Camby, but Wallace, whose demeanor in the interview room never detracted from his all-around game. He made two buzzer-beating plays in a third-round overtime win over Georgia, and was solid in all six games.
Coach after coach kept pointing to Wallace as an example of a player who benefited from coming back to college for his fourth ** season. Wallace applied for the NBA draft last year, but instead returned to Syracuse and finished as the No. 3 scorer in Orange history, behind Lawrence Moten and Derrick Coleman.
"He could have gone last year and been maybe the 13th or 17th pick," Kentucky coach Rick Pitino said, "but I really questioned how good a pro he would be, because I didn't think he had a great face-up game. [Now] he shoots the three, is explosive off the dribble."
Delk needed 12 attempts to get his Final Four record of seven three-pointers. Wallace, 6 feet 8 and 225 pounds, made two of his three attempts outside the arc, muscled his way inside against the leaner Kentucky players and made all five of his free-throw attempts, including a one-and-one when his teammates were shrinking in the bonus situation.
"He was a lion tonight," said coach Jim Boeheim, who was in his 17th NCAA tournament. "John Wallace stepped up as big as anyone has ever done for us."
Syracuse was considered the Big East's fourth-best possibility in the tournament, and Wallace personified its us-against-the-world mentality. It carried over to junior center Hill, who Sunday said the Orangemen would "shock the world."
"I think we did," Hill said. "We definitely shocked Dick Vitale. He said we were going to get blown out by 20. We played Kentucky as well as anyone."
Syracuse was done in by 24 turnovers -- 19 more than it had in the semifinals -- and a hand injury that sent point guard Lazarus Sims to the bench during a decisive 11-0 run. Finally, there was Wallace's foul trouble.
"I'm not going to say we would've definitely won," Wallace said, "but at the same time, I'm not going to say they're better than us."
Kentucky's No. 1
Road to the title
Round .. .. Result
1st . .. .. Ky. 110, San Jose St. 72
2nd . .. .. Ky. 84, Virginia Tech 60
3rd . .. .. Ky. 101, Utah 70
. .. .. Ky. 83, Wake Forest 63
Semis .. .. Ky. 81, UMass 74
Final .. .. Ky. 76, Syracuse 67
Last night's victory gave Kentucky the most wins in NCAA tournament history:
School .. .. .. .. Wins
Kentucky ... .. .. 70
UCLA . .. .. .. .. 69
North Carolina ... 68
Pub Date: 4/03/96