The three seniors on Kentucky have played on two straight Final Four teams, and helped win a NCAA championship as sophomores. The two seniors on Syracuse were part of a team that lost to the Wildcats two years ago in the final. Two of three seniors on UCLA helped the Bruins win the tournament as freshmen.
As for Duke, seniors Steve Wojciechowski and Ricky Price, and fourth-year junior Trajan Langdon, have yet to be part of a tradition in which the Blue Devils went to seven Final Fours in nine years and won national championships in 1991 and 1992. It ended the year they arrived in Durham, N.C.
"One of our goals was to get to the Final Four," said Wojciechowski, the senior point guard from Cardinal Gibbons. "Not having been there is disappointing, but it's not something ,, we focus on. It's inconsequential to what our careers have been about. It's a waste of energy to think about. But we're not playing Final Four teams from other year."
But the comparisons are there nonetheless.
In fact, tonight's NCAA South Regional semifinal against Syracuse at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., marks the farthest Duke has gone since losing to Arkansas in the 1994 championship game in Charlotte, N.C.
Three years ago, with Krzyzewski sidelined by back problems, the Blue Devils didn't make the tournament. Two years ago, they lost to Eastern Michigan in the first round. Last year, they lost to Providence in the second round.
Conversely, the experience Syracuse seniors Todd Burgan and Marius Janulis gained two years ago could help them tonight. That was the year the Orangemen, seeded fourth, upset top seed Kansas in the West Regional final in Denver.
"It's nice to have people doubt you, to prove people wrong," said Janulis, whose three-point shot beat Iona in the opening round this year. "This year it same."
Said Burgan: "In 1996, it was the same thing. Everyone looked at the other team's in the bracket. If you keep winning, sooner or later we'll get the attention."
Cota feels more pressure
If last year's run to the Final Four was pressure-free for North Carolina, point guard Ed Cota can feel a discernible difference this March.
"Last year, there was no pressure on us," Cota said. "Our goal was to get to the Final Four. We did that, then fell short. Our goal this year is to win the national championship. I think there is more pressure this year."
Carolina lost in the national semifinals to Arizona a year ago. If the seeds hold up, the Tar Heels would play the Wildcats again in the semifinals.
Stanford gets testy
While some teams that advance to the regional semifinals opt to remain in the same region if they are far from home, Stanford returned to California after Sunday's win over Western Michigan in Chicago. The team had more important issues to address at home.
"The kids had finals this week, so we had no choice," said Stanford coach Mike Montgomery. "It's been a little bit hectic this week. I don't know that we got 100 percent mental concentration this week, and I'm not sure we expected it."
Point guard Arthur Lee was supposed to take a final yesterday, but, "I couldn't get in contact with my professor."
Sophomore forward Mark Madsen did take a final, in macroeconomics.
"The final I'm taking, there's a lot of geniuses in the class and I don't consider myself a genius," Madsen said. "It's really a challenge, trying to get things squared away. We're pleased we can be students and take our classes seriously."
Baseball on deck for Sykes
Valparaiso senior guard Jamie Sykes is nearly two weeks late for reporting to baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks.
He was asked which of the two sports he preferred.
"Honestly, up until last year, basketball has always been my favorite sport for the excitement," Sykes said. "But after playing last summer, baseball is probably an equal."
While discussing baseball, Sykes suffered a slip of the tongue.
"This past couple of weeks has put my baseball career on hold," Sykes said. "It might hurt me, but I'll be able to deal with that. I'll be taking an incomplete when I fly to Arizona after we lose if we lose."
Pub Date: 3/20/98