Coaches: tourney not whole year Williams, Olson agree March just one part of successful season; Both hit for 1st-round losses; Arizona, Maryland Sweet 16 staple


ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Lute Olson and Gary Williams didn't see eye to eye on everything that unfolded in the West Regional semifinals, but they do agree on one thing: coaches and their teams shouldn't be judged solely by how they perform in the NCAA tournament.

Williams' Maryland team challenged Olson's Arizona outfit at the Arrowhead Pond late last night.

This was the third time in five seasons that Williams had gotten the Terps to the Sweet 16. He felt too much criticism was heaped on Maryland for first-round failures the last two years, but it was nothing like the scorn that had been heaped on Olson before Arizona upset its way to the NCAA championship last year.

Arizona has the best winning percentage (81.8) in the nation since the start of the 1987-88 season, but before the Wildcats shocked the college basketball world with their first NCAA title last year, Olson never heard about his three previous trips to the Final Four, but the times that the Wildcats had fallen short in the 1990s.

In 1995, Arizona was a No. 5 seed, but lost in the first round to Miami of Ohio. It was a No. 2 in 1993, when it was stunned by Santa Clara. The Wildcats were a No. 3 in 1992, when they flopped in the first round against East Tennessee State.

"If a team wins 30 games and loses in the NCAA tournament, everyone wants to know what's wrong with them," Olson said. "Are they chokers? It's totally unfair, yet it's going to be there."

Before Olson arrived in Tucson in 1983, Arizona had three NCAA tournament appearances to its credit. His first team went 11-17, but this is the 14th straight NCAA team he's had, the longest active streak for any coach in the nation.

Williams, meanwhile, revived a program that had fallen into disrepair in the late 1980s.

In the first 55 years of the NCAA tournament, Maryland reached the Sweet 16 four times, one more time than it has in the last five seasons. This is the first time since 1983-84 and 1984-85 in which the Terps have had consecutive 20-win seasons. Only 10 other programs have made the last five NCAA tournaments, and Maryland also is among the 11 that have made three Sweet 16 appearances in that time.

Williams has complained that little attention has been paid to that consistency, and too much placed on its first-round NCAA losses the last two years.

"The NCAA tournament has gotten so big, it's the total focal point for a lot of people who don't follow college basketball," Williams said. "March hits, then everybody becomes interested in the NCAA tournament. Part of it's great. Part of it causes players and teams not to get credit for what they did in the regular season sometimes."

Both Williams and Olson mentioned Kansas' loss last Sunday, in the second round.

"My wife Bobbi and I watched Kansas," Olson said. "We saw Rhode Island play a great game. Both of us, in unison, said, 'What a miserable situation for Roy Williams.' He's one of the best coaches in the country, one of the most hard-working. All of a sudden, they don't get there, it's all his fault. It's very frustrating."

Williams talked of the capriciousness that makes for March Madness.

"As you get older, you realize that breaks, injuries, who you draw have a lot to do with the NCAA tournament," Williams said. "It's not a best-of-seven series. If you have one bad-shooting game against a good team, you're done."

Millions watch. Millions of dollars are bet on the tournament, and the millions pile up for the NCAA and its member conferences. Olson has last year's NCAA title to keep him warm. On Wednesday, Williams was asked what it would mean to him if Maryland got past the Sweet 16 and into tomorrow's regional final.


Pub Date: 3/20/98

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