NEW ORLEANS -- Utah coach Rick Majerus warned his team that it could win the battle with All-America forward Wally Szczerbiak and still lose the war with Miami of Ohio.
In the end, the Utes lost the battle and the war.
Szczerbiak scored 24 points, going 10-for-10 from the free-throw line, as the 10th-seeded RedHawks upset the second-seeded Utes, 66-58, yesterday in a second-round NCAA tournament game at the Superdome.
Miami (24-7) advances to the Sweet 16 for the first time. The RedHawks will play third-seeded Kentucky on Friday in the Midwest Regional at St. Louis.
Utah, which lost to Kentucky in the NCAA championship game last year, finishes the season 28-5. Yesterday's loss ended a 23-game winning streak for the Utes.
"Miami didn't play harder than us, but maybe they played a little smarter," said Majerus. "They were more physical than we were, and they seemed to play with more of a purpose."
After watching Szczerbiak score 43 points in the RedHawks' victory Friday against Washington, Utah forward Alex Jensen did everything he possibly could to limit the number of times Szczerbiak got a decent shot at the basket, even if it meant fouling him regularly.
Szczerbiak took only 11 shots, but he went to the free-throw line five times and made it count. Szczerbiak had three trips to the line in the final two minutes, including twice with one-and-one situations, and he made all of his attempts.
The 6-foot-8 senior also had seven rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals while playing all 40 minutes.
"I just let the game come to me and see how it plays out," Szczerbiak said. "On Friday, I had the hot hand and guys did a great job getting me open. This is more like the games I played throughout the season."
But this was a game during which the RedHawks proved they have a few other guys who can play a little basketball, also.
Center John Estick equaled his season high with 18 points, backup forward Jason Stewart came off the bench to score 12 points, and guard Rob Mestas had eight rebounds while guarding Utah All-American Andre Miller.
"We're a team, even though it may not seem like it at times because Wally is here," said Miami of Ohio coach Charlie Coles. "I told them that Utah was not going to let Wally score 43, so somebody was going to have to step up. Today, that was Jason.
"Jason is a shooter, and he's going to take his shots. Sometimes they fall, and they did today. And Estick played as smart a game as he has all season."
Utah built a 24-13 lead with 7: 29 to go in the first half, but the momentum of the game changed when Stewart came in and sank three three-point shots over a 1-minute, 25-second span to make it 24-22.
"Honestly, we were a little down and we were looking for some answers," Szczerbiak said. "Then along comes hardheaded Jason, and he knocks down three threes. That really got us going."
Miller, who led the Utes with 20 points, hit a jumper with seven seconds left to give Utah a 32-29 lead at the break.
But being so close was incentive for Miami of Ohio.
"We got the job done in the second half," Coles said. "At halftime I told the team, 'Guess what? We're down three and didn't play very well for 12 minutes. We have a chance.' "
Another key for Miami was the 6-6, 250-pound Estick, who made nine of 15 shots in the lane by working for four offensive rebounds and getting open on backdoor plays when Utah overplayed the pick-and-roll.
"I knew they would guard Wally hard after what he did Friday," Estick said. "It was going to leave somebody open, and I found out it was me."
After trailing 32-29 at halftime, Miami led 42-41 with 10 minutes to go. But the RedHawks outscored the Utes 14-5 over the next five minutes to build their biggest lead at 56-46.
Miller tried to bring Utah back by scoring nine consecutive points for the Utes to close the gap to 58-55 with 1: 45 to go, but Szczerbiak's perfect performance from the line when the pressure was on sealed the victory for Miami.
At No. 6 in the nation, Utah is the highest-ranked team the Red- Hawks have beaten.
But Miami and Wally's World will get another stern test Friday against eighth-ranked and tradition-rich Kentucky.
"It's just a name to us," Estick said. "They have to dribble and shoot just like we do. We feel we can play with anybody because we practice harder than most teams play."
Pub Date: 3/15/99