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At this year's Final Four in the Seattle Kingdome, there will be
so much talk of tradition that the NCAA should think about
setting up peach baskets and stopping play after each field goal
for a jump ball. Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton will spin
tales about his mentor, Hank Iba, one of the pioneers who took
James Naismith's creation and turned it into modern basketball.
UCLA's players will talk about the Wizard, John Wooden, who
shows up from time to time at Pauley Pavilion, and about recent
visits they've had from Bruin legends Marques Johnson, Mike
Warren and Bill Walton, a trio heretofore best known to the
players as, respectively, the father of Bruin freshman Kris
Johnson, a cop on Hill Street Blues reruns and a network
basketball commentator with wild hair. North Carolina coach Dean
Smith will relate stories of riding the Kansas bench for all but
the last 30 seconds of the 1952 NCAA final in Seattle, a game in
which coach Phog Allen, a Naismith protege, led the Jayhawks to
a title by beating St. John's 80-63. And, of course, Arkansas's
defending national champions will wax nostalgic about that
magical year of . . . 1994.

Well, the tradition theme takes a detour when it meets up with
coach Nolan Richardson and his living-only-for-today Razorbacks.
The Hogs don't do tradition. They also don't do video analysis or
detailed scouting reports or any of that other time-wasting
nonsense. ``We play with the lions more than we play with the X's
and O's,'' said Richardson after his team Hog-tied Virginia 68-61
in Sunday's Midwest Regional final in Kansas City, Mo.

We're not sure exactly what that means, but we do know that, once
in Seattle, Richardson will not be interested in hearing about the
two NCAA titles Iba won at Oklahoma State back in 1945 and '46,
when the school was known as Oklahoma A&M; or about the 10
championships Wooden won at UCLA between 1964 and '75; or about
the 1982 and '93 finals won by North Carolina for Smith, against
whom Richardson will match wits in Saturday's semifinal.

The Reverend Richardson will find common ground with Sutton in
their Arkansas connection -- remember, Sutton coached the
Razorbacks for 11 seasons, beginning in 1974-75, and took them to
a third-place finish at the Final Four in 1978 -- and in their
friendship with Bill Clinton. In fact, a few years ago Sutton
advised Clinton not to rush things. ``You can't beat President
Bush,'' Sutton said then. ``Why don't you wait for '96?''

A lot of people said Sutton wouldn't beat Massachusetts, either,
but on Sunday the Cowboys pulled off an unlikely 68-54 rout of the
Minutemen in the East Regional final at the Meadowlands to reach
their first Final Four since 1951, when Iba was still at the helm.
A lot of people also said that the Hogs, who have won one game by
one point and two others in overtime in this year's tournament,
wouldn't get to the Final Four either. And a lot of people said
that Carolina would be run over by a deep and daunting Kentucky
express train in the Southeast Regional final in Birmingham, but
the Tar Heels won going away, 74-61. UCLA was the lone favorite
(and only No. 1 seed) to survive the weekend, having rocked
Connecticut 102-96 in the West Regional championship game in

Though Richardson stresses the distinctions between himself and
other coaches (``I'm very abnormal,'' he likes to say) and between
his program and others (``We don't do things like everyone
else''), similarities exist between the Hogs and the rest of the
semifinal field. In describing his team, affectionately, as
``raggedy,'' Richardson hit upon an excellent word to encapsulate
this year's NCAA tournament. Raggedy, ugly, rhythmless, slipshod -
- hey, there are numerous possibilities.

In Birmingham last Saturday, for example, fans came to see a
glorious North Carolina-Kentucky final, a matchup of two of the
game's most storied programs, ``a monumental game,'' as Tar Heel
backup swingman Pearce Landry put it. What they got, for long
stretches anyway, was Cleveland State versus Pan American. One
enduring image captures the quality of the offensive play in the
60 tournament games played so far: Just before the final buzzer
closed out the Arkansas-Virginia matchup, Razorback guard Alex
Dillard bounced the ball high off the floor to punctuate the
victory with a Spud Webb-like slam -- and clanked it miserably
off the back rim.

Bonehead plays like Dillard's notwithstanding, there is no doubt
that defense has had much to do with the clogged- artery pace of
many tournament games. As much as everyone will be talking about
the post-up play of Arkansas's Corliss Williamson and Oklahoma
State's Bryant Reeves, the midair artistry of North Carolina's
Jerry Stackhouse and the fast-break brilliance of UCLA's Ed
O'Bannon, defense is what unifies the Final Four teams, and
defense is what got them to Seattle. Sure, you gotta have heart to
get this far, but first and foremost, you gotta play D.

At first glance the four semifinalists don't share many defensive
similarities. Arkansas employs its ``40 minutes of hell''
full-court pressure, while North Carolina, fearing that foul
trouble and fatigue will expose its thin bench, hardly ever
presses. Oklahoma State never presses but features a suffocating
half-court man-to-man D, while its semifinal opponent, UCLA, goes
with a zone press. However, all four teams make it difficult for
the opposition to get into its offense; all four engage, in
effect, in a battle of wills to dictate the flow of the game.

``Our intention is to make teams do what they're not used to
doing, what they're uncomfortable doing,'' says UCLA point guard
Tyus Edney. Arkansas assistant Brad Dunn puts it more
diabolically: ``Our defense puts you in a position where you've
got to make a decision. Are you ready to make a decision? Are you
sure you're ready?''

The more you study all these teams' defensive schemes, the more
other similarities begin to emerge. ``Every coach who's been in
this business has learned that ball pressure is the basic
principle of any sound defensive philosophy,'' says UCLA coach Jim

The essence of Arkansas's defensive pressure is to wear down the
opposition mentally as well as physically. Whether that occurs in
a 200-point game or a 100-point game is almost irrelevant. ``The
press is so intense that once you make a mistake, you start
second-guessing yourself,'' said Virginia freshman guard Curtis
Staples. ``That works on your mind.'' Particularly since the
Razorbacks are extremely successful at flicking away a dribble or
pass from behind if you get by their initial trap. Even if a team
breaks the Arkansas pressure, its players still have to worry
about the Hogs' whereabouts.

Oklahoma State's man-to-man defense is much less frenetic than
Arkansas's -- then again, so is your average Seattle mosh pit --
but it succeeds because of the underrated abilities of guard
Randy Rutherford and forward Terry Collins, both all-Big Eight
defensive first-teamers. Do not count on Edney breaking their
pressure with ease, for Oklahoma State has played the stingiest
defense in the tournament, holding opponents to 55.3 points per
game. ``Man-to-man defense is something we live and die on,''
says Cowboy point guard Andre Owens, ``and right now we're

UCLA's occasional full-court zone pressure is less a way of life
than a means to create tempo, but even in the Bruins' half-court
man-to-man defense, Edney and guard Toby Bailey are schooled to do
two things: pressure the ball on the entry pass and sprint back to
close up the interior (the Bruins call this tactic ``swarming the
nest'') after that pass is made.

In past years Smith has tried all sorts of crazy things with the
North Carolina defense, including an Arkansas-like ``scramble'' in
which a designated chaser, who sometimes resembled a man trying to
corner a mouse in his basement, ran pell-mell after the dribbler
to create a double-team. Look for a little of that in Seattle and
perhaps some full-court pressure. No matter what the Heels come up
with, it will be designed to befuddle the opposing quarterback and
get his offense out of rhythm.

Teams don't live on D alone, though, and we're fairly sure these
games won't end in 0-0 ties, so what are the ``gotta haves'' that
these contenders will need to combat all that ball pressure? First
of all, you gotta have an exemplary point guard. Final Four games
are pressure-filled, and possessions are too valuable to place in
the hands of a ``sort of'' point guard. That is what Kentucky
tried to do in putting Jeff Sheppard, a natural two-guard, at the
offensive controls. It worked fine when the Wildcats' racehorse
style produced an up-and-down game, but it was disastrous when
Carolina slowed the tempo and forced Sheppard to make decisions.
Even Richardson, the ``abnormal'' one, says, ``We know we have to
have a point guard to take care of the ball,'' and in Corey Beck
he has one of the best.

The Tar Heels counter with Jeff McInnis, who, by the way, will be
bringing to Seattle his collection of Sega Genesis games that
includes one called Coach K. (Explains McInnis with a shrug,
``They don't make a Coach Smith game.'') Oklahoma State's Owens is
the most unheralded of the point guards, but his three-turnover
performance in 35 minutes against UMass was splendid. Then there's
Edney, the Ty that binds UCLA. He is the hottest player in the
tournament, with the most spectacular play to date (his
game-winning basket against Missouri in Round 2) in his back
pocket. Advantage: UCLA.

You also gotta have a go-to guy. Sooner or later, the
aforementioned defensive pressure takes away so many options that
an offense needs to have something reliable at its disposal,
either to force a defensive change or to ice the game. UMass's
one-two punch of Marcus Camby and Lou Roe seemed to outmatch
Reeves, Oklahoma State's back-to-the-basket throwback, until one
saw how easily Reeves (24 points against the Minutemen) got off
his turnaround jumper. Camby, a defensive stopper, and Roe, an
offensive-board specialist, are wonderful players, but they are
not go-to guys. Similarly, Kentucky's oft-mentioned depth was
largely worthless against Carolina, because when the game slowed
down, the Wildcats didn't have one bona fide low-post scorer.
Their offense ended up in the hands of Rodrick Rhodes, who shot an
abysmal 2 of 10. (Kentucky took 26 more shots than Carolina and
still lost by 13 points.)

When in trouble, the Heels can turn to Stackhouse and center
Rasheed Wallace, while UCLA has the versatile O'Bannon. But the
Hogs have the best pair of go-to guys in Williamson and Scotty
Thurman. If a three-pointer is needed, Thurman is the guy; if a
higher-percentage basket is required, there's no surer thing than
the Big Nasty. Williamson scored 21 points against Virginia but,
more important, twice dished off to cutters Beck and Clint
McDaniel for scores when the Cavaliers geared up to stop him down
the stretch. Said Williamson, ``I always want people to go away
saying, `That was the best player in the game.' '' That's a
big-game attitude. That's a big-time player. Advantage: Arkansas.

Finally, you gotta have a mission. Richardson and his Hogs are
racing to the closet to retrieve the we-get-no-respect banner they
draped around themselves last season. They've got company,
however. The Cowboys' small-town stalwarts, Reeves and Rutherford,
will get mileage out of their rural upbringing, and they are
already suggesting that the press believes them to be little more
than hayseeds and bumpkins being led to slaughter. Moreover,
somehow, someway, Carolina has worked itself into an underdog
role, too, largely because its lack of depth was one of the main
topics of conversation in the ACC all season. ``They talk about us
like we're junkyard dogs or something,'' says Landry, who, along
with forward Pat Sullivan and 7'2" center Serge Zwikker, helps the
Heels go eight deep.

None of the teams, however, has a mission like that of UCLA, which
seeks nothing less than to move out from under the long shadow of
history. Twenty years without a banner. Twenty years of trying to
evict a benevolent poltergeist named Wooden. We think this is the
Bruins' year: UCLA over Arkansas in Monday's championship game.

Just don't ask Richardson to assess the historical significance of
it all.

COLOR PHOTO:COVER PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID E. KLUTHO COVER PHOTO A Gathering of Champions Defending champ Arkansas battles three storied winners in Seattle [Arkansas player reaching toward ball that hangs in the air above the rim]

COLOR PHOTO:DAVID E. KLUTHO !yeooS, giP, oooohW While the Arkansas cheerleaders and mascot either failed a spelling test or administerd an eye exam, their defending national champion team was nearly letter perfect in again making the Final Four (page 28). [photo from T of C--Arkansas cheerleaders and mascot holding up letters that spell SGOH]

COLOR PHOTO:JOHN W. MCDONOUGHToby Bailey helped UCLA leap over UConn and into the Final Four, where the legacies of legendary coaches (from top) Allen, Iba and Wooden will go up against Richardson's defending champs. [Toby Bailey laying ball in over Connecticut player]B/W PHOTO:UPI/BETTMANN [see caption above--headshot of Phog Allen]

B/W PHOTO:NO CREDIT [see caption above--headshot of Hank Iba]

B/W PHOTO:AP [see caption above--headshot of John Wooden]

COLOR PHOTO:JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [see caption above--headshot of Nolan Richardson]

COLOR PHOTO:JOHN W. MCDONOUGHO'Bannon (31) never loses sight of the ball, whether on the fast break or in the Bruins' daunting defense.[Ed O'Bannon reaching up toward basketball]

COLOR PHOTO:MANNY MILLANOwens (35) got sandwiched and Beck got pancaked, but their foes ended up settling for the crumbs. [Andre Owens caught between two Wake Forest defenders]COLOR PHOTO:DAVID E. KLUTHO [see caption above--Corey Beck and Virginia player tangled onfloor]

COLOR PHOTO:JOHN BIEVERWhen defensive ball pressurefails the Heels, it's nice to have Stackhouse say, ``Not in my house.'' [Jerry Stackhouse rejecting opponent's shot] COLOR PHOTO:MANNY MILLANCamby's body English didn't get the Minutemen a ticket to Seattle, but a save by Dillard helped send the Razorbacks on their way. [Marcus Camby leaning sideways]

COLOR PHOTO:DAVID E. KLUTHO [see caption above--Alex Dillard saving the ball from going out- of-bounds against Virginia]