Trailing by fivepoints in UNLV's second-round showdown with Wisconsin on Sunday, Runnin' Rebelscoach Lon Kruger turned to his son, fifth-year senior point guard Kevin, duringa timeout and said, "You didn't come here to finish like this!"
Ever the obedientchild, the younger Kruger (left) went out and sank three huge three-pointers inthe final eight minutes and dished a key assist to lead the seventh-seededRebels to the upset--and the Sweet 16.
This isn't Kevin'sfirst Big Dance. As a 10-year-old he was practically the team mascot at Floridawhen his dad took the Gators to the '94 Final Four. The coach's kid was shownon TV that March almost as often as Billy Packer. "I went to every game,every practice," Kevin says. "I followed the players around and satwith them on the bench--or under it."
Kruger, anhonorable mention All--Pac 10 pick last year with Arizona State, took advantageof a rule--since rescinded--that allowed athletes with a year of eligibilitywho had graduated to transfer and play immediately. "The rule workedperfectly for me," Kevin said. "It allowed me to play for my dad, whichwas something I never did [at any other level]. It's very similar to thefeeling I had when [the Gators] were winning games in the '94 tournament. Justwatching [my dad] be happy is one of the greatest feelings in theworld."
Much has been madeof Memphis's abysmal free throw shooting this season, and some suspected itwould be a liability for the Tigers in the tournament. The Tigers hit a paltry61.3% from the line during the regular season, the worst of any team in thefield and 314th out of 325 Division I teams. Memphis coach John Calipari had atheory why--"We play so fast," he says, "that it's hard to springdown the court and then suddenly slow it down and shoot a free throw"--buthe had no solution. So on the eve of the Tigers' first-round matchup with NorthTexas, Calipari tried a radical remedy: He told his players that he would nolonger require them to shoot free throws in practice. Instead, using theteachings of sports psychologist Bob Rotella, Calipari asked his team to spenda few minutes each night picturing perfect free throw form. "He told us toclose our eyes and visualize ourselves making 20 straight," says sophomoreguard Chris Douglas-Roberts (left). "When you visualize, you don't miss. Welaughed at first, but he was dead serious."
The result?"We've been doing a better job," says sophomore guard Antonio Anderson.Memphis shot a much-improved 70.4% and 76.5%, respectively, in its NCAAtournament wins over North Texas and Nevada. Says freshman guard Doneal Mack,who went 5 of 6 from the line against the Mean Green, "It was just a mentalthing for us."
Butler is the raremid-major that entered the Big Dance feeling slightly unloved. The NIT SeasonTip-Off champs, led by Academic All-America A.J. Graves (left), climbed intothe top 10 of the AP poll in February but then lost three of their next sixgames. "Ours is a small league, so the nation kind of forgot about us,"says forward Brandon Crone. "But we don't care, to be honest."
Even after winsover Old Dominion and fourth-seeded Maryland, the Bulldogs are still beingdescribed as "smart" and lauded for their "basketball IQ"rather than their skills. But junior guard Mike Green is O.K. with that."We are challenged a little bit physically," he says, "but when itcomes to thinking, we might be one of the best teams in America."
JOHN BIEVER (KRUGER)
AL TIELEMANS (DOUGLAS-ROBERTS)
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (GRAVES)