2001 NCAA Men's Tourney
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Final Four Notebook

Arizona's banged-up Arenas steals show

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Posted: Saturday March 31, 2001 9:13 PM
Updated: Sunday April 01, 2001 12:32 AM

  Gilbert Arenas Gilbert Arenas picked off six Michigan State passes, a record for a Final Four semifinal. AP

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The biggest thing standing between Michigan State and a second straight NCAA title was Arizona's Gilbert Arenas.

Arenas picked off six Michigan State passes, a record for a Final Four semifinal. Many of them led to baskets as the Wildcats beat the Spartans 80-61 in the semifinals Saturday.

Arizona scored 21 points off Michigan State's 15 turnovers.

"I knew Jason Gardner was fast; I didn't know about Arenas," said the Spartans' Zach Randolph, shaking his head. "They're fast. They're the fastest guards we've ever played against."

Arenas always was quick, but he wasn't always a great defender.

"Typical of most guys who come here, they've been big scorers in high school and defense is something other people do," coach Lute Olson said. "I think there's been steady progress with Gil. I mean, he came up with some big-time steals. "I just felt once we convinced him that if he would be aggressive in the stance and anticipate, he would be a great defensive player."

Duke admirer

Arizona's chief scout was duly impressed after watching Duke join the Wildcats in Monday night's NCAA championship game.

Jim Rosborough, the assistant coach who scouted the Blue Devils for Monday's game, is just as impressed with the Wildcats.

"They're quick," Rosborough said. "I think we're quick. I think that's something everyone has to understand about us.

"What people don't understand is that we're a pretty good defensive club. Defensively, we're pretty darned quick. Arenas could be the best defender in the county if we could get him 100-percent focused on that."

The difficulty every team has against Duke is deciding how to defend point guard Jason Williams without giving up open 3-pointers to other Blue Devils.

"'Williams is very, very tough," Rosborough said. "I like our guy [Jason Gardner], too. That'll be a good matchup.

"The game will be a good matchup and probably what everyone wanted."

Magical advice

Magic Johnson arrived to the familiar cheers of "Magic! Magic!" and with some advice for most of the underclassmen in the Final Four: Stay in school. Though the former Michigan State great left for the NBA after leading the Spartans to an NCAA title as a sophomore 22 years ago, he said a key to his success was the two NCAA tournament games he played as a freshman. "The next year was like: 'Oh, my,'" Johnson said. "I was so much better."

He believes another season also would do wonders for Spartans such as freshmen sophomore Jason Richardson, who he believes could have the impact that Shane Battier had at Duke this season.

"Battier's the ultimate winner," said Johnson, a Los Angeles Lakers executive. "When we look at the draft, that's what we're looking for. We're not looking for a guy who hasn't won. We say, 'Where did that guy come from?' You look down our roster, it's all guys from the Michigan States, the Dukes, the North Carolinas."

Johnson had to admit that he already likes what he sees of Duke point guard Jason Williams, a sophomore.

"Jason Williams has no thought," Johnson said. "He says, 'Oh, you're going to overplay? I'm gone.' It's never a thought."

Alumni hall

Other Michigan State notables in the audience included former coach Jud Heathcoate and players Greg Kelser and Ron Charles of the 1979 championship team and former baseball star Kirk Gibson, who was joined by his friend David Wells of the Chicago White Sox.

Johnson said he recently called Heathcoate, still groggy from medicine after undergoing minor surgery, and the conversation went like this:

"This is E."

"Who?"

"It's E. I'm just calling to make sure you're OK."

"I'm OK."

Click.

Another reunion

John Wooden, winner of 10 championships, was reunited before the game in a CBS-TV interview with one of his former stars, Bill Walton. The former UCLA coach walked the steps to the booth with the aid of a cane to meet with Walton, who led the 1972 and 1973 Bruins to national titles.

Long view

Dan Bartos of Colorado and Warren Engstrom of Indiana have been meeting at Final Fours for the past 11 seasons. They insist they knew what they were doing when they traded up for seats that gave them a view of the court partially obstructed by temporary seating placed in the Metrodome.

They started out by paying $160, or face value, for upper-deck seats behind the temporary seating. They paid an extra $100 for seats that were about 80 yards from the court at a 45-degree angle.

"We made a mistake," Bartos said.

Seeing red

Terrapins fan Rich Greenberg arrived at the Metrodome with a red Maryland shirt and a scarlet brow to match.

"This is the kind of fan I am: I want to Arizona earlier this week because I wanted to redden my whole head in Maryland colors," joked Greenberg, who later admitted he was in Arizona on business.

Greenberg, 45, is a Maryland graduate who lives in Washington, D.C.


 
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