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The Final Drive
Alexander Wolff
April 01, 1996
With Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi State and Syracuse doing battle, the Final Four will be a showdown of well-matched coaches, fierce defenses and in-your-face attitudes
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April 01, 1996

The Final Drive

With Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi State and Syracuse doing battle, the Final Four will be a showdown of well-matched coaches, fierce defenses and in-your-face attitudes

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As for Boeheim, who has turned the fourth-best team in the Big East this season into that league's first Final Four representative since 1989, he seems perversely comfortable in his role as basketball's most-maligned winner of 482 games. What kind of job is he doing with this team? "One of my best," Boeheim said earlier this month. "Which probably means it isn't very good."

Massachusetts is currently 9-0 against ranked teams this season. The Minutemen have played 26 games away from Amherst, winning every one of them. Most telling, none of the team's starters ever seems to panic, and all are equally likely to take a shot with the fate of a game in the balance. "Them holding us off at the end is a sign of their greatness," said Georgetown coach John Thompson after the Minutemen had carved up the Hoyas 86-62 in the East Regional final. "We go at people, but UMass is poised. They don't beat themselves."

Carmelo Travieso, the Minuteman guard who did an inadvertent half-gainer off the stage during media interviews on the eve of his team's 79-63 defeat of Arkansas in the regional semis, adroitly negotiated the Georgia Dome's center stage during Saturday's semifinal. He and Padilla had more steals (nine) than their Hoya counterparts, Allen Iverson and Victor Page, had baskets (six).

"There's nothing I can say to intimidate him," Calipari says of Pitino, a UMass grad who sat on the search committee that chose him as the Minutemen's new coach in 1988, "and nothing he can say to intimidate me." Calipari has refused to read a profile of Pitino that appeared in these pages last month, preferring to leave undisturbed his notion of his benefactor as a cross between John Wooden and Ward Cleaver. Excerpts from the piece were, however, read to him, and that was enough to prompt Calipari to pick up the phone and call a friend. "They called him...possessed!" Calipari said indignantly.

Even if all these Final Four coaches are possessed, unbridled ambition is hardly unusual within the pale of New York City, where this week much of the populace will be demoniacally pursuing a ticket. If Chicago is the city of broad shoulders, New York is the city of the quick first step—a place that fairly screams, If it's there, go for it.

Four teams will be doing that on Saturday. And as certain as it may seem that the national champion will emerge from that collision of No. 1 seeds, the UMass-Kentucky semifinal, and as much as it looks as if that victor will be the Cats, it's best to keep in mind the old Woody Allen line from Sleeper: "I believe an intelligent being governs everywhere, except for certain parts of New Jersey."

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