Kentucky Hopes to Press the Issue

By Wright, Ken | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 31, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Kentucky Hopes to Press the Issue

Wright, Ken, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)

INDIANAPOLIS - Guard play will largely determine the NCAA men's national basketball championship.

The central issue tonight: Will Kentucky's signature fullcourt pressure create chaos and confusion among Arizona's young backcourt?

Mike Bibby, Miles Simon and Jason Terry will experience a bluegrass version of Arkansas' "40 minutes of hell" from Kentucky's relentless, attacking defense, and Arizona coach Lute Olson knows what to expect.

"When you go against Kentucky, then you've got to handle that [press] all game long - the fullcourt pressure," Olson said. "But I think our guys like that type of game."

Indeed, Olson's guards prefer the free-wheeling, open-court game. Arizona (24-9), the fourth seed out of the Southeast Region, has ridden the guards' backs all tournament.

Against Kansas, it was Simon who led Arizona to an 85-82 upset of the heavily favored Jayhawks in the Southeast Region semifinals. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard hit a variety of shots, driving off the wings, pulling up for running one-handers and sinking layups down the stretch.

Saturday night against North Carolina, it was Bibby who hit four three-pointers in less than five minutes, sending Dean Smith's players packing, 66-58.

"This [Arizona team] is the quickest team I've seen maybe in some time," Kentucky coach Rick Pitino said. "I haven't seen a team like this, with this type of quickness. The thing I like most about their ballclub is how they handle the passes and spread you out with unbelievable quickness. Our dilemma is: Can we press this team with awesome quickness?"

In addition to athletic ability, Arizona's guards have an attitude. Bibby, a 6-1 freshman guard who lit up Carolina for 20 points, is fearless, even when he's missing shots.

"My mentality is to shoot the rock," said Bibby. "I'm going to shoot. I'm not worried about anything, really."

Bibby may be cocky, but it's that sort of bravado that has Pitino worried from a psychological standpoint.

"The one amazing thing to me about the [North Carolina] game is that this team, absolutely being so young, has no fear," said Pitino. "Remember the `Fab Five?' You know an advantage for young people is they don't see any pressure. All they're doing is dancing, having fun. And the older people, they say, `Well, my time is running out. I'm a junior or senior, it's one last moment.' The young people don't care. It's a little bit of an advantage. It seems like they play with no fear at all."

Kentucky (35-4) has no fear, either, in its quest to become the first back-to-back champion since Duke in 1991-92.

Kentucky's unsung guards, Anthony Epps and Wayne Turner, chase the ball all over the hardwood as the first wave of attackers in Pitino's press, which forces opponents to stop their dribble at midcourt and invite double-teams.

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