March 22, 2003
GAME: No. 9 Utah (25-7) vs. No. 1 Kentucky (30-3)
REGIONAL: Midwest, second round.
TIME: Sunday, 7 p.m. EST.
SITE: The Gaylord Entertainment Center; Nashville, Tenn.
Kentucky has been Utah's biggest nemesis in the NCAA tournament. For the Utes to exact some revenge, they'll have to knock off the most dominant team in college basketball.
The Wildcats will be looking to end the Utes' season for the fifth time in 10 years and extend their win streak to 25 when the teams meet in a second-round game.
Top-ranked Kentucky has provided nothing but misery for Utah fans since 1993, when the Wildcats beat the Utes in the second round in the schools' first NCAA tournament meeting. Kentucky also defeated Utah in 1996 regional semifinals and the 1997 regional finals, and shattered the Utes' dreams of a national championship in 1998.
In the 1998 title game, Kentucky rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit to defeat Utah 78-69 for its second championship in three years. Five years later, Utah coach Rick Majerus doesn't exactly sound thrilled with a rematch.
"I'd prefer not to play Kentucky, but you have to play someone," said Majerus, who has been the Utes' coach for all four of the NCAA losses to the Wildcats. "That's just the draw. They're very unselfish, athletic and well-coached. They're everything you want in a team."
Kentucky continued to make it look easy Friday, routing IUPUI 95-64 to remain unbeaten since falling to archrival Louisville on Dec. 28. Only six of the Wildcats' 24 consecutive wins have been decided by fewer than 10 points, with an average margin of victory of 17.2 points during the run.
The Wildcats returned to the locker room to see "5 more" written on the blackboard - a reference to the number of wins needed to capture their eighth national title.
"There's no celebrating," said guard Gerald Fitch, who equaled his career high with 25 points. "It's all business right now."
IUPUI found that out quickly. Kentucky shot a staggering 62 percent, hitting 40 of 65 attempts from the field, in humbling a Jaguars squad that had talked incessantly about becoming the first No. 16 seed to knock off a top seed.
"It definitely bothered us," Fitch said. "They made it seem like we were some typical team and they were going to make history."
Kentucky's suffocating defense was again on display, as the Wildcats held IUPUI to 37 percent shooting.
"Early in the season, we were focused more on offense," said senior guard Keith Bogans, who had 13 points. "Coach (Tubby Smith) went back to square one and showed what defense can do for us."
Utah survived to face Kentucky by overcoming Oregon 60-58 on Friday. Nick Jacobson scored 23 points and hit two of three free throws with 14.4 seconds left as the Utes overcame their worst shooting performance of the season and major foul trouble to advance.
Utah had three players foul out and was without second-leading scorer Britton Johnsen, who is sidelined by an enlarged spleen from mononucleosis and is not expected to play in the tournament.
"We were playing with every possible combination," Majerus said. "We were drawing things up. We didn't have plays. We don't have plays when you have two point guards, two 2s and a 3 out there. But we did a great job playing through adversity."
Utah managed to win despite shooting only 29.5 percent (18-of-61) from the floor.
Sunday's winner will advance to the regional semifinal in Minneapolis to face either
TEAM LEADERS: Utah - Frost, 13.3 ppg; Johnsen, 6.7 rpg; Drisdom, 3.1 apg. Kentucky - Bogans, 15.9 ppg; Hayes, 6.8 rpg; Cliff Hawkins, 4.0 apg.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Utah - At-large bid, Mountain West Conference; beat No. 8 Oregon 60-58, first round. Kentucky - Automatic bid, Southeastern Conference tournament champion; beat No. 16 IUPUI 95-64, first round.
ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Utah - 33-26, 24 years. Kentucky - 92-39, 45 years.