West Region Preview

March 13, 2000

Everything that could've gone wrong for Arizona did this season, yet the young Wildcats emerged as the No. 1 seed in the West Region.

Arizona (26-6) tied Stanford for the Pac-10 title, but earned the conference's automatic berth in the NCAA tournament with two victories over the Cardinal. Stanford wound up as the top seed in the South.

"I didn't see any way that they could move us out of here with the record that we've had against top 15 or 20 teams. I think it's the best in the country of anybody," coach Lute Olson said Sunday.

The Wildcats will play 16th-seeded Jackson State (17-15) Thursday in Salt Lake City.

The Wildcats were sent there because the other half of the West bracket is being played on Arizona's homecourt at McKale Center in Tucson.

It's uncertain whether 7-foot-1 Loren Woods will return from a back injury in time for Thursday's game. Olson said Sunday that he hasn't been notified by doctors that Woods will be out for sure.

But they do have Richard Jefferson back. He returned three games ago after breaking his foot in the first win at Stanford on Jan. 8. He scored 19 points in the second win over the Cardinal last week.

"I know the question had come up regarding our health situation. Will Loren play? Will he not play?" Olson said. "But we've played without him for the last month now and we still beat Stanford, so on what basis would there be to not keep us in the West?"

Arizona's roster was reduced to no more than seven scholarship players - all but one freshmen and sophomores - because of injuries, transfers, medical and academic problems.

"I think with a six-man rotation, we deserve to be the No. 1 seed," Arizona's Michael Wright said Saturday. "We won the Pac-10 title. We deserve it."

St. John's, the No. 2 seed, will cross a few time zones to Tucson for a first-round matchup Thursday against Northern Arizona (20-10). The Red Storm (24-7) beat Connecticut 80-70 to win the Big East Conference tournament.

"St. John's had to be the best No. 2 seed to be sent out of their region," Olson said.

Also in Tucson on Thursday, No. 3 seed Oklahoma (26-6) will play 14th-seeded Winthrop (21-8) and No. 6 Purdue (21-9) takes on No. 11 Dayton (22-8) in a matchup of Midwest teams.

No. 7 Louisville (19-11) has the unenviable task of playing 10th-seeded Gonzaga (24-8) of the West Coast Conference. Last year, the Zags came within one win of the Final Four, losing by five points to eventual champion Connecticut.

In Salt Lake, No. 8 Wisconsin (18-13) takes on No. 9 Fresno State (24-9), with the winner likely facing Arizona in the second round. That would make for an intriguing matchup between Wildcats coach Lute Olson and Jerry Tarkanian, who has the Bulldogs in the tournament for the first time since 1984.

Tarkanian, the subject of a decades-long investigation by the NCAA, returns to the tournament for the first time since leading UNLV to the Final Four in 1991.

The other games Thursday in Salt Lake are fourth-seeded Louisiana State against No. 13 Southeast Missouri State (24-6) and No. 5 Texas (23-8) against 12th-seeded Indiana State (22-9) of the Missouri Valley Conference.

LSU is back in the NCAAs for the first time in years under coach John Brady, who replaced Dale Brown in 1997.

The Tigers, co-champions of the Southeastern Conference and 26-5 overall, are in the same region as Arizona, which lost at Baton Rouge this season.

So what does Brady think of the possibility of playing them again?

"I don't know what to say when people ask me that," he said Sunday. "Arizona is fine. We beat them at our place. I don't think Arizona is looking forward to playing us again."

Indiana State is another team with a storied past that is back in the tournament. The Sycamores haven't been to the NCAAs since Larry Bird led them to the 1979 title game, where Indiana State lost to Magic Johnson and Michigan State.

AP Sports Writer



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