Second Round West Sub-Regional Preview
March 18, 2000
TUCSON, Ariz. - St. John's coach Mike Jarvis says no one should be shocked anymore by that little school in the Northwest called Gonzaga.
The Red Storm can go a long way in preventing more surprise by not becoming the latest upset victim from everybody's tournament darlings.
The 10th-seeded Bulldogs, who raced all the way to the West Regional final a year ago, try to topple another college basketball powerhouse tonight when they play No. 2 seed St. John's.
"Cinderella is not wearing slippers anymore," Jarvis said Friday. "Now they have real shoes and boots. They are a very good basketball team. People who know basketball know that."
In the first game in Tucson on Saturday, third-seeded Oklahoma (27-6) plays No. 6 seed Purdue (22-9) in what should be a rough matchup between two bruising teams.
"They remind me of ourselves," Oklahoma guard Hollis Price said. "They play tough, they play physical."
Gonzaga's stunning run last year also came as a No. 10 seed in the West, when the Bulldogs knocked off No. 7 Minnesota, No. 2 Stanford and No. 6 Florida and put a scare into eventual champion Connecticut before falling.
The 'Zags began this year's tournament with a 77-66 victory over Louisville, a school that has won two national titles in the last 20 years.
"We don't have a storied tradition like many of the other teams in the tournament, but we are establishing ourselves as a program you have to deal with," point guard Matt Santangelo said. "People have a tendency to overlook us, but I think that is changing with our success the last two years."
Santangelo will again be the key for Gonzaga. He will have to handle St. John's relentless, perimeter defense and find the open shooters, as well as contain Erick Barkley.
The two guards were teammates last summer in the World University games in Spain. They developed a deep respect and friendship during that time.
"Erick is a tremendous basketball player and a tremendous athlete," Santangelo said. "He is quick, strong and his best attribute is his competitive drive. He is considered one of the best point guards in America and it will be fun to match up with the best."
While Gonzaga's players knew all about St. John's, Barkley was one of the only Red Storm players who had even watched Gonzaga play this season. That will all change before tipoff.
"Hopefully by the end of the day, my players will know more about Gonzaga than they do now," Jarvis said. "I've been watching them for a couple of years. They push the ball up the court very well and are more athletic than people give them credit for."
The first player the Red Storm should familiarize themselves will be Richie Frahm, who scored 31 points against Louisville. Big men Axel Dench and Casey Calvary could also provide problems for undersized St. John's.
"We played against big guys all year," Bootsy Thornton said. "We're going to do it how we did it all year."
While St. John's and Gonzaga provide the flashy matchup, it will be a bare-knuckles, physical game between Eduardo Najera's Oklahoma Sooners and Brian Cardinal's Purdue Boilermakers.
"It's funny to hear people say they play sloppy," Oklahoma center Renzi Stone said. "They've been saying that about us all year. We're not pretty teams, but we get the job done."
Their play is typified by those two physical forwards. Cardinal, with his knee and elbow pads, spends nearly as much time diving across the floor as he does standing on it.
Najera is a physical inside force who likes to bang and doesn't back down to a challenge.
"They both dive for the ball, take charges, post up and hit 3s," Purdue coach Gene Keady said. "They don't leave anything out. They both attack and are aggressive."
While the focus will be on the bangers inside, the game could be decided by the guards. Oklahoma's backcourt scored 39 of 74 points against Winthrop, hitting 10 of 19 3-pointers and used their quickness to break down the defense.
Guard play had been one of the weaknesses recently for Purdue, both defensively and shooting. But Jaraan Cornell and Carson Cunningham broke out of their recent slumps and combined to hit 6 of 13 3-pointers against Dayton.
Cornell hit three in the final nine minutes, including the game-tying one with just more than two minutes left.
"In order to win, we need Jaraan to play well," Cardinal said. "When he made those shots, you could see his confidence pick up. Hopefully, he'll be sky-high."
By JOSH DUBOW
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