Boilermakers Aware Of Gonzaga's Potential
March 21, 2000
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue's five seniors are looking forward to playing their final college game in Indianapolis in two weeks. To have a chance to do that, they have to win two games out West.
The Boilermakers, in an NCAA regional semifinal for the third consecutive year, will have to beat Gonzaga and either Wisconsin or LSU this week at the West Regional in Albuquerque, N.M., to earn a trip to the Final Four at the RCA Dome April 1-3.
The seniors, with a 110-42 record in four seasons, are led by Brian Cardinal. His rugged, body-sacrificing scrappiness has made him Purdue's career leader in steals with 257, and he's up to 13th on the school's career scoring list with 1,561 points.
"Like all our seniors, he's been a very positive leader for us," coach Gene Keady said Monday. "Once we got into the season, the seniors seemed to take that role on their shoulders a lot better than they have in recent years. ... He does more leading with his action than he does verbally.
"He doesn't really scold the players. He just tries to get them to play as hard as he does.
The Boilermakers (23-9) are seeded sixth in a regional marked by upsets of top-seeded Arizona and second-seeded St. John's in the second round.
Indiana had a record six teams in the tournament this year, and Purdue was the only first-round winner. Keady, in the tournament for the eighth consecutive year, said he knows how the coaches of the other schools must feel.
"That feeling going out early is no fun," Keady said. "We're just proud to be alive. I didn't think about the state's schools not still being in it. I just know they've got to be hurting like we were when we weren't in it any more."
Cardinal said the seniors have a special motivation in the tournament - sending Keady to the Final Four for the first time as a head coach.
"It would mean everything," Cardinal said. "I'd trade in my whole career at Purdue, just so he can get that missing piece. Hopefully, we can do that. He's a great coach and done so much for all my teammates. It would mean so much from all of us to give that to him."
The Boilermakers have a lot of respect for Gonzaga, their next opponent. The 10th-seeded Bulldogs (26-8) ousted St. John's on Saturday and travel to Albuquerque with the luxury of having four starters from a team that reached the regional final last year. Purdue hasn't gone that far since 1994.
"They're a definite elite team. Anyone who knows college basketball understands that," guard Carson Cunningham said. "We're going to have to come ready to battle."
Purdue played Gonzaga here last year in the second round of the Preseason NIT. Gonzaga lost 83-68, showing signs of fatigue as it played its third road game in six nights. The Bulldogs scored just four points in the final seven minutes, including two that came on free throws.
"They're a team, like ourselves, that the national media doesn't say much about us," Keady said. "I know Gonzaga very well. ... If you let anybody have a career game on the Gonzaga team, they're going to beat you.
"They're going to have some solid people perform anyway."
Keady says Gonzaga's Matt Santangelo is possibly the best college point guard in the nation.
Santangelo is his team's second leading scorer at 13.3 points per game, and his 217 assists is more than the next three of his teammates combined. Keady doesn't anticipate trying to disrupt him by pressing him.
"We tried that last year. It didn't work very well. We got out of our press, and then we started playing a little better," Keady said.
Santangelo led Gonzaga with 26 points in Saturday's 82-76 upset of St. John's.
"St. John's tried that (pressing Santangelo). It didn't affect him much."
By HANK LOWENKRON
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