Heady 'Zags Stand In Way Of Keady Finally Making It To Final Four

March 23, 2000

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - On the sidelines, Gene Keady puts on a show at least as entertaining as the game itself.

Every twist and turn of his Purdue Boilermakers' play is reflected in the coach's demeanor as he prowls the sideline like a hulking, caged bear, his face contorted in whatever emotion befits the moment - disbelief, anxiety, rage. His players respond with an intense, tough-guy style of basketball.

And they would like nothing more than to reward Keady with his first trip to the Final Four. The next roadblock, though, is a formidable one. The sixth-seeded Boilermakers (23-9) face American's darlings, those Gonzaga Bulldogs, tonight in the West Regional semifinals.

"Coach Keady's a great coach and I think that's in the back of everybody's mind that we'd like to get him to the Final Four and give him that missing piece to the puzzle," the Boilermakers' Brian Cardinal said.

This is the third consecutive year, and the fifth time in his 20 seasons at Purdue, that Keady has taken his team to the round of 16. He has a 476-209 record in 22 seasons as a major-college coach. He knows, though, that the ultimate standard for success is reaching the Final Four.

"I think you make too big a deal of it, but that's OK," Keady told reporters Thursday. "That's part of the pressure you have on you. It's just the way it is. If I don't like it, I should have got out of coaching a long time ago. ... The Final Four thing is just a high goal. We've always wanted to do that. "

Gonzaga (26-8), meanwhile, is trying to become the first No. 10 seed to advance to the Final Four. The Bulldogs have handled the quickness of Louisville and St. John's, and they say they aren't afraid of the Boilermakers' slower, rougher style.

"This crew loves to tee it up and play physical," coach Mark Few said. "They're as physical a team as we've had in Gonzaga in quite awhile. So they don't mind that. Some of them kind of relish in that. Casey Calvary certainly does."

The 6-foot-8 Calvary and 6-foot-11 Australian center Axel Dench, whose play has improved dramatically in recent weeks, know what they're up against.

"My role in tomorrow night's game is going to be to play as hard as Brian Cardinal and Greg McQuay. They're absolute warriors inside," Dench said. "Brian Cardinal, I heard the quote that he's the self-proclaimed most hated man in his conference. That shows just what he can do to get into people's heads. I've just got to be patient and slow down and not make any stupid plays or rushed shots and just try to match his physical aspect."

Gonzaga point guard Matt Santangelo said his team can't allow the game to degenerate into a slugfest, though.

"We don't want to get into a grind-out game for 40 minutes with these guys, because it plays in their favor," he said. "We've got to get the tempo moving a little bit and then battle with them on the boards to even stay in this one."

The Bulldogs think it's time to stop calling them a fairy tale team.

"In every single article that you read there will be Cinderella in there somewhere," Dench said. "Some people like it, but I personally just can't stand the word. We've just gone through so much. We've gone through the baptism of fire to get where we are, and yet people are still putting it down to a fluke and a one-time thing."

This is, after all, a team that's 5-1 the past two years in the NCAA tournament, with the only loss a close one to eventual national champion Connecticut in last year's regional final. This little Jesuit school has added a basketball team that's become America's darling to its previous, rather limited heritage as the alma mater of John Stockton and Bing Crosby.

"I just think it's pretty hard now to call this program or call this particular group of guys Cinderella when they advanced within basically 30 seconds of the Final Four last year and now here they are in the Sweet 16 again," Few said. "Somebody told me that the teams that advanced to the Elite Eight last year and advanced to the Sweet 16 this year are Michigan State, Gonzaga and Duke, so that's heady company right there. I'd like to trade recruiting budgets with them."


By BOB BAUM
AP Sports Writer


 

 

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