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NCAA semifinals set for Saturday

  |   April 4, 2003 at 4:27 PM
NEW ORLEANS, April 4 (UPI) -- What has turned out to be a wide-open NCAA Tournament will reach its next-to-last step Saturday with the playing of the national semifinals in the Louisiana Superdome.

Marquette will meet Kansas in the opening game and Texas will take on Syracuse in the second contest. There is not a major favorite or underdog in the group.

The four teams left have survived four games each, something the biggest of the pre-tourney favorites could not do. Kentucky, Arizona and Oklahoma -- all seeded No. 1 in their respective regions -- fell last weekend.

Only Texas held up as a top seed.

In the opener of Saturday's double header, Kansas Coach Roy Williams will try to keep alive his hopes for a first national title.

Williams has had to deal with the distraction of persistent questions concerning the possibility that he would succeed Matt Doherty as the coach at North Carolina, his alma mater.

Kansas (29-7) is making its second straight Final Four appearance and 12th overall after capturing the West region. The Jayhawks got a terrific performance from Kirk Hinrich in Saturday's 78-75 victory over Arizona. Hinrich scored 28 points and made six three-pointers.

"We are just feeling really good," Hinrich said. "We have a chance to accomplish some things that haven't been done here for awhile. I think we realize the opportunity we have. We are just really excited about what we have accomplished so far, but realize there is more to be done."

All-Big 12 first team selection Nick Collison will also key Kansas' attack. Collison had a subpar effort against Arizona with eight points, but collected 33 points and 19 rebounds in the Jayhawks' regional semifinal win over Duke.

"They have two All-Americans and a lot of other guys that can play," Marquette Coach Tom Crean said. "They know each other real well so they play together well."

Williams led Kansas to the championship game in 1991 when it lost to Duke. The Jayhawks lost to North Carolina in the 1993 Final Four - in New Orleans - and lost to Maryland last season.

"Whether I will feel fulfilled as a coach or not has nothing to do with winning a national championship," Williams said. "It's one of my dreams, there's no question about that, but I don't let that drive me. It's not something that I stay awake at night and think about."

Marquette (27-5) is in the Final Four for the first time since Al McGuire's team won the 1977 championship. The Golden Eagles received one of the best performances in NCAA Tournament history from star guard Dwyane Wade in an 83-69 victory over Kentucky in the Midwest Region final.

Wade, the Conference USA Player of the Year, notched the third triple-double in NCAA Tournament history with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. He joined Michigan State's Magic Johnson and Utah's Andre Miller as the only other players to record triple-doubles.

"He has the ability to switch gears like he did the other day," Crean said. "That will be a tape to watch for many a year when it is all over. He raised his own level and everyone else's level."

Robert Jackson had a double-double by halftime and finished with 24 points and 15 rebounds. Jackson leads the team with a 7.5 rebounding advantage.

Kansas may elect to use the athletic Keith Langford against Wade, a matchup that favors Marquette.

"I have nothing personal against Dwyane Wade," Langford said. "It is not personal at all. We will take the same approach we have done in every game. We have got to beat Marquette to do what we want to do."

Kansas is 5-1 all-time against Marquette and posted an 85-61 victory in the last meeting on Jan. 28, 1992.

A pair of superstars square off in the second game when T.J. Ford and Texas meet Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse.

Ford and Anthony was named the Most Outstanding Player of their region. Ford is the Naismith Award winner and Anthony is the national Freshman of the Year.

"We know Texas is one of the most physical teams in the country," Anthony said. "We know they like to run and gun with T.J. When he's got the ball in his hands, we've got to try to contain him and keep him in front of us."

Texas (26-6) has reached the Final Four for the first time since 1947, when the NCAA Tournament had only eight teams. The Longhorns lost to Wyoming in the 1943 championship, when the field had four teams.

"We are not satisfied with making it to the Final Four," Ford said. "Our ultimate goal is to win a national championship. We've made it this far because it is a team effort and a team sport and we are going to do the best we can."

Ford had 19 points and 10 assists as Texas moved into the Final Four with Sunday's 85-76 victory over Michigan State. Ford, a sophomore considering entering the NBA draft, did not shoot the ball well from the floor, but made 11 of 13 at the line.

Ford has made just seven of 27 shots in the last two NCAA Tournament games. Still, he has fearlessly led a team with no seniors in the starting lineup into the Final Four.

Texas has a pair of players other than Ford to average in double figures -- Brandon Mouton and James Thomas. Mouton averages 14.4 points while starting center Thomas contributes 11.1 points and 11.1 rebounds.

Thomas is a native of Schnectady, N.Y. who was recruited by Syracuse. Ironically, the Orangemen's starting center is Jeremy McNeil, who is a San Antonio native.

The Longhorns also boast impressive depth with 10 players averaging 10 or more minutes. Reserves Sydmill Harris and Brian Boddicker combined for 27 points against Michigan State.

"Ford is the best point guard in the country and the player of the year," Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said. "They're big and physical. They've got all the answers like all the teams playing right now."

Syracuse (28-5) has never won a national championship, but this is Boeheim's third Final Four appearance. The Orangemen suffered a 74-73 national title game loss to Indiana in New Orleans in 1987 and also lost to Kentucky in the 1996 championship.

Anthony collected 20 points and 10 rebounds as Syracuse cruised to a 63-47 victory over Oklahoma to capture the East Regional. He scored 12 points in the first half after scoreless first halves in Syracuse's two previous NCAA Tournament games.

Hakim Warrick added 13 points and nine rebounds as Syracuse shot 52 percent. But the story of the game was the defense of the Orangemen, who used Boeheim's 2-3 zone defense to limit Oklahoma to 18 baskets.

"His zone has always been good," Texas Coach Rick Barnes said. "The one he's got now is the length of his players -- big and athletic, taking away gaps. I'm not sure he's changed that much in his philosophy or the way he's taught the zone but I like his personnel. I think they are a great zone team, primarily being the zone and the way they rebound out of it."

The schools have never met. Texas is 2-1 against Big East Conference opponents this season with wins over Seton Hall and Connecticut and a loss to Notre Dame. Syracuse is 3-0 against the Big 12, defeating Missouri, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.

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