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Kansas a Heavy Favorite In Tournament Opener Against Holy Cross
Courtesy: Stanford Athletics  
Release: 03/14/2002

March 14, 2002

AP Sports Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) - The Kansas Jayhawks have to prove themselves again after a nearly flawless regular season.

The Jayhawks, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional, went undefeated in the Big 12 regular season, then lost to Oklahoma in the conference tournament final. They play Thursday night in their NCAA first-round game against Holy Cross.

"We try to put that loss behind us and forget about it," guard Jeff Boschee said. "But I don't think we want to forget about the things we did wrong, and the carelessness. It's a whole new tournament and everyone is 0-0."

Kansas (29-3) became the first Big 12 team to go 16-0 in conference play, led the nation in scoring and had a school-record 11 100-point games.

The Jayhawks had season lows in points, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage in the loss to the Sooners, which resulted in them dropping from No. 1 in the nation after a three-week run to No. 2 behind Duke. But they've won 18 in a row in the first round of the NCAA tournament and are 28{-point favorites to get past Holy Cross (18-14), the Patriot League Tournament champions who have 10 of 12.

"Their transition game is the most devastating I've seen in 10 years," Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard said. "Obviously, if we get into a shooting contest with Kansas, we'll lose.

"We have to make the whole better than the sum of the parts, because their parts are better than our parts."

Kentucky-Valparaiso was the first game in St. Louis, followed by No. 5 Marquette against Tulsa in another East game. In the other Midwest Regional game Thursday night, No. 8 Stanford plays Western Kentucky.

Both Stanford and Western Kentucky feature 7-foot centers. Western Kentucky's 7-1 Chris Marcus is averaging 16.1 points and nine rebounds and has played well since returning in February from an injury that sidelined him for two months.

"We've never been overreliant on any one player, including Chris," Western Kentucky coach Dennis Felton said. "We played the same way with him that we did without him.

"I think you're making a grave mistake if you just try to stop him."

Stanford's 7-foot Curtis Borchardt led the Pac-10 with 11.4 rebounds per game and averaged 17 points.

Western Kentucky is the last Sun Belt Conference team to win an NCAA tournament game, in 1995. Stanford has lost three of its last five games, but is in the tournament for the eighth straight season and is looking to make it eight straight first-round victories.

Kentucky is a shaky No. 4 seed in the East, losing four of its last nine games in what's been a tumultuous regular season. The Wildcats are less than confident heading into the Valparaiso game.

"It's been a very distracting season, and hopefully we'll learn from it," forward Tayshaun Prince said.

The lowlights for Kentucky (20-9) include the recent firing of athletic director Larry Ivy and the suspensions of guards Gerald Fitch and Adam Chiles. Fitch has been suspended three times, for trying to use fake identification to get into a nightclub, for scuffling with teammate Cory Sears and for missing curfew.

Valparaiso (25-7) is in the tournament for the sixth time in seven years and reached the round of 16 in 1998. This season, the school set a record for victories, and coach Homer Drew said he has 22 Kentucky tapes to review in hopes of extending the record.

Marquette, making its first tournament appearance since 1997, finished second in Conference USA behind Cincinnati and has one of the stingiest defenses in the country. The Golden Eagles rely on guards Dwayne Wade (17.8 points, 6.6 rebounds) and Cordell Henry (15.1 points).

Marquette and Tulsa are both 26-6, but Tulsa is more tournament-tested, making the field for the third time in four years. That's particularly impressive considering it's playing under its third coach in three years, with John Phillips following Buzz Peterson and Bill Self.

"It's an amazing tribute to the players that we continue to be successful," Phillips said.



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