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THE NCAA FINAL : INDIANA VS. SYRACUSE : Seikaly vs. Alford Looks Like the Long and the Short of It

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

A college basketball season stocked full of superlatives has come down to just two teams and one game, so when Indiana and Syracuse meet tonight for the NCAA title, someone is going to have a super time in the Superdome.

So which team is going to be the superimposing one?

Will it be the favored Hoosiers? Coach Bob Knight, looking for his third national championship, can join John Wooden and Adolph Rupp as the only coaches who have won at least three titles.

Or will it be the Syracuse Orangemen who squeeze out a championship for Coach Jim Boeheim in his first title game?

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It may well turn out that the two super players on this season’s super teams decide for themselves who is the most super of them all. Indiana guard Steve Alford and Syracuse center Rony Seikaly are not matched up against each other in any way except that they are probably going to be the key players who figure out the Final One.

They couldn’t be much more different. Alford was born in hoop-happy Indiana and picked up a basketball for the first time when he was 3. Seikaly was born in that notorious basketball hotbed of Beirut, Lebanon, and was in the ninth grade before he ever touched a basketball.

Seikaly speaks four languages--English, French, Greek and Arabic--while Alford speaks just two, English and jumpshots.

Seikaly never played an organized basketball game until he got to Syracuse. Alford, the son of a high school coach, was different.

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“I’ve just kind of lived basketball since I was born,” said Alford, who was 9 when he came to one of Knight’s basketball camps.

Seikaly is an American citizen since his father was born in the United States, but while he knew English, he didn’t speak basketball very well when he met Boeheim.

“I never heard of a screen, pick and roll, high post and low post, all the things that were thrown at me and I didn’t understand,” Seikaly said. “I didn’t know where to go and where to come. All I knew was that the objective was to get the ball in the basket.”

Alford knew that almost from the beginning and he has broadened his understanding in four years under Knight at Indiana. Already the highest scorer in school history, Alford’s 33 points in the Hoosiers’ 97-93 semifinal victory over Nevada Las Vegas left him 26 points short of Big Ten career scoring leader Mike McGee.

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“Steve Alford has gotten more out of his ability than any player I’ve ever seen,” Knight said. “He doesn’t tip in shots or post up and he doesn’t drive a hell of a lot. He just gets open and shoots jump shots.”

Boeheim saw the Indiana-UNLV game live and then watched it twice more on tape, each time with an increasing appreciation of Alford.

“Indiana, with Alford playing the way he did, I don’t know if they’re beatable,” Boeheim said. “In games when he plays well, they seem to beat anybody easily.”

Alford is neither big nor quick, but coming up with a defensive scheme designed for him isn’t very easy. Boeheim said the worst thing Syracuse could do is overcompensate on Alford and free up the rest of the Indiana players, so Syracuse is likely to send either Sherman Douglas or Greg Monroe at him.

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“It’s going to be kind of tough,” Douglas said. “Alford runs off a lot of screens, so we’re going to have to make him take some tough shots. We can’t let him have open jump shots.”

Syracuse, which dominated Providence on the backboards in the Orangemen’s 77-63 semifinal victory, faces a far more difficult encounter against the Hoosier front line of 6-10 Dean Garrett, 6-7 (and 235-pound) Daryl Thomas and 6-6 Rick Calloway.

But this is the area in which Seikaly is strongest. Against Providence, Seikaly had 16 points and 8 rebounds in a game he conceded was “ugly,” yet still successful.

“I had a great time,” he said.

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Why?

“We won,” he said.

It wasn’t like his 33-point tournament game with Florida or his 26-point outing against North Carolina, but Seikaly vowed to be ready for the Hoosiers.

“We’ve really got nothing to lose,” he said. “The pressure is on them, I think. They’re supposed to win. If they don’t, it’s ‘Oh, my,’ so we can be real loose.”

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Seikaly won’t be without help beneath the basket. The Orangemen have both talent and depth on the front line, where Seikaly joins forces with 6-9 freshman Derrick Coleman and 6-5 senior Howard Triche, with 6-9, 230-pound Derek Brower coming off the bench.

Syracuse appeared in the Final Four only one other time, in 1975, while Indiana is playing in its fifth NCAA title game. The Hoosiers won in 1940 and in 1953 under Coach Branch McCracken before Knight coached the Hoosiers to the NCAA crown in 1976 and 1981. Boeheim said that Indiana’s past appearances should not diminish Syracuse’s chances.

“We’re not playing against Scott May or Kent Benson,” Boeheim said. “We’re playing against this year’s Indiana team. None of those other guys are going to come out and play, I don’t think.”

Knight insisted he isn’t thinking about what winning a third NCAA title would mean to him personally.

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“The only significant thing at this point for me is what it means to our players,” he said. “It’s important for us, just as it’s important for Syracuse or any team that got to this point, that they’re going to be watching it every year from now on. Sometime, they’ll look at it and say, ‘We played in that thing.’ ”

Final Two Notes

Tipoff is set for 5:12 p.m. (PST). . . . Count Indiana Coach Bob Knight as a major critic of the three-point shot. “I believe basketball should involve passing and a lot of other things than just coming down and throwing it in,” said Knight, who wouldn’t mind seeing the three-point shot, instituted by rules committee secretary Ed Steitz, abolished next season. “Dr. Steitz is the father of the three-point shot,” Knight said. “I hope someday that may go down as being the father of the Edsel.” . . . LSU Coach Dale Brown, who is writing a daily Final Four column for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, was sitting at the press table Saturday during the Indiana-UNLV semifinal game when an NCAA official asked him to leave. Brown borrowed a copy of the newspaper and showed it to the NCAA’s Dave Cawood, who still insisted Brown give up his seat. Brown refused, but he later watched the game from a television monitor in the press room. . . . Indiana guard Steve Alford, on Knight: “I think I do a pretty good job of keeping things in perspective. To be able to get to know Coach Knight, you have to be a player or an assistant coach for him. I’ve learned an awful lot, not only in basketball, but life in general. He’s a very demanding person, very intense in the things he does. The thing that struck me most from day one to the present day is that he’s the most tremendous competitor I’ve ever been around. If we could ever compete like Coach Knight competes, I think we’d be very difficult to beat. I’ve always had a dream and a goal to be in this position where we are right now.”


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