COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA MEN'S TOURNAMENT : Kentucky and Kansas March IN : Midwest: Balanced Jayhawks exploit weaknesses of top-ranked Indiana, 83-77, as Williams improves to 3-0 against Knight.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kansas forward Richard Scott wore a net necklace, the spoils of Saturday's 83-77 Midwest Regional final victory against the late, great Indiana Hoosiers, who still can't believe they aren't going to the Final Four.

Considering the way Kansas took advantage of assorted Hoosier injuries, of numerous Indiana defensive lapses and--believe it or not--of the apparent magical powers of the Mississippi River, the Jayhawk victory shouldn't have come as a surprise.

Tell it to Indiana guard Greg Graham, who says it was the Hoosiers' destiny--if not their right--to leave the St. Louis Arena in celebration.

"I really thought we deserved to be regional champions," he said.

Graham had an argument before game's beginning. The Hoosiers (31-4) were ranked No. 1 in the country and seeded first in the Midwest bracket. They had the marvelous Calbert Cheaney, perhaps college basketball's player of the year. They had their beloved motion offense and stifling man-to-man defense. And they had Coach Bob Knight--The Generaland all that stuff.

But Indiana also had weaknesses, almost all of which were exposed by a Kansas team that has few.

"I really thought, without any question, Kansas was the better team," Knight said, adding later, "mostly what we did was hang in there."

And by a thread, too.

Despite pregame comments to the contrary, the Hoosiers desperately missed having sophomore center Alan Henderson available for quality time. Limited by an injured knee ligament, Henderson made only a cameo appearance in Saturday's game, doing next to nothing in three minutes. It was a nice try, but also useless.

Nor did it help Indiana's chances that 6-foot-8 freshman forward Brian Evans was nursing a broken thumb on his right--or non-shooting--hand. Evans played 27 minutes and performed well enough--10 points, seven rebounds--but he and Indiana's only other big man, 6-8 Matt Nover, could not counter the physical advantages Kansas held.

When in doubt, the second-seeded Jayhawks (29-6) pushed the ball inside. If it wasn't 6-10 Eric Pauley, it was 7-2 Greg Ostertag, or 6-8 Patrick Richey, or 6-7 Darrin Hancock or the 6-7 Scott. Time and time again, the Jayhawks would leave with points.

It was a simple strategy, but effective.

"Hey, Roy Williams is no genius, I can assure you of that," said Williams, whose record suggests otherwise.

Under Williams, the Jayhawks are 3-0 against Knight and his Hoosiers. This also marks the fourth time since 1986 that Kansas has advanced to the Final Four, the second with Williams as coach.

And of the 10 trips the Jayhawks have made to the Final Four, eight have come via the Midwest Regional.

No wonder then that immediately after the final buzzer sounded Saturday, Kansas' players donned T-shirts that read, "'Hawks' Domain."

As usual, Kansas had five players score in double figures: Scott (16), Pauley (13), Rex Walters and Hancock (12) and Adonis Jordan (11). Had Steve Woodberry had scored another point, he would have joined the list. Still, it was the fourth consecutive NCAA tournament game in which the Jayhawks accomplished the feat.

Meanwhile, Indiana was forced to rely on Cheaney and Graham, who did what they could. Cheaney had 22 points and nine rebounds, and Graham had 23 points. But the rest of the lineup wasn't as helpful.

Starter Pat Graham? Scoreless. Nover? Nine points. Point guard Damon Bailey? Seven points, five fouls.

And then there was the X factor: Old Man River, the mighty Mississippi. Williams had watched his team spit into the muddy waters a few days earlier, believing it brought good luck. When the Jayhawks beat Louisville that night in the regional semifinals, he vowed to send his team back to the banks Saturday.

"The Mississippi River trick worked again," he said. "Thank goodness the Mississippi River runs all the way down to New Orleans (site of the Final Four). We'll try it again down there."

Depending how today's Cincinnati-North Carolina East Regional final turns out, Williams couldface his mentor and friend, Tar Heel Coach Dean Smith, in the Final Four for the second time in three seasons.

But for now, Williams savors the victory against the Hoosiers.

"It's not like playing St. Mary's Sister of the Blind," he said, as if anyone needed to be reminded of the Indiana basketball legacy.

It didn't come easily. They never do against the Hoosiers. Kansas led by as many as eight points twice in the first half, but each time Indiana would fight back. After 20 minutes, the Hoosiers trailed, 38-34.

Part of the problem was that Cheaney had only one basket and two shots in the first 10 minutes.

"Every time I came off a pick, they'd have somebody waiting for me," Cheaney said. "We'd go to a double screen and they'd have somebody waiting for me."

The Hoosiers actually made an early run in the second half, taking the lead, 50-48, with 12:52 remaining. But the Jayhawks went on a 12-2 run and never looked back. From that 12:52 mark to 7:25, they outscored Indiana, 18-7.

So Kansas moves on and Indiana returns to Bloomington wondering, "What if?"

"I'd give anything for these four seniors if I could have figured out a little better way to get us there," Knight said.

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