It's a strange destiny that brought the University of San Francisco's basketball team to the first round of the 1998 NCAA tournament.
Effectively chloroformed in 1982 after a series of scandals, officials from the tiny Catholic school discontinued basketball for three seasons, relegating what was once one of the nation's top programs to a basketball purgatory in the 12 seasons since being reinstated in 1985.
But the Dons' penance ends today when they face No. 7 Utah in a first-round game of the NCAA West Regional at Boise State Pavilion at 4:45 p.m. PST.
"This team is proud to have brought the program back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the team was reinstated."
With a small team--no player taller than 6-foot-6--the Dons (19-10) should enjoy their new life while it lasts.
Utah (25-3) is much bigger and more experienced in tournament play, having earned a berth the last four seasons and making it to the round of eight last season, when the Utes lost to Kentucky, 72-59.
With last season's standout, Keith Van Horn, starring in the NBA, senior Michael Doleac, a 6-11 center, has become the main man.
Doleac, who averages 15.4 points and seven rebounds, is joined in the post by 6-11 sophomore Hanno Mottola (12.8 points).
They make up a formidable pair near the basket and are a good reason why none of Utah's opponents have shot more than 50% this season.
A soft schedule is the other reason. The Western Athletic Conference offered little competition, but Utah still was unable to win the WAC tournament, losing to Nevada Las Vegas, 54-51, a week ago. New Mexico, the only top-15 team the Utes played this season, beat the Lobos Feb. 28.
"We aren't accustomed to losing," Coach Rick Majerus said Wednesday. "We had a great practice Saturday. We didn't go into Stalag 13 and whip them. I'm proud of them."
In the UNLV game, Utah made only four of its 20 three-point shots. The Utes, who are not going to blind anyone with their speed, have problems attacking zones and beating full-court presses.
This is what Mathews and the Dons intend to do against them.
"We have to play 94 feet against them and get up-tempo," Mathews said.
Forward Hakeem Ward, the Dons' leading scorer, says that heft and height can be a burden against a swifter opponent. "I've played against 6-11 and 7-footers all year," Ward said. "I'll just use my quickness to my advantage."
That's where Utah's Andre Miller comes in. Miller, a 6-2 junior point guard from Verbum Dei High, averaged 13.7 points and 4.9 assists this season.
Miller is a steady leader. He is sure to keep Utah under control and slow the pace of the game, something the Dons want to keep at a manic pace.
"Hopefully we will play with poise and composure," said Majerus, in his ninth season at Utah. "They rebound the long ball better than anyone. That is a weakness we have. . . . Hopefully we can compensate by going inside.
"We have the size and they have the speed. It's cat and mouse."