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Utes Were Finally Runnin’ on Empty

TIMES SPORTS EDITOR

In the end, the little engine that could couldn’t. Utah’s Runnin’ Utes, the energizer bunny of this highly charged, month-long athletic endurance test, couldn’t get the battery to crank one last time here Monday night in the NCAA title game.

* A team that hadn’t let anybody shoot better than 50% against them all season let Kentucky shoot 50.9%.

* A team that averaged 13 turnovers made 18, including eight from its point guard, Andre Miller, who had previously been like stealing from a guy with a zipper on his pocket.

* A team that has finished strong all season en route to a 30-4 record missed 15 of its last 18 shots from the floor and made only eight of 27 in the second half.

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“Lombardi said it best. Fatigue can make cowards of anybody,” Coach Rick Majerus of Utah said afterward.

He hastened to add that there were no cowards on his Utah team, and while his players denied that they were just too tired to make one last run at a national title that had seemed, just weeks ago, virtually an impossibility, Majerus took any blame there might be.

“I left in the guys who got us there,” he said. “Maybe I should have gotten some other players in there, maybe earlier in the game.”

He and his players also took the high road in the game’s aftermath.

“It was an honor and a privilege to play here, in this tournament,” Majerus said. “We lost to a terrific team. They made difficult shots at difficult times, and I applaud them.”

Michael Doleac, Utah’s 6-foot-11 center, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds, said, “Kentucky is a solid team, well coached. They are class guys.”

Surprisingly, for a team that wasn’t supposed to be here, and that captured the hearts of America on its trip along the way, there was considerably more postgame regret than might be expected.

Drew Hansen, like Doleac playing his last game for the Utes, said, “For me, I guess I’ll always wonder, what if--what if I had done this or done that--maybe something would have been different.”

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And Alex Jensen, sophomore forward, said, “Our school gets here every 32 years or so, so you want to make the most of the chance when it is there. And we didn’t quite get it done.”

Jensen addressed another issue, too, that being the inevitable changing makeup of the team.

Doleac and Hansen graduate, top reserve Britton Johnsen may take a Mormon mission that would take him away from the team for two years, and star guard Miller, a junior who had few backers as a first-round NBA draft pick just a few weeks ago, now must face the prospect of large amounts of money talking him out of a final year of eligibility. Miller, from Compton and Los Angeles Verbum Dei High School, will complete his undergraduate work in June, and even Majerus, who would dearly love to have him back, said Monday morning, “Andre is going to have to take a look at the money.”

Jensen said, “I sure hope Andre’s back.”

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And Miller seemed to agree with that hope, saying, “I’ve never been in this position before, and I don’t really know what to make of it.”

The final piece of the puzzle, of course, is Majerus. He is currently the hottest name in college coaching, a man who took a school to the Final Four that is from a conference and place well out of the mainstream of those who traditionally get here. So the offers will flow.

The rumor all month has been that Arizona State is romancing him, and while he said Monday morning that he has talked to nobody from Arizona State, these kinds of deals are usually done through intermediaries, anyway.

Utah dearly wants him to stay. His friend and mentor, Al McGuire, wants him to take a year off. Dozens of athletic directors at other schools, and perhaps half that many NBA general managers, want him to boot the Utes.

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So Majerus, a man in demand, handled it Monday night like he handles so many other things in his life--with humor and a quick line. A TV broadcaster asked him after the game if he would be “staying in Utah.”

To which Majerus replied, “Yes, I’m going there tomorrow.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Utah (30-4), Game-by-Game

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*--*

87 CS-Fullerton 59 87 at Weber St. 72 66 S. Utah 48 89 at Loyola Mary. 50 83 UC Irvine 45 64 Providence 58 62 at Wk.Forest 53 71 Utah St. 55 78 Azusa Pacific 58 69 Oregon St. 61 66 at Wis.-Milwaukee 51 73 Rice 65 71 at BYU 61 65 Colo. St. 51 75 Wyoming 58 57 at Air Force 46 67 at UNLV 54 62 Tx-ElPaso 56 74 at New Mexico 77 83 BYU 68 60 at Rice 49 56 at Wyoming 62 60 at Colo. St. 48 55 Air Force 41 79 UNLV 68 71 at Tx-ElPaso 49 65 New Mexico 55 51 UNLV-x 54 85 San Francisco-y 68 75 Arkansas-y 69 65 West Virginia-y 62 76 Arizona-y 51 65 North Carolina-y 59 69 Kentucky-y 78

*--*

x-Western Athletic Conference

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y-NCAA


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