Marquette’s Mardi Gras
Marquette carried a photo of the Superdome, site of the Final Four, everywhere it went this season. It hung in the locker room and accompanied the team on trips.
Seeing is believing.
Next stop: New Orleans.
Marquette pulled off the biggest stunner of the NCAA tournament, ending top-seeded Kentucky’s 26-game winning streak in remarkably decisive fashion, 83-69, Saturday in the Midwest Regional final.
“Not to sound like Dr. Phil, but you have to have a visual before you can experience it,” Marquette Coach Tom Crean said of the photo. “You never know what’s going to work. That’s why coaches try all that goofy stuff. I love that goofy stuff.”
The Metrodome was crammed with 28,383 mostly Golden Eagle fans who left with enough Kodak moments to last a lifetime. Marquette (27-5) will make its first Final Four appearance since its 1977 national championship run under Al McGuire.
Among the snapshots:
* Center Robert Jackson outmuscling Kentucky’s Marquis Estill and putting back his own miss to give Marquette a 15-14 lead it would not relinquish.
Jackson, a senior transfer from Mississippi State, had 24 points and 15 rebounds. His impact on defense was even greater, holding Estill to 10 points and six rebounds, the same Estill who had 28 points two days earlier against Wisconsin, the same Estill who said he couldn’t remember Jackson when Kentucky played Mississippi State.
“I’m quite sure he knows me now,” Jackson said.
* Freshman Scott Novak making two three-point shots in 30 seconds to push the score from 32-21 to 38-21 with three minutes left in the first half.
Kentucky employed a full-court press moments earlier and Marquette not only got the ball into the front court, but guards Dwyane Wade and Travis Diener found the 6-foot-10 Novak, who had five three-point baskets -- including a four-point play -- for 16 points.
* The electrifying Wade falling on his backside as he took a rebound, shoveling the ball to Jackson, then sprinting downcourt to take a skip pass from Diener and unleash a running dunk while getting fouled.
The three-point play triggered a four-possession, one-man display by Wade that could have made Kobe Bryant blush. Wade made a three-point shot, slithered along the baseline for a dunk and converted another three-point play while crashing the lane for a layup that sent Wildcat forward Chuck Hayes to the bench with five fouls and made the score 72-54.
The torrent of points was similar to what Wade unleashed in the second half against Pittsburgh two days earlier. When the nine other guys on the court appeared fatigued, he found another gear.
Kentucky hadn’t seen a thoroughbred this impressive since War Emblem. Wade’s line: 29 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, four blocked shots, one regional MVP award.
“Dwyane is an unselfish, complete player,” Crean said. “He just works. He does so many things at both ends of the floor, it’s amazing.”
And stunning to Kentucky (32-4), which rolled through the Southeastern Conference undefeated and had not lost since December. Wildcat senior guard Keith Bogans started and played 24 minutes despite a high ankle sprain, but he was not as mobile as normal. Although Bogans wore a sleek white plastic brace, his game was clunky. He was only one point below his season average with 15 points but had no assists and made only four of 11 shots.
Crean was able to defend Bogans with the slow Novak, allowing Wade to shut down Hayes, who was scoreless.
“We made a decision to start Keith and test him early and inspire our guys,” Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith said. “We had open shots inside and missed them. And when they have a great player like Dwyane Wade and he gets hot, we couldn’t contain him.”
Kentucky had 20 offensive rebounds but missed several follow shots. The Wildcats shot 39.1%, including 25.8% in the first half when Marquette seized a 19-point lead.
At halftime, the first Marquette player into the locker room scribbled 0-0 on the chalkboard.
“For somebody to have the wherewithal to do that shows how much they buy in to what we are doing,” Crean said.
Next to the chalkboard was the photo of the Superdome. Marquette took a walking tour of the building while in New Orleans to play Tulane in January.
Seeing, indeed, is believing.
“We’ll be there, this time with the place full,” Wade said. “It’s what we worked for. It’s what we knew could happen.”
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RETURN TO GLORY
A look at Marquette in regional finals:
* Coached by Al McGuire; Def. Michigan, 72-70; Def. Kansas in national semifinal, 64-51; Lost to North Carolina State in NCAA final, 76-64.
* Coached by Al McGuire; Def. Wake Forest, 82-68; Def. North Carolina Charlotte, 51-49, in national semifinal; Def. North Carolina 67-59 in NCAA final.
* Coached by Tom Crean; Def. Kentucky, 83-69. Will play Kansas in national semifinal Saturday.