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AP: Vermont-Arizona Preview
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 03/18/2003
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GAME: No. 16 Vermont (21-11) vs. No. 1 Arizona (25-3)
REGIONAL: West, first round.
TIME: Thursday, 3:10 p.m. EST.
SITE: The Jon M. Huntsman Center; Salt Lake City.

It took a last-second win in the America East tournament championship game for Vermont to earn its first trip to the NCAA tournament after 103 years.

It will take considerably more - a miracle perhaps - for the Catamounts to knock off top-seeded Arizona in the first round of the West Regional.

"It's David and Goliath, just like we expected," Vermont coach Tom Brennan said after the selections were announced Sunday. "They were the number one team a great deal of the season so we are excited for the challenge."

David Hehn's baseline jumper with 5.6 seconds to play lifted Vermont to a 56-55 win over Boston University on Saturday. Just over 24 hours later, the Catamounts learned they would be facing a team making its 19th straight trip to the NCAAs.

"It's just a great opportunity, an honor to get the chance to compete with a program like that," said Vermont junior Matt Sheftic, who scored a career-high 23 points Saturday to earn the tournament's most outstanding player honors.

Well aware of the 0-72 record compiled by previous No. 16 seeds, the Catamounts are looking at Thursday's game as an opportunity to put their program in the national spotlight - even if it is for just a few hours.

"I think a lot of guys are just happy to be there, but at the same time, we've got a job to do," said Hehn, who has become a state hero since his game-winning shot.

"It's been a great time and a lot of fun watching the TV and waiting to see who we're going to play, but, now the guys are thinking about what we've got to do."

Arizona coach Lute Olson, who led the Wildcats to the NCAA title in 1997 and a runner-up finish in 2001, took some heat after diminishing the importance of the Pac-10 tournament this past week - especially after his top-seeded Wildcats were ousted in the first round by UCLA on Thursday.

"We got our hit, now let's see how well we bounce back from it," said Olson, whose team had won 10 in a row.

"At this point, we have one-game seasons. And you hope you get another opportunity for another one-game season. We don't care who else is on our bracket, right now all we care about is Vermont."

After being hampered by a nagging ankle injury most of the season, forward Luke Walton hopes to be healthy enough to help lead the Wildcats to a long run through the tournament.

"With you being a top dog, everyone wants to see an upset," Walton said "Everybody on this team loves when the crowd is on them and when we see the signs. It just motivates us to go out and play that much better.

"We are well rested and very focused," he added. "Everybody on the team is focused and I think we are going to play the best basketball of the year the next couple of weeks."

These teams have never met, but Vermont has lost its previous two encounters with Pac-10 opponents - both against Oregon.

Arizona is 3-0 against teams from the America East, including an 85-71 rout of Boston University on Dec. 30.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Vermont - F Taylor Coppenrath, F Hehn, C Germain Njila, G Grant Anderson, G Sheftic. Arizona - F Walton, F Rick Anderson, C Channing Frye, G Salim Stoudamire, G Jason Gardner.

TEAM LEADERS: Vermont - Coppenrath, 20.2 ppg; Anderson, 7.2 rpg and 3.3 apg. Arizona - Gardner, 14.4 ppg and 4.9 apg; Anderson, 6.3 rpg.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Vermont - Automatic bid, America East tournament champion. Arizona - At-large berth, Pac-10.

ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Vermont - First appearance. Arizona - 34-20, 21 years.

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