March 20, 2003
By BOB BAUM
AP Sports Writer
SALT LAKE CITY - Vermont spent more time in the Denver airport than it did in the NCAA tournament.
No. 1 seed Arizona, uninspired but vastly superior in talent and depth, ousted the weary, 16th-seeded New Englanders 80-51 Thursday in the first round of the West Regional.
"We lost to a great, great team today," Vermont coach Tom Brennan said. "We spent two days in the biggest blizzard in the history of Denver. Who knew that would be the calm before the storm."
Stranded overnight by the snowstorm in Denver en route to their first NCAA tournament appearance in 103 years of playing basketball, the Catamounts didn't get to Utah until 11 p.m. Wednesday. Thirteen hours later, they tipped off against one of the best teams in college basketball.
"Physically, I think we're there. We need to stop making unnecessary mistakes."
-- Lute Olson
The results were predictable. Salim Stoudamire scored 18 points, 16 in the first half, and shot 4-of-8 on 3-pointers for the Wildcats. Stoudamire, bothered by tendinitis in both knees recently, benefited greatly from the time off coach Lute Olson gave the players after their loss to UCLA a week ago in the Pac-10 tournament.
"The two days off probably did him more good than anybody else," Olson said. "Luke Walton right now is feeling better than he's felt since early November. Physically, I think we're there. We need to stop making unnecessary mistakes."
Rick Anderson added 13 points and Channing Frye 12 points and 12 rebounds. Walton had 12 points, six assists and six rebounds as Arizona (26-3) advanced to a second-round matchup with Gonzaga, a 74-69 winner over Cincinnati in Thursday's opener.
Jason Gardner's shooting woes continued. After going 2-for-20, including 0-for-12 from 3-point range, in Arizona's loss to UCLA in the opening game of the Pac-10 tournament a week ago, the Wildcats' playmaker was 2-for-9, and 0-for-5 on 3-pointers. However, he had six assists and seven rebounds.
Taylor Coppenrath led Vermont (21-12) with 18 points. Matt Sheftic scored 10.
The Wildcats pulled away with a 16-4 spurt in the final five minutes of the first half, then made it a rout with an 18-4 second-half run. The long trip, and the level of competition, took its inevitable toll.
"Everybody could see at the 15-minute mark of the second half that we were dead," Brennan said. "I just tried to implore upon them that there were thousands of people watching back home. 'You guys have been fighting all year long, been tough all year long. Just don't go away."'
As brief as it was, the tournament appearance was something to cherish for Vermont.
"We just feel good to be here. It was a lot of fun. We came here to play the game," Grant Anderson said. "We weren't worried about everything else. We're just happy with the experience."
The vast majority of the capacity crowd at the Jon M. Huntsman Center cheered mightily for the Catamounts. Vermont's status as underdog darlings was enhanced by its laborious trek to Utah.
For most of the first half, there was plenty to cheer about as the Catamounts stayed with the listless Wildcats, who continued their season-long habit of playing to the level of the competition.
"We were ready," Walton said, "we just came out kind of slow, and made too many turnovers."
Vermont trailed just 15-13 after Sheftic's two free throws with 11:19 to play and were down only 23-18 when Sheftic scored inside with 5:35 to play in the half.
The Wildcats outscored Vermont 16-4 the rest of the half to take a 39-22 lead at the break.
"That was huge," Walton said. "We weren't playing very well, and they were playing their best, and we were still up by 17. That was a big confidence boost."
The run reached 16-2 when Andre Iguodala made one of two free throws to put Arizona up 39-20 with 37.9 seconds to go. Coppenrath, the America East Conference player of the year, scored inside to cut the halftime lead to 17.
The Catamounts were as cold as that Colorado blizzard, shooting 28 percent in the first half and 31 percent for the game.
Arizona shot just 39 percent in the first 20 minutes (13-for-33), but Stoudamire's smooth left-handed 3-pointers were on the mark. He was 4-for-7 from 3-point range, and 5-for-8 overall, in the first half
Vermont set out for Salt Lake City on Tuesday. After the snow shut down the airport in Denver, the Catamounts spent the night in a hotel, then traveled by bus to Colorado Springs, where they caught a charter flight to Salt Lake City.
"Let's get something straight," Brennan said. "We weren't in foxholes. We weren't in caves. We were in a Holiday Inn, under some covers. We have this much trouble getting to Maine sometimes."