April 3, 2004
By BEN WALKER
AP National Writer
SAN ANTONIO – Jarrett Jack is, well, jacked up about the possibilities for Georgia Tech. He’s also aware plenty of folks feel differently.
“We know a lot of people are basically saying this is a three-team Final Four,” he said.
No matter. The surprising Yellow Jackets will get a chance to go further than they’ve ever gone Saturday when they play Oklahoma State in the first semifinal.
While Duke and Connecticut shaped up as a free-flowing game between glamour programs, the opening game will probably feature another style.
“They’re physical and strong,” Tech coach Paul Hewitt said Friday. “They’re the type of team when you try to make a cut, they’re going to knock you off your rattle a little bit.
“We can’t take a bump and all of a sudden start staggering around,” he added.
Both teams have a couple of top guards – Jack and B.J. Elder for Tech and Tony Allen and John Lucas for Oklahoma State. Still, this one might tilt on a stray elbow here and a little shove there.
Told about his team’s reputation, Allen shook his head. He even seemed a bit offended. Sort of.
“They got it wrong,” he said. “We don’t bang no guys around.”
Well, maybe it only seems that way on tape – and to the teams that have come back with bruises after playing the Cowboys. Before losing to them last weekend, Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said their frontcourt defenders looked “like linemen.”
At least Elder isn’t hobbling anymore. Held scoreless and limited to a total of only 15 minutes in the St. Louis Regional by a sprained right ankle, Tech’s top scorer pronounced himself ready to play.
“I think I’m about 85-90 percent. That’s good enough,” he said. “I’m just worried about being able to shoot over people.
“I can still feel it, but it’s not near as sore as it was last week or even two days ago. It’s getting a lot better every day.”
Elder looked fine during Friday’s open practice at the Alamodome. Jack still had his touch, too, after scoring a career-high 29 points to help beat Kansas in the regional final.
Of course, they didn’t have anyone smacking into them. The second-seeded Cowboys, a Final Four contender from the outset, bring a presence that Tech’s 7-foot-1 center Luke Schenscher saw on tape.
“They like to make contact. They seem to enjoy that kind of stuff,” the big Australian said.
No worries, Allen says. The leading scorer and top defender for the Cowboys doesn’t mind giving an opponent a nudge now and then.
“If we’re banging guys all the time, then we’d be getting a lot of fouls. I think they call too many fouls. I mean, you do something like this,” he said, pausing to give a forearm shiver to a bystander, “and they call you for a touch foul.”
At least the Cowboys know how to pick their spots. So far in the NCAA tournament, coach Eddie Sutton’s team has drawn 16 fouls in each of its four games.
The third-seeded Yellow Jackets are averaging 17? fouls. They’re not about to get pounded in the paint, either.
“We have a drill called war rebounding,” guard Marvin Lewis said, “where it’s like three or four guys in the lane.
“Coach throws the ball up. Anything goes. You can punch, you can push, you can do whatever. Just get the rebound and try to put it back in,” he said.
That’s kind of the idea Sutton had after Oklahoma State lost 76-71 at BYU in its fifth game of the season. The Cowboys were beaten up on the boards, outrebounded by an incredible 44-18 margin.
When Sutton got back to Stillwater, he decided his team was too soft and wanted to toughen up his players. That’s when he got the idea to have them practice while wearing football helmets and shoulder pads.
Jack wasn’t intimidated.
“I remember one day in practice we did similar drills,” he said. “We did it without any protection.”
Watching film of Oklahoma State, however, Jack noticed its physical nature.
“Oh, definitely,” he said. “They come from the Big 12. That’s a bruiser type conference, you know.”