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UTEP Lets Upset Slip From Hands

Sixth-Seeded Utah Edges The 11th-Seeded Miners

By Steve Argeris
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, March 18, 2005; Page D09

TUCSON, March 17 -- Texas-El Paso guard Filiberto Rivera looked skyward as he trudged upcourt with 15 seconds remaining in the Miners' 60-54 loss to Utah, contemplating the previous five seconds.

A moment earlier, the 11th-seeded Miners had been poised to upset the sixth-seeded Utes in the first round of the NCAA tournament. But in a blink, UTEP went from trailing by two with the ball in the hands of one of its best players, Rivera, to finished.

UTEP's Jason Williams, No. 1, collides with Utah's Richard Chaney as he drives toward the basket. (Jeff Topping - Reuters)

Rivera dribbled inside on the left side, intending to either lay the ball in or draw a foul, but he grazed Utah center Andrew Bogut just enough to lose the ball. Utes guard Tim Drisdom recovered it, Rivera fouled and Drisdom made two free throws to seal the victory.

"I was just driving to the hoop," said Rivera, a senior. "I was trying to drive and get the two."

Utah (28-5) advanced to face third-seeded Oklahoma on Saturday in the second round of the Austin Region. But to do so, the Utes had to overcome a more-than-game Miners team and thousands of their fans who made the five-hour drive and made up the vast majority of the 13,751 at McKale Center.

Bogut scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, both game highs, and Bryant Markson added 10 points and seven rebounds. But it was mostly a team performance that saw Utah through, as the Utes were forced to grind out the game through defense and rebounding after shooting just 42 percent and turning the ball over 18 times.

The Miners (27-8) normally shoot 46 percent and average 75.4 points, but Utah limited them to 41 percent shooting and dominated on the glass, outrebounding UTEP, 40-22.

"The discipline these guys have to get down the court defensively and put bodies on people and rebound the basketball gave us the opportunity to come back," Utah Coach Ray Giacoletti said.

OKLAHOMA 84, NIAGARA 67: The Purple Eagles' first trip to the NCAA tournament in 35 years ended more quickly than they had hoped.

"The NCAA tournament is never a disappointment, as we are right now," said Niagara Coach Joe Mihalich, a former DeMatha High assistant coach. "We had our shining moment, playing here. For these guys it was the thrill of a lifetime."

The Sooners (25-7) led by just three points at halftime and 44-43 three minutes into the second half but took control of the game with a 12-2 run and Niagara (20-10) never recovered.

"I thought the second half was completely different from the first half," Oklahoma Coach Kelvin Sampson said. "Our defense really showed in the second half."

In particular, the Sooners defended Niagara forward Juan Mendez much better in the second half. Mendez had 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting before halftime, and eight points on 1-for-12 shooting afterward. Mendez's 22 points and 15 rebounds did their damage, but they were truncated by the Sooners' suffocating post trio of Taj Gray, Kevin Bookout and Johnnie Gilbert. Mendez's lone field goal of the second half came with 1:14 left.

"And that was a put-back," Sampson said.

David Brooks and Alvin Cruz, the other members of the trio that propelled Niagara to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship, also struggled at times. Brooks scored 16 points but never really got going.

Cruz, the point guard, picked up his second foul midway through the first half and stayed in trouble for the remainder, ultimately fouling out with 5:17 left with seven points, three assists and seven turnovers.

"We didn't let Cruz get to the rim," Sampson said. "The key to stopping their transition game is Cruz, not Mendez."

Lorenzo Miles, a Gonzaga High product, scored 12 points for the Purple Eagles.

Guard Drew Lavender led six Oklahoma scorers in double-digits with 17 points, and Gray contributed 13 points and 13 rebounds.

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