What was it that turned that poor girl into the ravishing Cinderella?
"It's magic," said Coach Dale Brown, who seems to have a corner on the market after his Louisiana State team scored its third upset of the NCAA tournament by defeating second-seeded Georgia Tech, 70-64, in the Southeast regional semifinals tonight before 16,735 at the Omni.
The Tigers (25-11) move into Saturday's regional final against Kentucky (32-3), which beat Alabama, 68-63. It was the Wildcats' fourth victory this season over Southeastern Conference rival Alabama, and they will try to duplicate that feat against SEC rival Louisiana State.
"There's magic here," Brown said, "We knew that if we could hold them late, we could win. When you're expected to win, there's a tendency to tie up."
Brown was being diplomatic, because he has been in Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Cremins' shoes. But there seemed to be a serious shortage of air around the Yellow Jackets players in the latter stages of the game. Georgia Tech was supposed to win this game, especially playing in front of a partisan crowd.
LSU led by 36-30 at halftime, but Georgia Tech (27-7) finally took its first lead of the second half with 12:21 left when Mark Price hit an 18-footer to make it 44-43.
The Yellow Jackets, who started the season ranked No. 1, were ahead by 56-52 with six minutes to go and by 58-56 with 4:21 left. Down the stretch, Georgia Tech seniors John Salley and Price -- they of the many awards and future professional contracts -- were outplayed by LSU seniors Don Redden and Derrick Taylor.
"We'd rather give them the 25-footers," said Price of Tech's defensive strategy, "but Taylor and Redden were hitting them. Redden, especially, hit some big-time shots. Duane [Ferrell] played good defense, but Redden just buried them."
After Craig Neal put the Yellow Jackets up by 56-52 with 6:14 left, Taylor (23 points) hit two jumpers in a row, and after Tom Hammonds scored for Georgia Tech, Taylor scored another basket. Redden (27 points) then scored four points, and after Price scored, Redden made two free throws with 1:24 left for a 64-60 lead.
"We knew that if we kept plugging and kept plugging something would give -- not quit, but give," Redden said. "We thought if we kept attacking, they would give, and they did and we won."
And LSU won this game without much help from all-conference player John Williams, who was two of 15 from the field and finished with five points.
"John was just trying too hard," Redden said. "Derrick and I are seniors and we knew we had to pick up the slack."
This has been a wacky season for LSU. There was the Tito Horford saga; Nikita Wilson was declared academically ineligible; there was a case of the chicken pox and injuries.
"Mentally, this is the toughest team I've ever had," Brown said. "We get down and scrub the floor. We're common laborers and maybe that's why common people have gotten behind us. We work at the game. Lunch pails and hard hats. We only have one all-conference player. We all pretty much came from the other side of the tracks and we all know what hard work is about."
Cremins said that when LSU came back, his team was "shell-shocked." For Cremins and Price (20 points), the tears weren't far from the surface.
"Our dream was to go to Dallas," Cremins said. "That dream ended but life must go on."
The story of the Kentucky Wildcats is hardly as romantic, but they are in the finals after winning their 14th straight.
"This was the game," said Alabama Coach Wimp Sanderson of the four losses to Kentucky. "This is the game that mattered. Do you think the two games Georgetown won from Villanova last year mean anything? The one Villanova won is the one that means something. This was the one we need to have a successful year."
Before the game, the line of thinking was that for Alabama to have a chance to win, Buck Johnson and Derrick McKey had to stay out of foul trouble to keep them in the game. Well, they were available for the entire game, but Kentucky won anyway.
"The key -- and I've said it every time we win a big game -- was our defense," said Kentucky Coach Eddie Sutton.
Indeed, Alabama (24-9) was limited to 42.6 percent shooting. Kentucky shot 51.9 percent.
"They are extremely good on defense," Sanderson said. "They work hard and they're good athletes. It's not they went out and got seven or eight of them off the street."
Winston Bennett (14 points, 12 rebounds) covered Johnson for most of the first half, when he made only four of 10 from the field, as Kentucky gained a 32-28 lead. Johnson finished with 16 but missed eight of 14 shots.
Walker had 10 points in the first half, but he didn't get his first basket inside until seven minutes were gone. Alabama mixed things up by using man-to-man and a 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones.
"We were trying to do the best we could to keep them off-balance," Sanderson said.
But Walker got three baskets in a row for Kentucky to start the second half to help it to a 38-32 lead. Terry Coner (20 points) cut the Kentucky lead to 38-36 with 14:43 to go. But that would be as close as the Crimson Tide would get.
The Wildcats outscored Alabama by 10-3 over the next 5:35. Bennett started the run by following Walker's miss and Cedric Jenkins scored inside. James Blackmon made a 18-footer, and after Johnson scored, Blackmon canned another one, this time from 19 feet with McKey in his face. Walker's two free throws with 9:08 to go gave Kentucky a 48-39 lead.
"It seemed like every time we got back in it, they would hurt us on the offensive boards," Sanderson said. "The stats may say we outrebounded them [34 to 30] but they got the big rebounds."
They also got help from the outside.
"Once they start packing it in, it's very important we be able to kick it back out and hit the outside shot," said Walker. "Ed Davender (13 points) hit some big ones in the first half, and James made two key ones in the second half."
Alabama managed to cut the Kentucky lead to 68-63 -- mostly because the Wildcats were two for five from the line in the last 1:10 -- but only eight seconds remained.