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Saturday, April 5, 2003
Updated: April 6, 10:13 AM ET

Kansas, Anthony stole the show in semifinals

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

NEW ORLEANS -- The college basketball season is ending like it began. It's about four-year players and freshmen and whether there's a gap inbetween them.

But who knew, way back in November, that it would be Kansas and Carmelo?

Kansas was considered the No. 1 team in the nation by some publications but Arizona was thought to be the favorite. Sure, Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich were preseason All-Americans. But the expectation was Jason Gardner and Luke Walton, and not the two Jayhawks, would be playing for the title Monday night.

Carmelo Anthony was the likely freshman of the year candidate, and the consensus was Syracuse's season would unfold through him.

Not quite.

Saturday night at the Superdome, on college basketball's biggest stage, Anthony was the show for Syracuse. So was fellow freshman Gerry McNamara, as well as Hakim Warrick, the Big East's most improved sophomore. So, too, was Jim Boeheim, who moved a step closer in his quest for a first NCAA title.

The night started out with a blowout by a senior-laden Kansas team and ended with a minor upset by a freshman-dominated Syracuse squad. In a nutshell, it represented the unpredictability of the season that will conclude with an unlikely matchup in the final.

And by Monday, no matter which team wins, this Final Four will produce two of the better stories we've seen.

If Kansas wins, Roy Williams gets his first national title and a barrage of speculation on whether he'll leave for North Carolina. And Hinrich and Collison would have a title to cap brilliant careers -- just like predecessors Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter did at Maryland, like Morris Peterson and Mateen Cleaves did at Michigan State.

If Syracuse wins, Boeheim gets his title. And Anthony proves that riding a great player for one season is worth the price of the scholarship.

Not that they seem to care about the storylines. "It's weird," Collison said. "You work so hard and it's finally here. We'll just try not to listen to you guys (Sunday)."

If they don't, they'll miss out on all the superlatives handed out to Anthony. His teammates simply marveled at Anthony's dominance Saturday against Texas. Anthony lit up the Longhorns for 33 points and 14 boards, despite playing the entire second half with three fouls.

"How many points did he have tonight? It was pretty special," Syracuse sophomore forward Craig Forth said. "He pretty much knows where to be on the court. He gets the points, the rebounds. He just plays as hard as he can every game, so I give big credit to him."

"He showed up from the door, had two great halves and I am proud of him," Syracuse sophomore Josh Pace said. "For a freshman to be able to put the whole team on his shoulders is really unheard of. He has been carrying us through the whole NCAA Tournament."

Anthony couldn't get over how much fun he was having on the court. He even had a light moment with Texas phenom point T.J. Ford.

"He told me that I was only a freshman," Anthony said, "that I wasn't supposed to be getting all them calls I was getting."

And how unreal was it for Anthony?

"I mean, we lost our first game of the season (to Memphis)," he said. "Here we are playing the last game of the season. So my experience has just been great."

Meanwhile, Marquette's experience had been special -- until Saturday. The Golden Eagles were one of the best stories of the season, with Dwyane Wade, the Conference USA player of the year, lighting up the country, with coach Tom Crean coming onto the national scene, with the ghost of Al McGuire following them to the school's first Final Four since McGuire's team won it all in 1977.

But something happened on the way to the Dome. The Eagles forgot how good they were in the regional finals against Kentucky. They forgot how good Kansas was.

And they got beaten. Badly.

"I was definitely stunned," Marquette senior Robert Jackson said after the Eagles' 94-61 spanking. "We all knew Kansas was a good team, but ... .

"Yeah, they were quicker than Kentucky, they had quicker guards."

Wade said the Eagles didn't communicate the way they should have but they really didn't have time. Kansas beat Marquette back downcourt so badly that the Eagles never had a chance to set up their defense.

Crean was informed after the game that his mother, Marjorie, was taken to a nearby hospital after complaining of pain and weakness in her arms. Crean rushed to the hospital, where Marjorie is reported in good condition. She was admitted to the hospital and will be kept overnight for observation.

The blowout loss was kept in perspective.

"What everyone should focus on is how successful this team was this season," Marquette assistant coach Jeff Strohm said. "This was real. The challenge for our program and staff is to get as good as Kansas was today."

As good as they were all season. And as good as Kansas and Anthony were Saturday.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.



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