West will be wild with 'Cats, Jayhawks, Devils


Arizona, Kansas and Duke are talented enough to be No. 1 seeds
in separate brackets of the NCAA tournament.

Instead, the former national champions are bunched together as
the top three seeds in the West, perhaps the toughest of the four

"There's so many good teams. In the West, we've got some very
heavy hitters,'' Arizona coach Lute Olson said Sunday. "I think
it's going to be a great region.''

In another twist, Arizona and Kentucky, the Midwest's top seed,
are on the same side of the bracket and could meet in the national

"We obviously don't try to look ahead. The committee can't
predict in terms of who might win,'' said Jim Livengood, selection
committee chairman and Arizona athletic director. "That's just the
way it worked out. It'll be very interesting.''

Arizona (25-3), a No. 1 seed for the fifth time, will open the
tournament Thursday at Salt Lake City against No. 16 Vermont
(21-11), a first-time participant.

If the Wildcats win, they'll advance to a second-round matchup
against the winner of Cincinnati-Gonzaga (23-8), a difficult game
between the No. 8 and 9 seeds. The Bearcats (17-11) made the
tournament for the 12th straight year.

"We realized that if we can get past Gonzaga, we'll play the
No. 1 team in the country,'' Cincinnati forward Armein Kirkland
said. "We're ready to show this team is focused, even though we've
had some bumps along the way.''

So have the Wildcats, who won the regular-season Pac-10 title,
but were upset in overtime by UCLA in the first round of last
week's conference tournament, ending their 10-game winning streak.

"We have really been playing very, very well, then we ended up
with a little blip on the screen with UCLA,'' Olson said. "I'm not
too sure that might not help us going in instead of having a
winning streak and a lot of pressure. I think it'll be a little
easier to motivate our guys.''

No. 2 seed Kansas (25-7) won the Big 12 regular-season title,
then lost to Missouri in the conference tournament. Another of the
Jayhawks' losses was to Oklahoma, the No. 1 seed in the East.

The Jayhawks, who reached the Final Four last year, open
Thursday at Oklahoma City against No. 15 Utah State (24-8), the Big
West tournament champions.

No. 3 seed Duke (24-6) won its fifth consecutive Atlantic Coast
tournament, but had its streak of five straight years as a No. 1
seed end. The Blue Devils open Thursday in Salt Lake City against
No. 14 Colorado State (19-13), the Mountain West tournament winner.

No. 4 Illinois (24-6) won the Big Ten tournament title Sunday
and will play No. 13 Western Kentucky (24-8) Thursday in

"You can make a strong case that the West is arguably the
toughest region,'' Illini coach Bill Self said. "When it came down
to it, I was thinking, `Kansas hasn't been called yet. Duke hasn't
been called yet. Notre Dame hasn't been called yet.' I think there
should have been a fifth regional.''

The Illini have played Kansas the last two years, and they're in
the same region as the Jayhawks for the fourth time. They've also
been in the same region with Duke twice in the last four years, and
twice in the last three years with Arizona.

"It is interesting that Arizona and Kansas seems to be in our
way,'' Self said. "But you know something, I hope we have to play
them because that means we've won two games.''

Also Thursday, No. 5 Notre Dame (22-10) will make the short trip
to Indianapolis to play Wisconsin-Milwaukee (24-7), another
first-time participant.