The University of Utah basketball team began its day in history as anyone probably would - joking around.

"Laughing and talking and giggling," said Jeff Judkins, Utah assistant coach. "Then we watched films for about half an hour."The team then drove to the Alamodome about noon, where it walked through a few defenses and a few offenses, shot a few baskets and listened to the wisdom of Rick Majerus.

"Get off your feet - don't stand around," were among his instructions.

Around 3 p.m. the Utes headed for an undisclosed restaurant, where they dined on a typical pre-game meal of spaghetti, chicken, fruit, vegetables, potatoes and a fruit drink. The players then went back to their rooms to let the meal digest and the moment sink in.

UTES WERE RELAXED: According to Judkins, the players were surprisingly relaxed prior to the game, considering the celebrating going on around them.

"That may have changed once they got to the arena, but they weren't uptight at all earlier in the day . . . and that's a good sign," he said.

"For me, I wanted to get on with the game."

After the game he admitted he was just glad it was over . . . "But there won't be any sleeping tonight. We'll start getting ready for Kentucky."

TICKETS WERE HOT: The 42,000 basketball fans with tickets had to walk a half-mile path of temptation on the way to the Alamodome.

The sidewalks were lined with people asking, in a number of creative ways, for tickets. Some begged, some carried signs, some simply held up a fistful of $100 bills.

Going price for those who gave in was $1,000 to $1,500 per ticket.

An head count of the registered for the Final Four is between 900 and 1,000, according to tournament officials.

And feeding a hungry herd of sportswriters watching five hours of nail-biting basketball is no small chore. Put on the table were 1,500 turkey sandwiches, 900 hot dogs and a good portion of the 21,000 cans of soda on hand.

ABOUT THAT LOAN: Caught without his wallet in the restaurant district of San Antonio on Friday, Majerus happened to bump into an old friend - North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge.

The request was for an unsecured loan of $50.

Knowing Majerus' appetite, Guthridge loaned him $100 . . . no strings attached.

BEEF MAJERUS: Speaking of meals, the table is reserved and the meal is waiting for Majerus at Adam's Mark.

And anyone else who would like to order the Rick Majerus special for $18.95. Owner Mike Bomberg has placed it on the menu for tournament week - a 12-ounce New York strip steak, with red pepper pesto and tomato-basil fettucine primavera.

UTE FANS SIGN OFF: Utah fans flowed up three tiers of the Alamodome and matched North Carolina fans decibel for decibel, cheer for cheer, color for color . . . a wave of red against an ocean of blue.

And the U. crowd was no less creative in its signs.

"Utah + Majerus = Four."

"We'll remember `U' Alomodome."

"Doleac Attack."

And the most common: "It's Miller Time."

TWO FOR THE BOOKS: As far as can be determined, Utah is the first Final Four school to have two academic all-Americans on its team. Center Michael Doleac (3.41 GPA) was named to the Co-SIDA All- American first team, while guard Drew Hansen (3.99 GPA) was selected to the third team.


"They played their hearts out. They came out, hit some big shots and we just never could get on top. I don't think it was so much their defense, because we had good shots that we just didn't make. I think it was more their offense. They did a great job getting open and making their shots. - Carolina guard Ed Cota

Media watch

THE IRONY IS THAT Carolina's Ed Cota thinks the better team didn't win. And teammate Makhtar Ndiaye insists the referees decided the game.

They still don't get it. But perhaps everyone else outside the stunned Carolina locker room finally does.

Utah is for real. If last week's regional final dismantling of defending champ Arizona didn't prove it, Saturday night's 65-59 Final Four semifinal shocker over No. 1 North Carolina had to.

- Darren Everson, New York Daily News

THOSE BASKETBALL experts who kept doubting Utah was college basketball's third-ranked team were perversely proven right Saturday.

For the second time in a week, the Utes shocked a top-seeded opponent, this time knocking off North Carolina, 65-59, in the NCAA semifinals.

Again, point guard Andre Miller morphed into superstardom. He scored 16 points, collected 14 rebounds just as he did against Arizona last Saturday, and contributed seven assists to the Utah attack.

- Mark Whicker, The Orange County Register

THESE NO.1 SEEDS all look alike to Utah. The Utes sank the hopes of Arizona to repeat as national champion a week ago, and Saturday night they ended the season of North Carolina, the final top seed remaining in the NCAA tournament.

The Utes, a No.3 seed when this 64-team dance started, took their spot as one of the last two survivors with a 65-59 upset of the Tar Heels in the second semifinal game at the Alamodome in front of a crowd of 40,509.

- Joe Juliano, Knight Ridder Newspapers