Ever since the Utes whipped defending-champion Arizona last week to win the NCAA West Regional, Wat Misaka has felt the past calling him.

"I was telling Arnie (former Utah teammate Ferrin and past U. athletic director) I've really got good feelings, good vibes about this," says Misaka, who was one of the half-dozen regulars on Utah's 1944 team, the only Utah club to ever win an NCAA championship."In the past," says Misaka, a retired engineer who lives in Bountiful and follows the Utes on postseason trips, "like last year in San Jose, I lived the moment. We beat Stanford. That was great. You know, go Utah!

"But this time, when Utah beat Arizona, I was so pumped - but memories and feelings of '44 started coming back.

"That really hasn't happened before," says Misaka, who was also on the Utes' 1947 team that won the National Invitation Tournament (then the more prestigious postseason tourney) by beating - guess who? - tonight's Ute NCAA championship opponent, Kentucky.

Utah is 2-5 vs. Kentucky and hasn't beaten the Wildcats in the postseason since Misaka's 1947 team. "We know we can beat Kentucky," says Misaka. "We did in '47."

Misaka looked so good in that 1947 tournament in New York that the Knicks made him their first-ever draft choice. He still has a pair of Converse shoes the Knicks let him keep, saying they'd never have a player with such small feet again when they cut him three games into the regular season. Misaka returned to Utah, finished his engineering degree and worked 10 years for Eimco and 24 for Sperry.

Misaka and his wife are in San Antonio - as is Ferrin - for the Final Four. Misaka got tickets by "leaning on Arnie," but he could have also gotten them as a Crimson Club member.

Speaking by phone, Misaka says he saw a tactical change by Utah coach Rick Majerus against West Virgina that will help Utah beat UK's press, which ended the last two Ute seasons. Utah used to break a press and go to its half-court offense, letting the defense set again. For West Virginia, Misaka says, it beat the press and attacked immediately for easier fast-break scores.

Hoops has changed since Misaka played. He doesn't care for the current muscle game. He prefers the finesse of his day. "But it's awesome to see these athletes, what they can do," he says.

The Utes win with defense, and so did the 1944 team, believing then as now that while an offense can go stale, a defense is always available. That and endurance were '44 Utah's strengths.

Obviously, 1944 was wartime. Most Utes were too young to be drafted. Misaka was a junior after two years at Weber Junior College at home in Ogden. He remembers returning from New York in '44 - "the first thing handed to me was my (draft-board) `greetings.' "

Utah compiled a 21-4 record that year, mainly against military-unit teams, before being invited to both the NIT and NCAA tourneys. Utah and its coach, the late Vadal Peterson, chose the NIT because it was played entirely in Madison Square Garden and was more prestigious. Misaka thinks being in the Big Apple for the first time hurt. Utah didn't play well and lost in the first round - to Kentucky, 46-36.

The next day, the NCAA called Peterson to ask if Utah would replace Arkansas, which lost an assistant coach in an auto accident that also badly injured two of its best players. Misaka says the NCAA thought Utah had no chance. "I think they felt like we would just be cannon fodder, just wanted someone to fill the bill," he says.

Peterson gave players the choice of remaining in New York on mini-vacation or taking a two-day train ride to Kansas City to the NCAAs. "I think he was actually trying to talk us into not going," Misaka says. But the player vote was unanimous: "We came to play. This is our chance."

They beat Missouri 45-35 and Iowa State 40-31 and went right back to New York via train for the NCAA Championship game, beating Dartmouth 42-40 in overtime on a Herb Wilkinson basket.

Ferrin scored 22 and was tourney MVP. Misaka scored four. Wilkinson and Bob Lewis scored seven each, Dick Smuin didn't score.

Fred Sheffield, the team captain, had a badly sprained ankle and scored two points. Although the shortest player on the team, Sheffield was the NCAA high-jump champion and played only to get jump balls. "Possession (from jump balls) was real important in those days," Misaka says.

Before heading home, Utah also played a benefit game in New York against St. John's, winning 43-36 to gain even more respect - St. John's was the NIT champion.

Misaka says only one '44 Ute was on scholarship. He remembers responding to a bulletin-board notice for "tryouts - bring your own shoes." From that beginning came a title team of young men who would go on to distinguished careers - two doctors, two dentists, three engineers, a Utah National Guard brigadier general and an athletic director.

Misaka's best title memories came from letters he received - especially one from a proud Utah soldier who listened to the game on radio from a foxhole in Europe. "It was quite a happening as far as the state was concerned," Misaka says. "But the best thing that came out of it was the friendships. There were no jealousies, and we remain good friends."

Smuin still lives in Salt Lake but couldn't make it to San Antonio. Bob and Fred Lewis, Sheffield and Wilkinson live in California. Ray Kingston and James Nance have passed away.

*****

Additional Information

Utah Runnin' Utes statistics

Player G Avg FG FGA Pct FT FTA Pct Reb AT Pts Avg

Doleac 31 27.2 160 326 .491 169 209 .809 7.0 16 501 16.2

Miller 33 31.5 167 300 .557 113 155 .729 5.4 172 467 14.2

Mottola 33 28.2 154 313 .492 86 116 .741 5.2 27 409 12.4

Jensen 33 27.7 70 158 .443 65 88 .739 5.9 77 218 6.6

Hansen 32 26.8 55 122 .451 29 46 .630 3.0 69 180 5.6

Caton 33 14.6 46 99 .465 20 24 .833 1.1 24 137 4.2

Jackson 31 14.7 34 81 .420 17 22 .773 1.5 45 105 3.4

Johnsen 20 10.9 23 53 .434 17 33 .515 1.5 10 66 3.3

McTavish 33 10.0 26 72 .361 21 29 .724 0.8 31 93 2.8

Carlisle 30 10.3 26 46 .565 21 34 .618 2.1 9 73 2.4

Barratt 15 7.2 11 36 .306 4 8 .500 1.9 2 27 1.8

Althoff 17 5.4 12 18 .667 6 13 .462 1.8 1 30 1.8

Dalton 3 1.0 1 1 1.000 1 3 .333 1.7 0 4 1.3

Sluga 3 1.7 0 2 .000 2 3 .667 1.0 0 2 0.7

Gooch 3 1.3 0 3 .000 0 0 --- 0.0 1 0 0.0

UTAH 33 785 1630 .482 571 783 .729 34.2 484 2312 70.1

Opponents 33 639 1672 .382 443 622 .712 27.1 304 1881 57.0

3-Point Goals: 171-456, .375 (Hansen 41-88, Caton 25-59, Jackson 20-49, McTavish 20-56, Miller 20-57, Mottola 15-52, Jensen 13-44, Doleac 12-32, Johnsen 3-11, Dalton 1-1, Barratt 1-5, Gooch 0-2).

Kentucky Wildcats statistics

Player G Avg FG FGA Pct FT FTA Pct Reb AT Pts Avg

Sheppard 37 27.9 179 405 .442 76 109 .697 4.0 101 505 13.6

Mohammed 38 21.2 185 309 .599 88 135 .652 7.4 28 458 12.1

Padgett 38 27.8 155 327 .474 83 98 .847 6.6 81 432 11.4

Turner 38 28.5 135 280 .482 65 104 .625 3.1 169 356 9.4

Edwards 36 25.4 122 272 .449 62 97 .639 3.3 116 337 9.4

Evans 38 20.4 132 248 .532 52 84 .619 5.4 62 332 8.7

Magloire 37 14.7 75 155 .484 40 61 .656 4.3 10 190 5.1

Mills 37 11.2 51 123 .415 20 21 .952 1.5 24 158 4.3

Smith 38 13.6 32 89 .360 21 35 .600 1.1 53 97 2.6

Bradley 31 7.0 30 45 .667 18 35 .514 1.7 15 78 2.5

Anthony 31 6.3 25 63 .397 8 13 .615 1.2 7 70 2.3

Hogan 19 3.8 7 26 .269 2 5 .400 0.6 8 21 1.1

Masiello 19 1.7 4 10 .400 1 2 .500 0.2 2 11 0.6

KENTUCKY 38 1132 2352 .481 536 799 .671 38.9 676 3045 80.1

Opponents 38 868 2269 .383 530 782 .678 33.7 604 2543 66.9

3-Point Goals: 245-664, .369 (Sheppard 71-187, Padgett 39-102, Mills 36-83, Edwards 31-103, Turner 21-56, Evans 16-49, Anthony 12-26, Smith 12-42, Hogan 5-12, Masiello 2-4).

Stats provided by the Associated Press