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SUPERIORITY AT POINT GUARD MAKES IT HARD TO PICK AGAINST THE UTES

I can't remember being this torn over an NCAA championship game. There's so much to like about each of the teams that it's almost impossible to choose a winner.

Having watched Kentucky over the last two weekends, I've been won over by their resilience, their relentless pressure, their depth and, above all, their powerful team chemistry.

Against both Duke and Stanford, the Wildcats fell behind early. But coach Tubby Smith never panicked and trusted that his team's pressure defense and clutch shooting would prevail in the end.

Utah, meanwhile, has been on a stunning roll, combining a suffocating defense with timely shooting and the Magic Johnson-like emergence of point guard Andre Miller.

Obviously, the Utes are no fluke. They shut down mighty Arizona, limiting the defending champs to 28.3 percent shooting and 51 points. Then they held North Carolina to 30.6 percent shooting in the first half of Saturday's victory.

Those were perhaps the two finest offensive teams in the country. You don't play defense like that for 60 consecutive minutes by accident.

Utah's Michael Doleac said Sunday that the Utes consider themselves the best defensive team in the nation. It's hard to argue with them. And you know what they say about defense and championships.

I'm a big admirer of this Kentucky group, but there's no reason to think they'll thrive against a defense that embarrassed both Arizona and Carolina. The Wildcats struggled in the halfcourt against Stanford, and they'll have problems with Utah's excellent half-court defense, too.

Kentucky can win if it's hot from the three-point line, and if its pressure wears down Utah as it did Stanford. But that's where Miller comes in. He's the best point guard in the tournament, and his ability to handle the 'Cats pressure -- and Wayne Turner -- will be the difference.

The fact is, Utah is the best team in the country right now. Utah 65, Kentucky 62.
-- JERRY SULLIVAN

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