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Despite War, NCAA Basketball Tournament Gets Under Way - 2003-03-20


The men's U.S. college basketball tournament gets into full swing Thursday with former champions Arizona, Kansas, and Duke on the courts. But this year the tournament, which is usually a celebration of athletics performance, is being played against the background of the conflict with Iraq.

The men's tournament kicks off with several former champions, including Arizona, playing first round games. The Wildcats meet Vermont in the West Regional in Salt Lake City, Utah. Third seeded Duke also is on the courts against Colorado State, and Kansas faces Utah State.

In the East Region, top-seeded Oklahoma takes on South Carolina State. But Oklahoma Guard Hollis Price says that the looming war with Iraq is never far from the players' thoughts. "Basketball is just a game. The war is more important than basketball," he said. "Our president has a tough decision to make on whether we go to war or not. And I am sure that everybody around the nation is going to respect his call."

In the Midwest Region, third-seeded Marquette of Wisconsin takes on Holy Cross, fourth-seeded Dayton takes on Tulsa, fifth-seeded Wisconsin plays Weber State, and Missouri plays Southern Illinois.

The tournament continues Friday with defending champion Maryland taking on U.N.C. Wilmington, and number-one ranked Kentucky facing IUPUI. Louisville plays Austin Peay. Louisville Coach Rick Pitino says that while his team is focused on basketball, his players can not forget the world situation. "I think the whole nation is very much on edge right now because we will send our troops in [to Iraq]. So our priority is very much with our people and I think that is where everybody's mindset will be," said Mr. Pitino.

There had been talk of delaying or rescheduling some games because of the pending conflict. But NCAA officials, who run the widely-followed men's national championship tournament, decided not to delay action. The single-elimination tournament continues until the national champion is crowned April 7 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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