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WHO HAS THE EDGE // Minnesota vs. Kentucky

Three-point shooting

Even without Derek Anderson and Allen Edwards, the Wildcats have a bevy of long-range specialists. Ron Mercer, Scott Padgett and Anthony Epps are a combined 151 of 415 and Cameron Mills has emerged as a deadly threat. Minnesota's Sam Jacobson has a team-high 61 threes and was third in the league at 43.2 percent. Edge: Kentucky

Rebounding

The Wildcats have outrebounded 28 opponents this year thanks to Nazr Mohammed and Jamaal Magloire, both 6-foot-10, Padgett, 6-9, and Mercer, 6-7. But they won't manhandle the Golden Gophers. John Thomas and Courtney James are both powerfully built, and Bobby Jackson and Quincy Lewis are quick, explosive leapers with uncanny timing. Edge: Kentucky

Defense

The Gophers' man-to-man defense is relentless, beginning on the ball with Eric Harris and/or Jackson, the Big Ten defensive player of the year. They have combined for 141 steals. Opponents are averaging 62.9 points and are shooting 38.5 percent from the field. Kentucky's defense, however, is holding teams to 39.8 percent, the best in 33 years. Edge: Minnesota

Bench

Coach Clem Haskins has relied, as usual, on essentially his entire squad. Beyond his starters, Lewis, Charles Thomas, Trevor Winter and Miles Tarver play key roles. Nine players average double figures in minutes. Kentucky uses just eight players, although that could change if Edwards can return from a stress fracture. Edge: Minnesota

Coaching

Haskins has already won one national award and does a brilliant job teaching fundamentals and instilling selflessness, but Rick Pitino has been masterful this year. After losing four starters from last year's team to the NBA as well as top scorer Anderson in January, the Wildcats look poised to repeat as champions. Edge: Kentucky

Intangibles

The Gophers have been on a mission to earn respect since last year when they didn't receive an NCAA Tournament bid. Even this season, despite winning the Big Ten, climbing steadily in the polls and reaching the first Final Four in the program's 101-year history, they don't believe folks realize how good they are. That could outweigh the Final Four experience of Kentucky. Edge: Minnesota

_ BRIAN LANDMAN

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