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WHO HAS THE EDGE // Arizona vs. Kentucky

THREE-POINT SHOOTING

Rick Pitino's clubs long have owned the reputation as the kings of the three-point shot and this season is no different. Anthony Epps, Ron Mercer, Scott Padgett and Cameron Mills have combined to make 197 of 503 (39.2 percent). Allen Edwards, playing without pain from a stress fracture in his ankle, provides another shooter. But Arizona has four long-range threats in Mike Bibby (64 of 165), Michael Dickerson (54 of 163), Miles Simon (45 of 109) and Jason Terry (38 of 118). The Wildcats hit 11 of 29 threes against North Carolina. Edge: Kentucky

REBOUNDING

The quickness of Arizona forwards A.J. Bramlett and Bennett Davison make up nicely for their lack of size. But then the overall quickness and jumping ability of the team gives Arizona the chance to control the boards, albeit probably by a narrow margin, against UK's more imposing frontline of 6-10 Jamaal Magloire, 6-9 Scott Padgett, 6-9 Jared Prickett and 6-10 Nazr Mohammad. Eugene Edgerson, at 6-6, had nine rebounds against UNC, and Bibby, Dickerson and Simon combined for 18. Edge: Arizona

DEFENSE

UK is holding teams to 39.8 percent shooting, the best in 33 years, and an average of 62.3 points. The big reason is its 40-minutes of pressure and traps all over the floor. Minnesota committed 26 turnovers and UK came up with a semifinal-record 14 steals. Arizona has allowed teams to shoot 43.6 percent and an average of 73.1 points, yet used its quickness to befuddle the heretofore hot-shooting Tar Heels into a season-low 31.1 percent. Edge: Kentucky

BENCH

Although Pitino has lamented his lack of depth all season, it just ain't so. Prickett is a fifth-year senior who brings an inside presence and experience; Mills is red-hot in the NCAAs, averaging 11.8 points; Mohammad is a shot blocker; then throw in Edwards, a pleasant addition after missing the West Regional semifinal and final, who can score, rebound and defend. Arizona goes three deep, but Terry, who has started 18 games and is the team's fourth-leading scorer at 10.7 points a game, had to be taken to the hospital after Saturday's game for IV fluids. Forward Donnell Harris and Edgerson provide defense and rebounding, but not much offense. Edge: Kentucky

COACHING

Pitino might just be the best coach in college basketball right now. Yes, he has talent, a bunch of it, but he's done a masterful job of getting this season's group to win on grit. He's on the verge of winning consecutive national titles, a feat that only Mike Krzyzewski has accomplished since 1973. Arizona's Lute Olson probably doesn't get the credit he deserves for building a consistent winner and probably gets too much blame for his team's infamous first-round losses in the NCAAs. Edge: Kentucky

INTANGIBLES

Although UK lost four key members of last year's championship team, Tony Delk, Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty and Mark Pope to the NBA draft (the first three in the first round), it has plenty of big-night experience with Mercer and Epps. Mercer, in case anyone forgot, had his best game as a freshman in the finale against Syracuse. Arizona isn't a fluke, but it would have to beat its third No. 1 seed (Kansas and North Carolina were the top seeds in the Southeast and East Regionals, respectively) to win the title, and no team has done that. Edge: Kentucky

_ BRIAN LANDMAN

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