Fri, Mar 26, 2004 - Page 22 News List

St. Joseph's just keeps looking ahead

NCAA TOURNAMENT Any questions about the Hawks' strength of schedule could be answered in East Rutherford, the only regional where the top four seeds advanced

AP , EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY

Saint Joseph's is finished trying to impress its critics.

The Hawks think they've done enough -- a 29-1 record, a top seed in the NCAA tournament and two decisive wins on their way to the round of 16.

So don't expect them to put any extra emphasis on the fact that vocal critic, and Wake Forest graduate, Billy Packer will be broadcasting their game against the Demon Deacons.

"People are going to say what they're going to say," All-America guard Jameer Nelson said Wednesday. "They've been saying things about us all year. We don't take it as motivation. We just play through it. I think we do a great job of blocking things out."

Any questions about the Hawks' strength of schedule could be answered in East Rutherford, the only regional where the top four seeds advanced. Second-seeded Oklahoma State (29-3) plays No. 3 seed Pittsburgh (31-4) in the first game Thursday night, before Saint Joe's plays fourth-seeded Wake Forest (21-9).

"We kind of just fit in," Martelli said. "We're not as fast as Wake. We're pretty good defensively. We're not as good defensively as Pitt and Oklahoma State. I think people have a tough time really touching and feeling us."

Despite the talent of the teams, the presence of Packer was hard to ignore. When the tournament field was announced, Packer went on national television and quickly rattled off several teams that he felt were more deserving of a No. 1 seed than the Hawks.

Martelli shot back, calling the announcer a "jackass."

On Wednesday, the coach jokingly feigned ignorance when asked about Packer broadcasting his team's game.

"Is that right? I didn't even know that," Martelli said. "I'm a really big pizza fan, so I figured he might bring us a couple Papa John's and we could sit around the hotel and discuss things."

Packer, who appears in commercials for Papa John's pizza, finds the hoopla surrounding he and Saint Joseph's both comical and aggravating.

"There are a lot of people that had the same opinion I did, so I don't feel like I'm out on an island," said Packer, who still believes the Hawks deserved a No. 2 seed. "This game and this tournament has nothing to do with Billy Packer. I did not interject myself into this tournament and never have. I prepare to do the games and say what I see."

There was a friendly moment Wednesday. Martelli walked across the court at a certain point to shake hands with Packer and chat briefly.

"I think it was just Martelli's master plot to get more media attention," Hawks guard Tyrone Barley said of the feud. "Little schools don't get enough credit. The bigger schools, they're going to get the media attention and everything."

It will be the third meeting between the two teams in the tournament, and the first since 1962, when Packer was a star guard for the Demon Deacons.

Wake Forest, in the round of 16 for the first time since 1996, has no scholarship seniors on its roster and is led by freshman guard Chris Paul.

"I think the easy thing would have been to think, next year is our year. We'll be good down the road," coach Skip Prosser said. "We've been good at times and less so at other times. Fortunately, we've played well here in the tournament."

The game between Pitt and Oklahoma State will feature a stingy defense and a potent offense. The Cowboys lead the nation in shooting percentage (51.7 percent), while Pittsburgh has the third-rated defense (56.5 points).

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