- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

KENT, Ohio (AP) Kent State's impressive NCAA tournament run might stun everyone except the Golden Flashes.
They are heading to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 for the first time, just as they planned to be.
"I wouldn't say we're surprised," senior guard Antonio Mitchell said before practice yesterday, "because we have prepared for this."
Kent State (29-5), seeded 10th in the South Regional and owner of a nation-leading 20-game winning streak, plays third-seeded Pittsburgh on Thursday in Lexington, Ky.
The Golden Flashes, who have four seniors, aren't exactly new to the postseason. The team lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 1999, went to the third round of the NIT in 2000, and reached the second round of the NCAAs last year.
"Our players have a lot of NCAA experience," coach Stan Heath said. "This experience has helped us be very focused throughout."
Heath also has NCAA experience, although not as a head coach.
He's in his first year at Kent State after reaching three consecutive Final Fours as an assistant at Michigan State, which won the title in 2000.
"We've been to the tournament, but Coach Heath has won it," Mitchell said. "He knows and we believe in him."
Seniors Mitchell, Trevor Huffman, Demetric Shaw and Eric Thomas are a combined 14-4 in postseason games: 9-1 in the Mid-American Conference tournament, 2-1 in the NIT, and 3-2 in the NCAAs.
"On demeanor alone, we could win a national championship," Heath said. "When I compare seniors, I think our demeanor is very similar to what we had at Michigan State. I see a lot of championship mindsets."
Huffman, whose 16.2-point scoring average leads the team, isn't satisfied with the team's success to date.
"There's always a better game," he said. "We try to get to that perfect game. To be honest, we haven't been close, but that is what makes it fun."
The Kent-Pitt winner will face the winner of the game between defending national champion Duke and Indiana for a spot in the Final Four.
"We're not looking past Pittsburgh, believe me, but to play Duke now that would be something," Shaw said. "We're a team that always seeks to be better, so playing the champions would be a dream."
Pittsburgh lost to Connecticut in the Big East tournament final two weeks ago, then beat Central Connecticut State and California in the NCAAs at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh.
"[The Panthers] are very strong inside," Heath said. "Right now, you have to look at what teams have accomplished, and Pittsburgh should be the favorite. But there is so much parity in college basketball that we are not a fish out of water."
Pittsburgh and Kent State got a glimpse of each other in November, when both played at the University Hoops Classic, though the schools did not meet. Pittsburgh finished second; the Flashes were fifth.
"I didn't think I saw two teams then that would be in the final 16," Heath said.
But the coach isn't necessarily ready to stop winning now.
"This is an exciting time in Kent State history," Heath said. "In some ways for us, this is almost like the Final Four. We kind of looked at this as the next step in our program. Who knows how far we can go? We're not putting any limits on ourselves."


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