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MILLS ENJOYS MVP NIGHT; UK FACES UTAH NEXT

Date story published: Friday, March 21, 1997

SAN JOSE, Calif. - The University of Kentucky basketball players aren't the only ones in the Bay area searching for a championship this week.

The UK track team has been here since Tuesday, preparing for the Stanford Track and Field Invitational up the road in Palo Alto, where more than 60 college track teams will compete Saturday and Sunday.

But while the 40 or so members of the track team were in California to perform well at the meet, they're also helping the basketball Cats reach their goal.

All attended UK's 83-68 victory over St. Joseph's University last night in a third-round NCAA tournament game. They got free tickets from the university.

Before the game, seven of the them huddled in a men's room, stripping out of their shirts and painting each other with bright blue body paint. When they were finished, their seven bodies spelled out "GO CATS!"

During time-outs, the seven stood and cheered, cajoling other Kentucky fans in section 202 of San Jose Arena - the upper deck - to do the same.

They and the other track team members were the cheerleaders of the nosebleed section.

"Come on people, stand up!" yelled runner Wes Freeland, who was the "S."

Teammate Jason Margraf - a.k.a "!" - also was trying to get the fans to make more noise.

"Don't be a bunch of non-cheering people!" he yelled, waving a blue and white pompon.

Midway through the first half, the seven hatched a plan to win a national audience. Sneaking down through the seating area behind the St. Joe's basket, they schemed to capture the attention of a CBS cameraman. They hoped he'd beam their enthusiasm into homes all across America.

Alas, a watchful usher spotted the sneaky seven, and sent them back to their seats.

"All we wanted was to be on national TV," Margraf muttered.

While the track team members whooped it up at the arena - and some even plan to be back for Saturday's game with the University of Utah - there's some other business they plan to take care of in the Bay area as well.

Distance runner Dwight Phillips said that when he and his teammates are competing, basketball is on nobody's mind.

"Once we're on this track, we are in a zone," Phillips said earlier in the day at a team practice. "It's all business."

Coach Don Weber said it was just good luck that put the team in the Bay area at the same time as the basketball team.

"I didn't realize it until last week, but yeah, we're pretty lucky," Weber said. "I've told them that training and competing are the priorities, but we also want them to be exposed to the travel opportunity. And we get to cheer on the (basketball) team."

In between workouts and training, the athletes made a trip into San Francisco for some sightseeing. Some plan to visit Alcatraz today.

But last night they all focused on the Cats, forming the biggest contingent of UK students at the game.

Hammer thrower Jamie Shannon, a native of Pimble, Australia, is still trying to figure out Big Blue madness.

"Every second on TV you see this Pitino guy selling something," said the burly Aussie, cracking a smile. "Everywhere you look is somebody in blue saying 'I'm a Big Blue fan.' "

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