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KNIGHT UPSTAGING UCLA-INDIANA TILT?

It's the thin air. Gotta be the thin air.

That's it. Bob Knight's brain has been caught short in the oxygen department and so he's forgotten about basketball.Up here near the Sandia Mountains, in a city on a mesa nearly a mile high, Indiana's fractious basketball coach fractured his news conference Friday. His conversation was a gambol through the ridiculous. You don't want to hear about his theory of cerebral reversal because that would lead to tales of putting his team into halftime cold showers and of dunks in the Boise River. He talked of milkshakes at Dairy Queen and how he's writing for The New Yorker. "Need all your names. Spell them for me. And your newspaper," Knight said to his media questioners Friday. And that stopped nosy reporters in their notebooks.

Poor Jim Harrick never had a chance. The stone-faced UCLA coach wanted to discuss zones and matchups, shooting percentages and rematches.

Will his team have a chance? Find out today. At 2:42 p.m., Knight's Indiana Hoosiers will play UCLA in the final of the NCAA West Regional at the Pit. The winner will advance to the Final Four in Minneapolis next week.

This is a glamour matchup.

Between them, UCLA and Indiana (five) have combined for 15 NCAA titles. UCLA (28-4) is the No. 1 seed. Indiana (26-6) is the No. 2 seed. There should be pressure on the Hoosiers. They have already lost to UCLA this year, quite decisively. By the score of 87-72.

But since Indiana lost to Purdue in its last regular-season game - losing a share of the Big Ten title and losing a No. 1 seed in the Southeast to Ohio State - Knight, like Alice, has fallen through the looking glass.

Or has he?

Knight has spent the last two weekends, first in Boise, now here, becoming more outrageous by the moment. He has carried props, such as a bullwhip, to his news conferences. He has whispered about a top-secret way to combat nerves and altitude: cerebral reversal. Indiana has a team doctor involved in top-secret naval intelligence. The doc knows all about cerebral reversal. But no security clearance. He can't share it with anyone but Knight.

All this foolishness has made the West a romp from news conference to news conference. And you know what? No one is bothering the Indiana players. In three NCAA tournament games, they have shot 55.7 percent from the field. The week before the tournament, they had shot barely 35 percent.

When Knight lapsed into momentary sanity and talked some basketball, he said that one thing was clear. "In November, UCLA was clearly the better team in every way. They did many things right. Now it's March. Sometimes teams get better. Sometimes they don't. We'll see about this team."

In the first meeting, at the Tip-Off Classic in Springfield, Mass., UCLA's guards - Madkins, Shon Tarver, Darrick Martin and Tyus Edney - were way too quick for Indiana. That game, in fact, convinced Knight that he couldn't afford to redshirt Chris Reynolds, a 6-1 junior who's starting now.