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Utahns basking in Utes’ victory

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Finally, a Final Four team for the University of Utah.

Thirty-two years after the Utes last made it to NCAA tournament semifinals, Utah has a chance to howl. The problem was, when the opportunity presented itself, there were only a few people around to do the howling.The Utes returned home after their 25-point blowout of defending national champion Arizona to a campus deserted by spring break. So the celebration was limited to the players and the few staff and students still at the school.

"This would happen on spring break, when there's nothing going on campus," said Michelle Graves, a secretary for the Utes sports information office. "There's nothing happening; I wish there was, but there just isn't."

But Graves wouldn't let that dampen her spirits.

"I'm going to San Antonio, the Final Four, baby!" she screamed into the telephone.

A thousand people greeted the team at the airport Saturday night, and freshman forward Britton Johnsen was one of the first to wade into the sea of exuberant fans.

"We're in the Final Four - the Final Four!" he shouted, thrusting his fist in the air.

"This is great. We have great fans here in Utah," senior center Michael Doleac added, looking in disbelief at the airport crowd.

"It's unbelievable," said sophomore forward Alex Jensen, admitting he "couldn't believe (Utah had won) until there was less than a minute left in the game."

The state's chief Utes fan, Gov. Mike Leavitt, also was elated about Utah's shot at its first NCAA championship since 1944.

"I can tell there's only one thing on the minds of Utahns tonight, and that's the Final Four and Utes Madness," he said. "I think we're in for a great week," he said.

Added Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, from Washington: "It was simply fantastic. If they play like this against North Carolina, nobody's going to stop them."

Anjee Barber, a pre-med sophomore, is making plans for a trip to the Alamodome. Reached on the job at the Student Union, Barber at first could only exclaim: "Yay, yay, yay! I'm going to San Antonio!

"I can't believe we beat them by the spread that we did. We were completely underrated," she added. "We knew were going to have to play well defensively, and we did it. We totally did it."

Barber said she called a friend in San Antonio, and he planned to sleep out Sunday night to buy tickets to the Utah game for her and her friends on Monday.

"Pretty much everyone I know is going ... as many as we can to cut down on gas," Barber said.