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Catamounts land in Salt Lake City -- finally

SALT LAKE CITY -- No blizzard was going to keep Vermont from
making its first NCAA Tournament appearance. The Catamounts' journey from Burlington, Vt., to Salt Lake City
was halted in Denver by a snowstorm that grounded all planes
Tuesday.

The team spent the night in a hotel, then traveled by bus to
Colorado Springs on Wednesday for a charter flight later in the
evening. Vermont practiced at Colorado College before the flight,
which was scheduled for 8:20 p.m. MST but was delayed getting to
Colorado Springs.

That pushed the Catamounts' arrival back to 11
p.m. MST, when they finally landed in Salt Lake City.

"I really do feel bad for the kids that they're missing the
fanfare," Vermont coach Tom Brennan said by telephone from a Colorado Springs
steakhouse earlier in the night. "But we're a resilient group.
We're not whiners. No matter how many mountains we have to cross to
get there, we'll get there."

The 16th-seeded Catamounts (21-11) planned to have enough time
for a short night's sleep before their opening-round game against
top-seeded Arizona (25-3), scheduled to begin around 1 p.m. MST.

Brennan said hundreds of people had to spend the night on the
airport floor, but the NCAA made sure his team had hotel rooms.
Considering the start of the U.S.-led war on Iraq, it wasn't much
of a sacrifice, Brennan said.

"I told the team last night, 'Fellas, things didn't go exactly
according to plan, but tomorrow night people your age probably are
going to be killing each other in a war,'" he said.

The NCAA appearance is Vermont's first in the 103-year history
of its basketball program.

The Catamounts weren't the only ones having travel difficulties
because of the snow.

Colorado's flight to Tampa, Fla., was canceled Wednesday. The
team planned to take a bus Thursday morning to Colorado Springs,
then charter a jet and arrive in Tampa around mid-afternoon. The
Buffaloes play Michigan State on Friday.

Eastern Washington got stuck in Denver, too, and was hoping that
the roads would be open Thursday morning so they could travel to
Laramie, Wyo., for an NIT game against Wyoming that night.

The Eagles spent their second night in Denver, and in fact, on
Tuesday night they dined at a restaurant with the Vermont team.
After leaving the restaurant about 10 p.m., the Eagles' chartered
bus got stuck in a drift until the team pushed it free at 1 a.m.

"We tried to push for all three hours," coach Ray Giacoletti
said. "Finally, on about the 20th time, we were able to push it
out."

Creighton's team arrived in Salt Lake City without difficulty
Tuesday, but athletic director Bruce Rasmussen, assistant A.D.
Kevin Sarver and several other school officials were traveling
separately and spent six hours on a runway at the Denver airport.

When the plane finally was called back to the terminal,
Rasmussen said it got stuck in a snow drift. When the plane got
clear of the drift, there were no gates open. Rasmussen said when a
pregnant woman on the flight began having complications, they found
an open gate.

Also stuck in Denver were the NCAA West banners that are
supposed to be hung along press row.