WASHINGTON (AP) _ He slogged through a thicket of questions about nuclear weapons, peace in Northern Ireland and the Asian economy. It wasn't until a reporter mentioned the NCAA men's basketball tournament that President Clinton really perked up.

``Utah's a great team,'' he exclaimed, referring to the second-round opponent of his beloved Arkansas Razorbacks, who won their opening contest Thursday night against Nebraska.

Presidential aides pulled and tugged at reporters to get them out of the Oval Office after a photo-taking session with a Clinton guest, but the president was in a mood to talk basketball.

``It's a great tournament,'' he said. ``It's the most interesting tournament we've had in some time, really.''