As his TV show opened a week ago, Texas Coach Abe Lemons was shown lying on the floor in a dark suit, his hands folded on his chest, clasping a carnation. An organ was playing funeral music. Then Lemons slowly got up, turned to the camera and shouted, "We're not dead yet!"
A resurrection it was. Arkansas, the Southwest Conference leader, had been upset by Houston, enabling Texas to tie the Razor-backs for first. Two days later Texas beat SMU 82-74 to clinch the SWC co-championship. Swingman Ron Baxter scored 18 of his 30 points during an early second-half surge that lifted Texas from a 41-41 deadlock to a 17-point lead. Still, Lemons was not about to get cocky. "I think we've got a guardian angel," he said. "I just hope he doesn't fly away." Arkansas iced its half of the co-championship by outclassing Texas Tech 58-49.
"We had trouble living with prosperity in the past," said Florida State Coach Hugh Durhan. "Whenever we'd move up in the rankings, we'd play a bad game." Not this time. Led by David Thompson's 45 points, the Seminoles swept a home-and-away series with Georgia Tech, 78-72 and 85-82, to nail down the Metro 7 title. Coming off three straight road losses and a nosedive from No. 9 to No. 20 in the AP poll, Louisville drubbed Ball State 104-84 and Memphis State 115-97. Against the Tigers, the Cards' Larry Williams had a career-high 31 points.
March 6, 1978
Creighton locked up the Missouri Valley championship with a 62-56 win over Southern Illinois, and DePaul ran its record to 23-2 by winning 54-41 at Air Force. Kansas, the Big Eight champ, rolled over last-place Colorado 70-60.
1. ARKANSAS (27-2)
2. KANSAS (23-3)
3. FLORIDA ST.(21-4)
Shortly after arriving on the floor for Kentucky's rematch with Alabama, which had handed the Wildcats one of their two losses, Coach Joe Hall turned cheerleader, waving his arms and whipping Kentucky students into frenzy. Then Hall's team gave the fans plenty to roar about, uncorking a 12-0 scoring binge late in the first half that allowed the 'Cats to coast to a 97-84 win. Jack Givens sank nine of 10 field-goal attempts, Rick Robey hit on six of six and Mike Phillips canned five of seven as the Wildcats shot 67% from the floor. "We're back now," Hall cheered, referring to some lackluster Kentucky play of late. "I think we'll be back from now on. I feel good about the rest of the season."
Later Kentucky secured the Southeastern Conference championship and an NCAA playoff bid by defeating Tennessee 68-57. Givens again led the Wildcats with 18 points. Even though the Vols lost, Johnny Darden of Tennessee, which trailed by only three points with six minutes to play, thought that Hall's good feelings were ill-founded. "Kentucky's big and slow," he said. "I don't think it can go all the way."
No. 1-ranked Marquette was headed for a fall in the ratings after being tripped up by a late Notre Dame rally in a 65-59 loss. The Warriors led from the opening tap—they were once ahead by 17—until, with 2:50 left to play, Irish Guard Don Williams drilled in a jumper to give Notre Dame a 58-57 lead. Freshman Forward Kelly Tripucka, who had been held scoreless in the first half, paced the Notre Dame resurgence with 15 points.
Earlier the Irish whacked North Carolina State 70-59, as Dave Batton scored 22 points and the Notre Dame defense held the Wolf-pack to 34% shooting.
Michigan State took a two-game lead in the Big Ten by beating Northwestern 66-56 and Illinois 89-67, while Minnesota, which entered the week tied with the Spartans for first place, lost road games to Ohio State and Indiana. Michigan State freshman Earvin Johnson led the Spartans over Northwestern with 16 points and eight assists, but it was junior Forward Greg Kelser, overshadowed by Johnson most of the season, who shone against the Illini. He had 32 points and 14 rebounds. The Spartans can now do no worse than tie for the Big Ten title and are virtually assured an NCAA playoff bid.
Detroit (23-2) pulled even with DePaul and Illinois State in the race for the nation's best won-loss percentage by mauling St. Francis (Pa.) 121-89 and nipping Xavier 82-77. Against the Red Flash, Forward John Long pumped in 29 points and Center Terry Tyler had 24, although both played less than three quarters of the game. In the Xavier victory, a Titan streak of four 100-plus-point games came to an end.
A streak ended in women's basketball, too. In the state championship game, Mississippi (20-13) eked out a 73-72 victory over Delta State, which had not lost at home in 56 games.
1. KENTUCKY (22-2)
2. DePAUL (23-2)
3. MARQUETTE (22-3)
An immense U of light bulbs is mounted on the side of a hill overlooking Utah's campus. Last Thursday the Big U flashed long into the night, commemorating an incandescent moment for the Ute basketball team—a 95-92 upset over New Mexico. The victory avenged an earlier 24-point setback in Albuquerque, snapped the Lobos' nation-leading 14-game win streak and killed New Mexico's chances for an unprecedented perfect record in WAC play. Neither team could swing the game its way until, with 4:30 left, steals by Utes Michael Grey and Buster Matheney led to a pair of baskets and the start of a Utah rally. Jeff Judkins sank 12 of 15 shots, and the Ute ballhandlers committed only nine turnovers. 20 fewer than they had in losing at Albuquerque.
New Mexico rebounded by rolling over Brigham Young 71-66, as Marvin Johnson hit on 10 of 14 and scored 25 points, but Coach Norm Ellenberger was unimpressed. "It's no classic win when you commit 22 turnovers against a rather docile defense," he said. "Somewhere along the line we've lost intensity, and we've got to get it back."
UCLA has not lost a thing. The Bruins clinched their 12th consecutive Pac-8 title by trouncing flu-stricken Oregon State 96-58. All but four Beavers—and they were reserves—had missed practices because of flu, which prompted Coach Ralph Miller to make 23 substitutions in the first half. UCLA led only 19-15 after 12 minutes, but then ran off 10 straight points and coasted to victory The Bruins also thrashed Oregon 83-57, the Ducks' worst home loss since 1968.
"I'm going to play like I had rockets in my shoes." said San Francisco Forward Doug Jemison shortly before the Dons' WCAC championship showdown against Nevada-Reno. With that, Jemison launched himself to a career-high 21-point performance, and USF landed a 78-73 victor. Earlier, San Francisco defeated St. Mary's 87-81, while Nevada kept its WCAC hopes alive by edging Santa Clara 70-65.
Montana, picked in a preseason Big Sky coaches' poll to finish fifth, whipped Idaho State 92-77 and Boise State 73-67 to finish with a 12-2 conference record and the championship. Senior Guard Michael Ray Richardson led the Grizzlies to their clinching victories with 61 points.
Fresno State, last in the PCAA a year ago, toppled Santa Barbara 41-31 and UC-Irvine 41-37 to earn a share of the conference title with San Diego State, a winner over San Jose State and Pacific.
1. UCLA (22-2)
2. N. MEXICO (22-3)
3. SAN FRANCISCO (22-5)
Going into the ACC title showdown vs. Duke, North Carolina seemed to be in trouble. The Tar Heels had been beaten 72-67 two days before by North Carolina State; All-America Guard Phil Ford was nursing a sprained wrist; and star Forward Mike O'Koren had a sprained ankle Both had missed the N.C. State loss. Moreover, Duke had walloped Clemson 78-62 earlier in the week for a fourth straight ACC win that all but convinced conference fans that the Blue Devils were the class of the league. Even Ford wondered. "Inside [Forwards Gene Banks and Ken Dennard and Center Mike Gminski], Duke has one of the best front lines I've seen in college," he said.
Against the Tar Heels, Duke raced to a 37-28 lead, but then Ford ignited a three-minute rally that enabled the Tar Heels to cut the gap to 37-36. Thereafter it was a dogfight to the finish. With less than two minutes left, Gminski scored, cutting a North Carolina lead to 84-82, and Duke Guard Jim Spanarkel hit a free throw to make it 84-83. That was the Blue Devils' last gasp. North Carolina's stall lured Duke into fouling, and O'Koren sank a free throw and Ford canned two to put the game out of reach 87-83. Banks had 25 points, Spanarkel 23 and Gminski 21, but they could not outdo Ford, who scored 34 points and played perhaps the best all-round game of his notable career.
Providence, ranked 11th by the Associated Press, folded twice in the normally salubrious confines of its own Civic Center. First Rhode Island toppled the Friars 73-64 in a remarkable turnabout. Three weeks before, Providence had thumped the Rams by 20 points. Then St. John's overcame a five-point deficit with six minutes to play and upended the Friars 60-51. Trailing 43-38, Redmen George Johnson, Kevelin Winfree and Bernard Rencher got consecutive baskets that gave St. John's the lead. One oddity of the game was that only three Friars scored from the floor. Another was that Providence had now lost two in a row at home for the first time since 1975.
Syracuse ran its record to 21-4 by crushing Fordham 109-62 and Boston College 97-80 and surviving a fierce battle at Niagara. Against the Purple Eagles, Marty Byrnes dropped in a layup to put the Orange ahead 70-69 with 0:18 left to play. Niagara's Garry Jordan then got the ball inside, pumped and let fly with what might have been the winning basket—had not Syracuse Center Roosevelt Bouie slammed the ball right back in Jordan's face. "He fouled me across the eye," Jordan said. Replied Bouie, "It was all ball."
George Washington 71, Georgetown 69. Two seconds to go. Craig Esherick, a substitute Hoya guard who has the ball 35 feet out, heaves from the hip and—Bingo!—it sails through the net. His total playing time? Ten seconds. The shot made the Hoyas' 78-77 overtime win anticlimactic. Before being upset by Fordham 63-59 Georgetown also defeated Holy Cross 77-61 to run its victory total to 22, the most in Hoya history.
Temple got its highest number of regular-season wins in 20 years (22-3) with victories over Ivy League-leader Penn (71-56) and St. Francis of New York (81-67). Against the Terriers, Forward Tim Claxton, who used to get so jittery that he had to be pulled from important games, shot 12 for 15.
West Virginia beat intrastate rival Marshall 80-73 in the first meeting between the schools since 1931. Another West Virginia team, Fairmont State, won its eighth straight West Virginia Intercollegiate Conference title, notched a 20-win season for the 15th consecutive year and ran Coach Joe Retton's record to 385-63 by defeating Salem (W. Va.) 79-69.
1. NORTH CAROLINA (23-6)
2. DUKE (20-6)
3. SYRACUSE (21-4)
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
PHIL FORD: Playing with a sprained wrist, the North Carolina guard hit eight free throws and 13 of 19 shots from the floor—10 of them from 15 feet and beyond—for a career-high 34 points in the Tar Heels' win over Duke.