Eddie Sutton-coach of SWC co-champion Arkansas, arrived at the conference tournament in Houston carrying a proposal for a change in the playoff procedure. In essence, Sutton wanted the rules modified to give both the first- and second-place teams—instead of just the league champ—byes into the semifinals. It was understandable that such a suggestion should come from Sutton, because a technicality prevented his team from getting the bye this season. "I have two plans—Plan A and Plan B." Sutton announced to the press.
"Wrong, Eddie," interrupted SWC official Bill Morgan. "We've got Plan A. You have Plan Band Plan C."
Maybe Sutton knew something. Two games into the tournament Arkansas was upset by Houston 70-69. (Nonetheless, the 28-3 Hogs were awarded an NCAA at-large berth.) The Cougars trailed by one with :08 to play, when Arkansas' Ron Brewer was fouled and went to the line for a one-and-one. But Brewer, an 86% free-throw shooter, bounced his shot hard off the rim. Houston got the rebound and whisked the ball upcourt, where Cecile Rose fired in the game-winning shot. "We lost five games by one point," said Cougar Coach Guy Lewis. "But this makes up for all of them."
March 13, 1978
The next day Houston used its superior bench and board strength to win the tournament with a 92-90 victory over 22-4 Texas, which had gotten the bye to the finals. The Cougars' front line of Rose, Mike Schultz, Chet Thompson and George Walker drew 12 personals from three Texas centers and won the rebounding battle 52-38. And reserves Walker, Mark Trammell and Cedric Fears chipped in with 29 points. In contrast, Texas got only 13 points from its bench. Houston led most of the way and held a 92-86 edge with six seconds to go. Only the Longhorns' last-second ball hawking, which led to a field goal and two free throws by Texas Guard John Moore, made the score close. The victory was Houston's 10th in the last 11 games. "Playing at home gave them a slight edge." said losing Coach Abe Lemons. "But Eddie Sutton will come up with some proposal to fix that. He'll come up with a plan that will have us all playing at Fayetteville."
Missouri (14-15) will be the sole NCAA playoff team with a losing record. The Tigers earned the honor by upsetting Iowa State, Nebraska and Kansas State en route to winning the Big-Eight tournament championship. In the finals, Missouri beat Kansas State in overtime when Center Stan Ray hit six of six free throws for a 71-68 victory. "We wound up playing hogs in the corn," said an elated Missouri Coach Norm Stewart. "That's when you forget everything and do whatever you can think of to try to win." After conducting his postgame interview outside the Tiger locker room, Stewart invited the press inside, hollering to his players, "Hold onto your stuff, here come the journalists."
Kansas State had reached the final by beating regular-season champion—and NCAA at-large tournament choice—Kansas 87-76.
Creighton won the Missouri Valley postseason championship by defeating Indiana State 54-52 as Rick Apke scored with two seconds left. En route to the finals, State dumped West Texas 90-71 and Bradley 88-81. After each game, the losing coach (Ron Ekker and Joe Stowell) got fired.
1. ARKANSAS (28-3)
2. KANSAS (24-4)
3. LOUISVILLE (22-6)
"This is hard to believe. I feel like I'm spinning in circles," gushed New Mexico's Marvin Johnson. Johnson was not nearly as dizzy as Colorado State after he had led the Lobos to a 111-88 win by connecting on 21 of 27 shots and eight free throws. With 1:15 to play and 18,101 fans in Albuquerque's University Arena on their feet chanting, "Marvin, Marvin," Johnson drilled in two foul shots for his 49th and 50th points, breaking the WAC single-game record held by a couple of old pros, Wyoming's Flynn Robinson (1964) and Utah's Jerry Chambers (1966). Two days later Johnson pumped in 32 points as New Mexico sank Wyoming 93-74 and clinched the WAC title. Johnson's shooting so impressed teammate Willie Howard that Howard crowed. "I want UCLA. Bring them on. We're ready to take on the world."
The WAC's second-place team, Utah, raised its record to 22-5 and earned an NCAA bid by whipping Brigham Young 81-74. Ute seniors Jeff Judkins and Buster Matheney scored 47 points, giving them a combined career total of 3,154 and making them the highest scoring duo in Ute history.
Also bid hunting was independent Utah State, which pushed its record to 21-6 by thrashing Montana 89-68 and St. Mary's 96-80. "I'm satisfied," said Coach Dutch Belnap, comforted by the fact that the Aggies had victories over two regular-season conference champions, Montana (Big Sky) and Fresno State (PCAA). Not satisfied was the NCAA, which chose to overlook them.
They're called McCarthy's Kids because the coach is named Neil McCarthy and four of the starters are sophomores. Actually, they are the Weber State Wildcats, and going into the Big Sky championship game against Montana, McCarthy figured his kids' task was threefold: hold high-scoring Grizzly Guard Michael Ray Richardson closer to 20 points than 40, draw Montana out of its zone and neutralize the Grizzlies' home-court crowd. With Bruce Collins hawking Richardson and with a lot of crisp passing, the Wildcats managed to do all three. They also overcame an eight-point halftime deficit to beat Montana 62-55 in overtime. In the extra period the Grizzlies missed their first two shots, enabling Weber to take a 52-49 edge on baskets by Rob McKone and Collins. Thereafter it was a foul-shooting contest, and Weber won that, too, sinking nine of 10, four of them in the last minute by Forward Kurt Moore.
Fullerton State breezed by Long Beach State 64-53 to win the PCAA tournament, after regular-season co-champs San Diego State and Fresno State were subdued in the semis. The Aztecs were beaten 64-50 by the Titans, and Fresno fell 68-62 in overtime to Long Beach.
UCLA warmed up for the NCAAs by trouncing USC 91-78 and Michigan 96-70.
1. UCLA (24-2)
2. N. MEXICO (24-3)
3. SAN FRANCISCO (22-5)
Syracuse, Providence, Temple, and Rutgers, 20-game winners all, began the week with bright prospects for winning one of the area's regional and conference playoffs and thereby earning an NCAA tournament berth. At week's end they all had a third thing in common: upset losses, which prevented all but Syracuse and Providence from making the NCAAs.
St. Bonaventure upended Syracuse 70-69 in the ECAC Southern-Upstate Regional. Trailing 69-68 with 2:15 left, the Bonnies began holding the ball for a last shot, while Syracuse laid back in its 2-3 zone. With only :12 to play, Bonaventure got what it was waiting for when Delmar Harrod canned a short jumper. Syracuse's Marty Byrnes got off a 12-footer at the buzzer, but it fell short. However, the Oranges' 22-4 record in regular-season games was good enough to convince the NCAA that Syracuse deserved a bid, too. The Bonnies then nailed down their berth by nosing out Virginia Commonwealth 63-61 on a foul-line jumper by Center Tim Waterman, an infrequent and often inaccurate outside shooter, with one second left on the clock. The Rams had surged to the final by pulling an upset, too; they beat 17th-ranked Georgetown 88-75 as the Hoyas' top scorer, Derrick Jackson, sat out with a bleeding ulcer.
Before Providence met Rhode Island for the New England Regional championship, the Rhode Island senate unanimously passed a resolution wishing the Friars "much success and prosperity." So much for abusing the state university. In a game in which there were 15 lead changes and four ties, the Rams defeated the Friars 65-62, ending almost 20 years of playing second banana to Providence in the Ocean State. With his team ahead 50-49 midway through the second half, Rhody's Irv Chatman blocked a shot that led to a layup by Stan Wright. Then Sly Williams made a steal and fed Wright for another basket and a five-point lead that Providence never overcame. The Friars did overcome any reluctance that loss may have engendered in NCAA selectors. They got an at-large bid to the Mideast Regionals.
"My pregame talk came right out of Star Wars," said La Salle Coach Paul Westhead. "I told them the Force is with you. And it was with Darryl Gladden at the end." It sure was. With his team trailing Temple, which had a 22-3 regular-season record, by one point and :02 to play, Gladden popped in a 25-footer that propelled the Explorers to a 73-72 win and the East Coast Conference tournament title. "It looked four feet short," West-head said. "I thought the basket came out and sucked the ball in." Earlier, La Salle had knocked off Delaware 97-85 and St. Joe's (Pa.) 89-82, behind 63 points and 35 rebounds by Forward Michael Brooks.
Furman trounced Marshall 69-53 to win the Southern Conference tournament, getting 20 points from Guard Bruce Grimm, a transfer from Providence. In the semifinals, Marshall's Harley Davidson Major had scored 26 points in a 76-71 upset of VMI, the conference champion in 1976 and 1977.
Villanova won the Eastern Eight championship, surviving a furious second-half rally to beat West Virginia 63-59. The Wildcats led by 17 points with 10 minutes to go, but the Mountaineers whittled the lead to four with :55 left. Then Wildcat freshman Alex Bradley sank two free throws, and West Virginia was finished. Earlier, West Virginia, 10-15 during the season, rocked Duquesne 59-57 and regular-season champion Rutgers 81-74. It was the second straight year in which the Scarlet Knights finished on top and were knocked off in the tournament by a regular-season also-ran. "That's why they have these great playoffs—I guess," said glum Rutgers Coach Tom Young.
St. John's slid past Iona 83-80 and Army 65-63 to win the ECAC Metro championship, but it was Cadet Gary Winton who set Nassau Coliseum abuzzing. Playing with a pulled calf muscle in the semis, Winton scored Army's first six points in overtime as the Cadets edged Seton Hall 81-79. Against St. John's, Winton rang up 25 points and kept Army alive until he fouled out, with the Red-men nursing a 61-57 lead and 1:28 to play. Winton's fifth personal came on a controversial play. He leaped into the air to block a drive by Gordon Thomas, had second thoughts and then hung on the rim to avoid landing on Thomas. Referees charged him with a personal and a technical, fouls that so riled Army Coach Mike Krzyzewski that he drew a technical, too. Thomas sank four of the five free throws, putting the game out of reach. "Winton's the strongest guy I've ever seen," said St. John's Forward George Johnson. "If there's a war, I want him up front."
Penn clinched the Ivy title, routing Cornell 98-74, but needed help from archrival Princeton to do it. The day before winning at Ithaca, N.Y., the Quakers were upset 88-84 by Columbia, which put the Lions into a tie with Penn. Princeton then clobbered Columbia 59-44 to seal the championship for Penn.
1. DUKE (23-6)
2. N. CAROLINA (23-7)
3. ST. BONA. (21-7)
One of these days Minnesota will learn about holding halftime ceremonies to retire a player's number. Leading Michigan State 38-34 at the intermission, the Gophers performed the rites on Center Mychal Thompson's jersey—and Michigan State rallied to win 71-70. Five years ago Minnesota retired Jim Brewer's shirt at halftime, and Iowa overcame a big deficit to win. Not that Thompson's No. 43 did not deserve to be honored. Early in the game Thompson scored his 1,477th point to break the Big Ten career-scoring record held by Purdue's Rick Mount. He went on to pump in 20 points, but that was not enough as a last-second free throw by Earvin Johnson gave Michigan State the victory. Johnson scored 24 points and Greg Kelser added 27 when the Spartans drubbed Wisconsin 89-75 to clinch the Big Ten title.
By beating Illinois 77-66 and Iowa 71-55, Indiana leaped over Purdue—which lost to Northwestern 80-71 and the Illini 67-66—into a second-place tie with Minnesota in the Big Ten. The victories, Indiana's eighth and ninth in 10 games, ran its record to 20-7, good enough for an NCAA at-large bid.
SEC champion Kentucky tuned up for the NCAAs by blasting Georgia 78-67 and Nevada-Las Vegas 92-70 as Rick Robey and Jack Givens pumped in a total of 80 points. Mississippi State, 18-8 overall, beat LSU 68-67 and Auburn 83-82 to take second place in the SEC with a 13-4 conference record.
Five DePaul players—Dave Corzine, Joe (Godfather) Ponsetto, Curtis Watkins, William (Don't Call Me Bill) Dise and Gary Garland—scored in double figures as the Blue Demons cinched an NCAA berth and spoiled Illinois State's hopes for one, with a 96-84 triumph. But for Ponsetto the victory was bittersweet. While driving a few hours before game time, he struck 6-year-old Paul Watson, who was taken to a Chicago hospital with a broken leg. Ponsetto stayed with the boy until an hour before tip-off and, understandably, had trouble concentrating once the game began. He failed to score until 19 minutes had elapsed. "I felt helpless," he said. "The accident put basketball into perspective. It's just a game." DePaul also popped Valparaiso 89-62 and finished with a 25-2 record, the best among the nation's independents.
Marquette pounded Butler 90-79 and eked out an 80-77 victory at Detroit before a record crowd of 11,065 at Calihan Hall. With the teams deadlocked 69-69 and 1:47 left to play, Warrior Jim Boylan connected on a free throw and Jerome Whitehead sank a field goal to put Marquette ahead to stay. The Titans finished with a 24-3 record but were not selected for the NCAAs.
Dayton upset Notre Dame 66-59 as Erv Giddings and Jim Paxson combined for 45 points. The loss dropped the Irish record to 19-6. Right, they got an NCAA bid anyway.
Central Michigan 68, Toledo 68, end of regulation. Central Michigan 76, Toledo 76, end of first overtime. The teams were also tied at 84-84, 88-88 and 97-97 at the end of three more overtimes. It was not until the fifth extra period that Central Michigan's K. C. Janer made two free throws with five seconds left and lifted the Chippewas to a 109-107 victory. The win resulted in a four-team logjam in the Mid-American Conference; Central Michigan, Toledo, Miami and Bowling Green all still battling for the title. Earlier Toledo had edged Miami 81-79 in overtime, but the Redskins rebounded by defeating Ball State 74-64.
Western Kentucky beat Austin Peay 77-69 to win the Ohio Valley tournament. Peay got to the title game by edging the regular-season co-champion. Middle Tennessee, 66-61.
1. KENTUCKY (24-2)
2. DePAUL (25-2)
3. MARQUETTE (24-3)
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
MARVIN JOHNSON: Playing only 67 minutes in league title-clinching wins over Colorado State and Wyoming, New Mexico's forward scored 82 points—including a WAC-record 50 against the Rams.