It was shortlyafter LSU leveled Arkansas. Or it was shortly after LSU leveled Wichita State.It doesn't matter. The levelings and the levity tended to run together lastweekend in New Orleans, as a million caterwauling Cajuns celebrated theirLouisiana State Tiiii-guhs.
While LSU CoachDale Brown and Center Greg Cook struggled past the throngs and into the bowelsof the rocking and rolling Superdome, they were life imitating art: Gene Wilderand Richard Pryor as the white and black partners in the prison scene in StirCrazy. "Cook, you bad, man. You real bad." roared several hundred fans.The fearsome Cookie-man usually appears annoyed at life in general, not tomention anything that detracts from his image as the baddest man on campus.This time, though, Cookie crumbled. "Definitely," he called out as hegathered in the waving, slapping hands. "We definitely bad."
Glancing over atthis scene, Brown gave just the hint of a shuck 'n jive step of his own and wasengulfed by the crowd along with Cook.
LSU'snot-that-close 96-85 defeat of Wichita State in the final of the MidwestRegional on Sunday was keyed by MVP Rudy Macklin (21 points, 10 rebounds), Cook(19 and seven) and a relentless pressure defense that forced 17 turnovers. Butthe team's 31st win against three losses owed much to a sequence ofmotivational switch-ups that Brown plotted like a war-games strategist.
Last season theTigers roared in the stretch, but in the NCAAs, Brown said, "We got blownto Pluto." This March he cooled it: cut practices in half, quit the chalktalks, omitted the pop-psychology T shirts. "We were climbing theMatterhorn," Brown said. "I told them to enjoy the plant life on theway up."
When Georgia upsetLSU in the SEC tournament, Brown un-cooled it. He dreamed up a new slogan,"attack together," and everybody got pumped up about "getting sillyin Philly."
As if he neededadditional support—32,747 showed up at the Dome on Sunday and not many hadKansas twangs—Macklin received a pregame call from the Utah Stars' DarrellGriffith, his buddy since the eighth grade in Louisville. Griffith advisedMacklin to do "something crazy."
But Macklin—thebest offensive rebounder in college—did something sane. He went out and beganmaking tap-back buckets the way he flashes smiles, fast and easy. Macklin, Cookand freshman Leonard Mitchell knocked Wichita State's glass-eating bookendforwards, Antoine Carr and Cliff Levingston, off the shelf as LSU scored 14straight points early in the game, while the Shockers couldn't scratch on 10straight possessions. And soon LSU's Ethan Martin (four steals, 10 assists) wasinfiltrating enemy lines, leading his team on another streak of 17-7, whichboosted the Tigers' margin from 25-14 to 42-21 late in the first half andeffectively removed all suspense from the rest of the game.
The Wheatshockers'own moment of glory had come on Friday night when the Midwest Regional becamethe Kansas Sectional, that being the class struggle between the establishmentKansas Jayhawks and their neglected enemy within, Wichita State, which KUhadn't scheduled for 25 years.
After one NCAAofficial called the school "Wichita," Shocker Athletic Director TedBredehoft snapped, "We are Wichita State University." Whatever theywere, the Shockers weren't prepared for Kansas' gargantuan Victor Mitchell. The6'10", 240-pound (before dinner) "Chocolate Moose" personallyturned the 2-1-2 Jayhawk zone into a 2-7-2 and prevented Levingston and Carrfrom finding the seams inside.
However, whenMitchell worked the lane, there was little space for his teammates to breathe,much less for the gifted Darnell Valentine to penetrate. But Mitchell wassitting on the bench when Valentine's day came to a dismal end. The Kansas starhad 21 points and his team had a 65-62 lead with 56 seconds left, but Valentinemissed on a one-and-one, so Wichita State's Mike Jones—normally a 43.5% rockshooter—calmly threw in a 28-foot rainbow to bring the Shockers to within onepoint.
At :33 Valentinemissed again, this time on a breakaway wide-open layup—well, Randy Smithson,son of Coach Gene Smithson, who had 16 points and seven assists, did own up to"nudging" Valentine from behind—so at :05 Jones calmly threw in anotherrainbow, from 24 feet to win the game, 66-65.
Or did Referee TomFraim's whistle-swallowing act win it? With two seconds remaining, Kansas'inbounds passer, Booty Neal, faked WSU's Jay Jackson into a blind pick set byValentine. But after Jackson bowled over Valentine in an obvious foul, therewas no call by Fraim. "Sure I fouled him," Jackson said later. "Ithought, oh my God, we came back to win and now I've given it away."
"Thatthing," Coach Smithson called the play. "I should have nailed Jackson'sshoes to the floor."
"Thirtythousand people saw the foul," said a disgusted Ted Owens, the Kansascoach. "But not the refs."
To be precise, anNCAA tournament-record crowd of 34,036 attended Friday's festivities, thesecond game of which was a barbecue. Or pig-sticking. Or however LSU's 72-56annihilation of the Arkansas Razorbacks might best be described. These were thesame Hogs who had beaten the Tigers early in the season in Alaska, 86-76."I don't believe in revenge," said LSU's Martin, who led his team with16 points and eight assists. "Just say we returned a favor."
At the outset,with noise and emotion and adrenaline flooding the premises, neither team couldhave scored on a quintet of The Old Absinthe House bartenders. After 5:07 thescore was 2-2; together LSU and Arkansas had missed 16 of 18 shots, and U.S.Reed hadn't made a thing from midcourt. But soon Macklin and Mitchell beganplaying volleyball on the boards and Cook began glowering...and talking.
Policeman Cook wasoff duty when Hog Center Scott Hastings produced 25 points and 14 rebounds inAlaska. This time the Cookie-man made Hastings wish he were in Hawaii. "Iwas telling the dude he ain't that good; he ain't bringing his stuff in herethis time," said Cook, who scored 10 first-half points, ruled the key byintimidating leapers Reed and Darrell Walker and frustrated Hastings into threefouls and a hasty exit within the first eight minutes. LSU racked up runs of12-4 and 12-3, and a swarming, vicious defense did the rest as the Tigers heldArkansas to 18 points (34-18) and 32% shooting before halftime, when the gamevirtually ended.
"It's hard toplay catch-up against LSU," Arkansas Coach Eddie Sutton said. Not tomention wake-up, especially after the Hogs had gone into a collective coma fromsome of the elbows Cook unleashed. One of the Cookie-man's macaroon specialsnearly caved in Hastings' chest; another sent Walker reeling into the nearestbayou, where he was delighted to find his jaw intact. Cook fouled out on theHastings elbow shot, but not before earning a technical when he angrily threw abullet pass to a man in striped vestments.
"Cookiedoesn't throw elbows," Brown said. "He just pivots funny." At thetime, the coach was stroking the head of Cook's infant daughter, wondrouslynamed Yesysrael Nonakimone, now wonderfully incongruous there, all tiny andtender in the meat-grinder arms of her enormous, powerful father.
Enormous andpowerful, not to mention quick and elusive, are valid descriptions of the LSUjuggernaut. Oh yes. And bad. As Philadelphia will discover about the Tigers,they definitely bad.