YEAR OF THE BADGER
After his Indiana Hoosiers escaped from Madison with a 61-58 overtime win on Thursday night, coach Bob Knight grudgingly tipped his hat to Wisconsin, saying the Badgers "are awfully close to being a good basketball team." Only two days later they made Knight look prophetic with a 71-68 homecourt victory over suddenly struggling Michigan, a preseason Big Ten favorite.
The Badgers, now 10-5 and 2-4 in the conference, were led by Trent Jackson's 21 points, but the big plays at the end were made by Tim Locum. After Michigan's Rumeal Robinson missed a second straight foul shot with nine seconds remaining and the Badgers clinging to a 69-68 lead. Locum ripped the rebound away from Michigan's Terry Mills, and then was fouled by Robinson.
As soon as time expired, many of the 11,174 fans went onto the floor to join the celebration led by Badger forward-guard Willie Simms, a Michigan native who jumped on the scorer's table to wave a towel. "This is a huge win for us," said Wisconsin coach Steve Yoder.
In other Big Ten developments, Knight got his 400th win at Indiana, extending his conference record, when the Hoosiers defeated Michigan State 75-60, and Ohio State whipped Iowa 102-91 after a pregame pep talk from alumnus Jack Nicklaus. When the golfing immortal promised to help coach Gary Williams with his short game, he was talking about irons, not six-foot guard Jay Burson.
HARD TIMES IN DIXIE
There is a feeling throughout the Southeastern Conference that the league is the weakest it has been since the days when its basketball teams were coached by moonlighting assistant football coaches. No one in the SEC looks even remotely like a national championship contender. As if to prove the point, the worst Kentucky team in years took a losing record (8-9) into Knoxville for a game with SEC leader Tennessee but came away with a 66-65 victory before a league-record crowd of 24,464.
Tennessee brought a 12-2 record, including a 5-0 mark in conference play, into Saturday's game. Yet despite having five senior starters and the greatest depth in the conference, the Vols let Kentucky's young players dictate the terms on Tennessee's home floor. After taking an early lead, the Wildcats went to a 2-3 zone that smothered Vol star Dyron Nix (14 points) and a clock-eating spread offense that yielded 61.5% shooting and 23 points by streaky Derrick Miller.
Trying to open up the inside for Nix, Tennessee's outside shooters threw up one brick after another. Of the Vols' 60 shots, Nix had only nine (he made two) as the Volunteers hit a miserable 30% from the floor. This was the league's best team?
It was only Kentucky's third win in Knoxville since Adolph Rupp retired in 1972, and as Wildcat coach Eddie Sutton said, "This kinda puts everyone back in the race."
Perhaps the No. 1 beneficiary is LSU, which moved into undisputed possession of second place, half a game behind Tennessee, after an 80-76 win over Alabama. With freshman sensation Chris Jackson and senior forward Ricky Blanton providing a 1-2 punch that is averaging more than 50 points a game, the Tigers may yet turn out to be the league's best hope for redemption when tournament time arrives.
The Columbia Missourian, published by the journalism school at Missouri, last week scooped the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on a story involving one of the Post-Dispatch's own reporters. According to the Missourian, chancellor Haskell Monroe is investigating a complaint from Post-Dispatch managing editor David Lipman that coach Norm Stewart threatened Tiger beat man Jim Thomas after Stewart's weekly news conference on Jan. 4.
Thomas, in his fourth year of covering the team, told the Missourian that Stewart took him aside to complain that recent articles were hurting him and his staff. At one point, according to Thomas, Stewart said, "I know some people who can take care of your one-year-old," referring to Thomas's infant son, whom the coach had seen with Thomas's wife earlier in the day.
Thomas reported the incident to his editors, which resulted in Lipman's written complaint to the Missouri chancellor. Yet the Post-Dispatch waited until Sunday to print a story about the incident. "We printed the story when we felt we should print the story," says Lipman.
In the Missourian story, Stewart denied making any remarks to Thomas that could be construed as a threat, admitting only, "I asked him why he wanted to hurt me." In December the newspaper had published three articles by Thomas and Jeff Gordon in which coaches from Detroit-area colleges questioned Missouri assistant Rich Daly's tactics in the recruiting of seven players—five on the current Tiger team and two who have signed letters of intent for next season.
IT'S IN THE CARDS
When asked before the season about his Louisville team's high ranking, coach Denny Crum said. "It's always the same. We open the season ranked high. Then we lose a couple and drop out of sight. Everybody wonders what's wrong with us, but we're just working to be the best we can be by the end of the season."
The Cardinal coach was right on the button. When his team lost its first two games, to Xavier and Vanderbilt, it plunged in the polls. But after Saturday's 92-74 dismantling of UNLV at Freedom Hall, the Cards have a 13-game winning streak and plenty of fans who are talking about going to Seattle for the Final Four.
Not to take anything away from 6'9" senior center Pervis Ellison, who burned the Runnin' Rebels with 28 points, 10 of 11 from the field, seven rebounds, four blocks and three steals, but the Cards' main asset is depth. Crum can choose among 10 players without losing anything from his running, pressing, never-let-up attack. The Cards are getting 24.9 points a game from their bench and have been outscored only twice by opponents' reserves.
And thanks to senior forward Kenny Payne and sophomore guard LaBradford Smith, the Cards have finally discovered the joys of the three-point shot. The team's 72 treys through 15 games are 30 more than they had for all of 1986-87 and close to the 84 they bagged all last season. Against UNLV, Smith hit back-to-back three-pointers late in the first half to give the Cards a 35-17 lead, which proved insurmountable.
"They're awesome," said UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian. "They don't have a weakness anywhere. I think they have as good a chance as anybody to win the national championship."
Nevertheless, Crum downplays talk that this team might have more talent than any of the six he has taken to the Final Four in his 17 seasons at Louisville. "We may turn out to be better, but we're not yet," said Crum.
Vanderbilt coach C.M. Newton, after his team had defeated Texas 94-79 for his 500th career victory: "It means you're a survivor. I've been very proud to be a coach for a long time [31 years]. This is a tough business, and it's a profession where a lot of people don't survive." ...
With 31 points in a 75-67 win over Villanova, Sean Elliott passed Bob Elliott (1973-77, and no relation) to become Arizona's alltime scoring leader....
Baptist Christian College in Shreveport, La., has terminated the school's basketball program and fired coach Richard Palmer for a fairly good reason: Eight of the 11 players were academically ineligible. "Some of them don't even have grade point averages," said school president Phillip Martin. The team's record was 4-16.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Oregon State's 6'3" junior guard averaged 30 points in the Beavers' two conference victories. In their 90-63 win over Washington State, Payton scored 41 points, including seven three-pointers.
N. CAROLINA (16-3)
SETON HALL (17-1)
FLORIDA STATE (14-1)
OHIO STATE (13-4)
N.C. STATE (12-2)
ST. MARY'S (16-1)