Unlike many of his peers, New Mexico State coach Neil McCarthy isn't an early riser. When New Mexico governor Garrey E. Carruthers, a State graduate, called at 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 9, the day after the Aggies' 83-82 upset of Nevada-Las Vegas, McCarthy was still in the sack. That victory, however, made it obvious that New Mexico State might be a sleeper in the NCAA tournament.
To be sure, the Runnin' Rebels are the first team of consequence that New Mexico State has defeated. The win was no fluke, though, according to Aggie junior guard Randy Brown, a Chicago native who honed his game in summertime competition against the likes of Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan. "UNLV has talent, but I've seen much more on a [summer] team on a given night," says Brown. "They were just like we were. They just had UNLV on their shirts."
Brown is one of four Chicago-area products starting for the Aggies, even though McCarthy doesn't recruit in those precincts. (Austerity measures have cut his recruiting budget to S34,000, $20,000 less than when he took the job in 1985.) Brown and one of his high school teammates, Michael New, transferred from Howard County Junior College in Big Spring, Texas. Forward James Anderson and guard Reggie Jordan, both from Chicago suburbs, also arrived from the juco ranks. The fifth starter, senior Keith Hill of Houston, originally went to Michigan State but transferred because he didn't like the cold weather.
McCarthy makes no apologies for his seven juco players, arguing that they're often more motivated and mature than high school recruits. "They're different from freshmen," says McCarthy. "A high school player comes out with 25 offers. He thinks college is an extension of high school. A J.C. player says, 'Hey, I'm fortunate to get this opportunity.' "
An 88-75 victory at UC Irvine last Saturday left New Mexico State with a 14-1 record, its best start since the 1968-69 team coached by Lou Henson went 16-0. By Feb. 15, when the Aggies go to Vegas for their Big West conference rematch, the sleepers could easily be 21-1.
THE SOONERS KEEP ROLLING
After Oklahoma ran its home-court winning streak to 69 and its record to 12-0 with a 103-84 victory over highly regarded Texas, Longhorn coach Tom Penders said the Sooners deserved to be ranked No. 1 in the country. Perhaps, but Oklahoma may be no better than No. 3 in the Big Eight conference. The Big East. Big Ten and the ACC may be better, top to bottom, but no other league has three teams as good as Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri, which were a combined 45-1 at week's end.
While Kansas will play at Missouri this Saturday, Oklahoma will get its toughest assignment to date when it travels to Tucson the same day to face Arizona, the preseason favorite in the Pac-10. Wildcat coach Lute Olson will not be pleased to hear that Penders thinks the Sooners are better than they were last season, despite losing Stacey King and Mookie Blaylock, both No. 1 picks in the NBA draft. "They've got more guys who can burn you now," says Penders.
Indeed, after the starters opened the game by connecting on only three of 14 shots, Sooner coach Billy Tubbs called on his subs. Terrence Muffins responded with a season-high 17 points, Jackie Jones blocked a school-record nine shots, and Smokey McCovery blended 17 points with seven assists.
The other major factors in Oklahoma's victory were its defense, which limited high-scoring guards Travis Mays, Lance Blanks and Joey Wright to 14 field goals in 48 attempts, and its free throw shooting. The Sooners made 26 of 31 foul shots, while the Longhorns were only 16 of 31 from the line. Tubbs even wanted to credit that to the defense. "I think we guarded 'em real good at the free throw line," he said.
WHAT'S UP IN THE WAC
At week's end, Brigham Young, which was 12-3 overall and 3-1 in league play, led the Western Athletic Conference, but coach Roger Reid still wasn't feeling so hot. He has a degenerative hip disease that forces him to stand during games because sitting is too painful. Also on the league's medical list are coaches Rick Majerus of Utah, who has turned the team over to assistant Joe Cravens while he recuperates from heart surgery, and Don Haskins of UTEP, who has let assistant Norm Ellenberger handle most of his duties while he recovers from acute laryngitis.
The coaches of two other WAC teams, Hawaii and Colorado State, have so far avoided serious illness, and their teams have projected a healthy glow. When the Rainbows visited the Rams last Saturday night in Fort Collins, Colo., Hawaii took a 64-63 lead with 38 seconds remaining and then defended against Colorado State's inside game so expertly that 6'8" forward Mike Mitchell was forced to take a three-pointer with four seconds to go. It swished, giving the Rams a 66-64 victory and a 12-3 record.
Despite the loss, Hawaii went back to the islands with a 13-4 record and hopes of landing the second NCAA tournament bid in school history.
An important reason for Connecticut's surprising 13-3 start is 6'1" forward Nadav Henefeld, a 21-year-old freshman who's a former soldier in the Israeli army. He had a total of 33 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists and 12 steals in the Huskies' two Big East conference victories last week, over Villanova and Seton Hall....
When Temple defeated West Virginia 73-69 last Thursday, the field goal that broke a 66-66 tie came on a dunk by Mark Macon that was uncontested because West Virginia had failed to leave a timeout huddle within the required 75 seconds. The Mountaineers claimed the crowd noise in Temple's McGonigle Hall prevented them from hearing the buzzer signaling the end of the timeout....
In its first season back after shutting down the basketball program for four years in the wake of a point-shaving scandal, Tulane wasn't supposed to beat a team as good as Memphis State. But that's what the Green Wave did, 81-80, when junior guard Michael Christian drilled a three-pointer with 28 seconds to go last Thursday in New Orleans....
Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote, after the Spartans defeated Ohio State for their 1,000th victory: "A lot of people think I've been here for the whole thousand."
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Steve Rodgers, a sophomore forward at Alabama State, made 16 of 22 shots, including three of four three-point attempts, to finish with 49 points in the Hornets' 104-96 victory over Prairie View. Rodgers also had five assists and seven steals.
Kim Perrot, a 5'4" senior at Southwestern Louisiana, scored 45, 42 and 29 points, respectively, in wins over Southern, Northwestern Louisiana and Texas Southern. The nations second-leading scorer, Perrot made 41 of 71 shots.
Brandy Monks, a 6'7" junior forward at Bellarmine College, had 27 points, nine rebounds and eightassists in an 87-77 victory over Ashland. He scored 30 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in an 89-88 win over Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne.