THE SUFFERING SPARTANS
Before the season started, the UNLV-Michigan State game promised to be one of the best matchups of the year, a game that deserved its regal setting in The Palace of Auburn Hills, Mich. But last Saturday the Rebels, in a 95-75 rout, made the Spartans look positively common.
Though being overrun by UNLV is no disgrace, Michigan State (3-3) has had other humbling moments this season. The Spartans, ranked No. 4 in the preseason, were upset by Nebraska and Bowling Green, and even in victory, Michigan State has looked bad. Two days before meeting UNLV, the Spartans had trailed Cincinnati by 18 before squeaking out a 65-63 win on Steve Smith's disputed last-second shot, which may or may not have beaten the final buzzer.
"Jud Thuds" have occurred with unusual frequency this season. That's the term used to describe Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote's habit of whacking himself on the head with his palm when he's frustrated during games. "We're still searching, looking for different combinations," Heathcote says. "Maybe, down the road, we'll be a better team."
The first step on that road will be to find a consistent offensive threat to take some of the burden off Smith, the All-America guard who had 23 points against UNLV. Though Smith has lived up to his billing with a 27.5 scoring average through last weekend, no other Spartan has had a 20-point game.
The Spartans sorely miss two players from last year's Big Ten championship squad—guard Kirk Manns, who loosened defenses with his outside shooting, and forward Ken Redfield, the defensive stopper. "We need tough play and some athletes," says assistant coach Stan Joplin. "Jud was saying Cincinnati might have played UNLV better because it has better athletes and stretches things out." Huh? A team that a few weeks ago was one of the favorites to reach the Final Four is now wondering if Cincinnati might be a better match for UNLV?
The Spartans' problems aside, it could be that no one can handle the Rebels. Michigan State took a brief 60-59 lead in the second half, but forward Larry Johnson, who burned the Spartans for 35 points and 14 rebounds, helped UNLV respond with a 21-6 run that put the Rebels in front 80-66.
Michigan State has a chance to regroup because seven of its next eight games will be played at home in the Breslin Center. The Spartans have played there only once this season. But their biggest relief may have come with the Rebels' departure. As Spartan guard Mark Montgomery put it, "I don't think we'll face anyone quite like them again."
When Texas-El Paso coach Don (the Bear) Haskins was forced to sit in the stands for most of last season's games because of chronic laryngitis, he discovered that a seat on the bench is overrated. He may now feel the same way about practices, especially after the Miners' 71-60 upset of Georgetown on the Hoyas' home floor last Saturday.
Because of final exams, UTEP hadn't been able to practice with a full team for about a week before the Georgetown game.
"I might not hold another full scrimmage the rest of the season," Haskins says. "We spent a lot of time doing two-on-two and three-on-three drills, and that might be a better way to practice, anyway."
Swingman Johnny Melvin (14 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and three steals) and forward David Van Dyke (11 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and three steals) made major contributions against Georgetown, but the victory probably meant more to UTEP's Henry Hall, a 6'1" sophomore guard from Washington, D.C., who originally committed to Georgetown.
After signing with Georgetown, Hall decided he didn't want to attend school so close to home. He took a year off and worked with his father in the trucking business. Former UTEP player Jim (Bad News) Barnes saw him at a summer-league game and encouraged him to consider the Miners. "I went for a visit, and the first day I was there, I knew it was the place for me," Hall said. Against the Hoyas on Saturday, he was a big reason for the Miners' success, scoring 12 points and dishing out six assists.
One of the best Christmas tournaments in the country is the women's Super Shootout, to be played Dec. 29 and 30 in Hilton Head, S.C. It features defending NCAA champion Stanford, as well as Texas and Tennessee—Top 25 squads—and Ohio State. That's a group even the women's Final Four will be hard-pressed to match.
But though the competition promises to be topflight, the tournament location is curious. The games will be played at the Hilton Head Island Recreation Center, a tiny gym that seats about 450 and has an 84-foot court, 10 feet shorter than the standard recommended by the NCAA. The teams receive very little for showing up, aside from the chance to play each other. There are no financial guarantees, no travel or hotel expenses, not even complimentary tickets for the players and coaches. Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer estimates it will cost her school at least $10,000 to participate. And that doesn't include $160 from her own pocket for tickets for her family.
"I've never had to pay to get tickets to an event I was coaching in," VanDerveer said. "This isn't meant to be critical of the tournament, but this whole thing is really frustrating. [The women's] game is growing in attention and popularity, and this tournament has some of the teams that draw the best crowds, yet here we are playing in a crackerbox gym. In some respects I feel like we're taking a step in the wrong direction."
So why did the teams agree to play? "The [island] is wonderful, and the competition couldn't be better," said Texas coach Jody Conradt. "When you're invited to a party and the company is good, you don't complain about the food. And it's not like there are that many options, if you want to play on a neutral floor. We haven't reached the point yet where we can easily attract a sponsor or get a great financial deal to put on a tournament."
The desirability of a neutral court notwithstanding, the Shootout's field would probably have drawn crowds of 7,000 to 25,000 at Tennessee, Texas or Stanford. Instead, the Super Shootout will be the best tournament that hardly anyone saw, evidence that the women's game still doesn't command the attention it deserves. It should also be a reminder to the women that if they don't do a better job of packaging and promoting their best teams, things are going to stay that way.
A TEXAS PANHANDLER
You might expect a typical recruiting trip for Brooklyn College coach Ron Kestenbaum to consist of a walk down the street to the nearest pickup game. New York City is so rich in basketball talent that even after the bigger schools have skimmed the best players off the top, there should be enough left over to fill the Brooklyn roster with local talent.
So how is it that 10 of Brooklyn's 15 players (including two redshirts) are from Texas? "We've always tried to recruit in this area, but there's as much undiscovered talent in Texas as there is here," said Kestenbaum.
Maybe, but the imports have not brought many victories to Brooklyn so far. The Kingsmen went 7-21 last season, though they are off to a better start this year. They were 4-4 at the end of last week.
Life off the court has had its tribulations for the Texans, too. Forward Mark Hayward of Arlington has had is car stolen twice. The 1976 Chevy Nova was also broken into another time, and Hayward found it with its windows smashed and a tire flat. He drove a friend's car over to the Nova, fixed the flat, and as he was putting the jack back in the friend's car, a man jumped into the Chevy and tried to steal it again. Then there's center Rafael Solis of El Paso, who was sitting in a car with his mother on her first visit to New York when two plainclothes policemen suddenly drew their guns on the driver of the car behind them.
"She told me that if I didn't want to go to school here, it was O.K. to come home right now," Solis said.
Even though New York hasn't exactly rolled out the welcome mat for the Texans, they don't feel they've been given a bum steer. Hayward's biggest complaint is that he can't find good chicken fried steak in Brooklyn. And Solis loves the fact that "when you want to get a game up, all you have to do is walk down to the park and there's always a lot of hoops going on."
Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson said no thanks to Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton's proposal for a series between the two teams. Richardson hasn't forgotten the slight he suffered in the early '80s, when he was the Tulsa coach and Sutton was at the helm at Arkansas. "I'm not going to play Coach Sutton, and I'll tell you why," Richardson said. "Coach Sutton would not play me home and home when I was at Tulsa."...
Three Providence players—starting point guard Corey Floyd and reserves Ken McDonald and Marvin Saddler—were given one-game suspensions by the NCAA for their part in a fight during a game with Rhode Island last week. Admirably, Providence put more teeth in the punishment by suspending the players for two more games, against Manhattan and No. 4-ranked Arizona....
On Dec. 12, with the score tied at 60 and only three seconds left to play in a game against Colorado, Wyoming's Maurice Alexander went to the line for two free throws. So Buffalo coach Joe Harrington used all four of his second-half timeouts in succession, trying to ice him. Alexander made both shots and Wyoming won.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Brent Price, a 6'1" junior point guard for Oklahoma, averaged 41.5 points, eight assists and six steals as the Sooners defeated Coppin State 98-79 and routed Loyola Mary mount 172-112.
Forward Jan Jensen, a 5'10" senior at Drake, had 41 points and 14 rebounds, despite playing with a broken finger, as the Bulldogs beat Iowa State 83-82. She also scored 26 points in an 84-59 loss to Nebraska.
SCHOOLS: Ripon's 6'4" junior guard Brad Alberts made 19 of 28 shots, including 13 of 16 three-pointers, while scoring 65 points as the Redmen defeated North Park 82-73 and downed Rockford 91-64.