It's always a good idea to keep an eye out for games between the Stanford and Tennessee women's teams. They have played each other in each of the past three seasons, and each year the winner has gone on to win the national title. So there could be no better omen for the third-ranked Cardinal than its 96-95 overtime victory over the top-ranked Lady Vols in Stanford, Calif., last Saturday.
The matchup was more than No. 1 versus No. 3. Tennessee has established itself as a dynasty by winning the NCAA title three times in the past five years, and the Lady Vols are, in many ways, the measuring stick by which Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer assesses the progress of her own program. Three years ago, after Tennessee blew out the Cardinal 83-60, VanDerveer took a tape of the game home at Christmas break and meticulously analyzed it with her sister, Heidi, a former graduate assistant under Lady Vol coach Pat Summitt. "We copied down everything we could. Every move, every play, every idea," VanDerveer says. "Then Tennessee's top assistant called me the next week to say she liked our pregame warmup suits. I'm scrambling to steal everything I can from them, and they want to know where we got our warmups."
Last week the Cardinal stole the game from the Lady Vols with a thrilling comeback. Stanford center Val Whiting, a 6'3" junior, scored 24 of her 26 points after intermission, including nine in the final 2:40 of regulation time, during which the Cardinal erased an 11-point Tennessee lead. Whiting capped her performance with a jumper from the foul circle with :10 left in OT to win the game. It was sweet revenge for Stanford, which lost three times to the Lady Vols last season, including a defeat in the semifinals of the Final Four. "I kept thinking about those three losses last year," Whiting said after the game, "and all I could think was that I wanted to kick some butt."
For a while it looked as if Stanford's players, after a draining week of finals, wouldn't have the energy to kick anything. Whiting, a premed major, took exams in physics, chemistry and psychology. VanDerveer knew her players needed an emotional charge, so before the game she showed them a video of the positive moments in last year's losses to the Vols.
"We didn't think it would last very long," said sophomore guard Christy Hedgepeth, who had 21 points and seven rebounds for Stanford, "but we saw that we did do some good things in those games. That really got us pumped up."
And whose idea was it to show the tape?
"For a change," said VanDerveer, "my own."
The Jayhawks Walk
Kansas is off to a typically fast start with its usual group of low-profile players. The seventh-ranked Jayhawks, 5-0 at week's end, haven't exactly played a killer schedule, but their 104-75 pasting of DePaul last Saturday was worth noting. They displayed the kind of defense that helped get them to the national championship game last season, forcing the Blue Demons to commit 18 first-half turnovers and miss 14 of their first 15 shots.
Kansas's underrated senior forward, Alonzo Jamison, helped hold David Booth, DePaul's leading scorer, to four points, none in the second half. "He was shouting at his teammates, he was so frustrated," Jamison said afterward. "That's when I knew we had them."
Jayhawk guard Rex Walters was considerably hotter than DePaul, both from the floor and under the collar. Walters, a sweet-shooting 6'4" junior transfer from Northwestern and perhaps the Jayhawks' most important newcomer this year, got into a heated argument with ESPN announcer Dick Vitale at practice the day before the game; he was upset because Vitale had criticized his decision to leave Northwestern. Walters then went out and hit four of his five three-point attempts on the way to a game-high 24 points.
"[ESPN] showed a picture of me and two former teammates and had the label TURNCOAT on my picture," Walters said. "That upset me, and it really upset my father. Coach [Vitale] said I had a good situation at Northwestern and made the wrong decision to leave." For his part, Vitale claimed that he was not responsible for the label on the photo.
Walters apologized to Vitale before Saturday's game, not for what he said but for the way he said it. "I'm a little too cocky and brash sometimes, and he deserves my respect," Walters said. "And I'm glad I could show the country that I'm not just a turncoat, but I'm also a very good basketball player."
The Orange Squeezes Back
There probably isn't a coach in the country who has had his competence questioned more often than Jim Boeheim of Syracuse. Last year one publication listed him among the worst bench coaches in the country. But take a look at this year's Orangemen. Syracuse seemed ripe for a collapse after losing Billy Owens and LeRon Ellis to the NBA; instead Syracuse was off to a 6-0 start that included an 89-71 victory over Florida State on Dec. 3 and an 89-72 defeat of previously unbeaten TCU last Saturday. Of course, the Orange has yet to play its first Big East conference game. Still, it looks as if Boeheim is doing something right.
The Orangemen aren't as loaded with talent as they have been in previous years, in part because the Syracuse administration is conducting an investigation into possible NCAA violations, and the threat of probation scared off a number of top recruits who might otherwise have signed with the Orange, including Donyell Marshall, who ended up at Connecticut, and Jalen Rose, who went to Michigan.
One recruit who stuck with Syracuse is Lawrence Moten, a 6'5" freshman forward who had 25 points and six rebounds against TCU. "What can you say about Lawrence Moten?" Boeheim said after the game. "Sometimes he plays like a guy six-nine, and sometimes he plays with the head of a real smart point guard." When Moten was named MVP of the Carrier Classic, which Syracuse won on Dec. 7 by beating St. Joseph's 72-70, he became the first freshman to win the award since Magic Johnson earned it while playing for Michigan State in 1977.
Moten's emergence has more than compensated for the absence of center Conrad McRae, who was declared ineligible by the NCAA on Nov. 19 and barred from playing for the Orangemen because of violations committed by Syracuse during his recruitment. The State Supreme Court of New York upheld the NCAA ban in a special court session on Saturday. But McRae would be eligible to play immediately if he transferred, and Missouri has been mentioned as his next destination. In any case, the Orangemen are doing better on the court than McRae is doing in it.
Kentucky coach Rick Pitino threatened to move his show from Lexington station WKYT-TV because he was annoyed that the station had aired Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom's prediction that Pitino would leave the Wildcats before his contract expired in 1996. Though Pitino later said his threat was in jest, WKYT-TV made an on-air apology anyway....
Playing without leading scorer Douglas Edwards, Florida State made its ACC debut on Sunday against North Carolina in the Dean Dome, yet still won 86-74....
San Diego State coach Jim Brandenburg, a taskmaster now in his fifth season with the Aztecs, has had 18 players leave the program before their eligibility expired. Mark and Neal Pollard, both 6'11", quit last week....
Indiana alumni news: Steve Alford (class of '87) and Bobby Wilkerson (class of '76) both got coaching jobs last week. Alford took over at Manchester (Ind.) College, an NAIA Division II school, when coach Ron DeCarli resigned after an 0-7 start. Wilkerson was named interim coach at Maryland-Eastern Shore, a Division I NCAA school, when Bob Hopkins quit after an 0-6 start.
A member of the 1972 U.S. Olympic team and North Carolina State's 1974 NCAA champions, 7'4" Tommy Burleson now runs an electrical supply company and owns a Christmas-tree farm near Newland, N.C. He also races limited hydroplanes, making him easily the world's tallest speedboat driver.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Justus Thigpen, a 6'2" junior guard for Iowa State, scored 26 points in a 96-82 victory over Texas-Arlington and had 28 points and five steals in a 98-84 defeat of previously undefeated and 16th-ranked Iowa.
Clemson's Shandy Bryan, a 6'2" junior center, played only 25 minutes but scored 22 points, on 11-of-21 shooting, and pulled down 19 rebounds as the 19th-ranked Lady Tigers knocked off Furman 90-75.
Andre Foreman, a 6'6" senior forward for Division III Salisbury (Md.) State, averaged 32 points and 11.5 boards in wins over Division I Maryland-Eastern Shore 111-74 and North Carolina Wesleyan 93-78.