Big Ten, Big Eight, Big East, Big West? Big deal. Sixteen teams from those four conferences made this year's NCAA tournament, and after the first two rounds only three of them remained. The Atlantic-10's George Washington, a low-seeded underdog in the first round against New Mexico, suddenly found itself a higher-seeded favorite in the second round against Southern of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, an unexpected round-one winner over Georgia Tech. "I'm sure that's why they tell us to bring along both sets of uniforms, "said Colonial coach Mike Jarvis, referring to the fact that the higher-seeded team always wears the home threads, "because, as you know, crazy things do happen."
Don't they. George Washington beat Southern for a spot in the Sweet 16. Joining the Colonials were Indiana, (Virginia coach Jeff) Jones and the Temple (Matchup Zone) of Doom. The Midwest Regional alone features four schools—Kansas, Cal, Louisville and Indiana—that have won 10 national titles among them. The Southeast finds Kentucky coach Rick Pitino and his protègè, Western Kentucky's Ralph Willard, while North Carolina coach Dean Smith has two former assistants of his own, Vandy coach Eddie Fogler and Kansas's Roy Williams, left in the field. Arkansas and Cincinnati showcased chilling pressure defenses, while Michigan seemed once again to play down to the level of its competition. For our entertainment, no doubt.
We set out last week in search of those things that make the NCAA tournament so entertaining, and we found no shortage of superlatives. What follows are the best and the brightest moments from rounds one and two. If you think our task was easy, consider our first stumble along the way. We wanted to nominate Southern's band as the brassiest in creation after the Jaguars rocked the house in the West subregional in Tucson. Then Marino Casein, Southern's athletic director, set us straight: "You think they're something? They're the sixth-best band in the SWAC!"
College basketball is like a distance relay, with players running their respective four-year legs. Last Saturday two Promethean point guards, a senior and a freshman, exchanged whatever baton symbolizes preeminence at that position. Duke's Bobby Hurley had become the NCAA's alltime assist leader during his four seasons with the Blue Devils, three of which wound up with him in the Final Four and two of which ended with him winning national titles. California's Jason Kidd was still in the first leg of his college career, a season in which tumult threatened to eclipse all the promise that accompanied his decision to attend Berkeley.
Hurley and Kidd—or, after Cal's 82-77 second-round victory over Duke, which put the Bears in the Sweet 16 and ended the Blue Devils' run at a third straight title, Kidd and Hurley—turned the grimy Horizon in Rosemont, Ill., into a place of sublime overlap. The two point guards staged a summit in the passing zone.
Against Duke, Cal didn't "have a prayer." No less an authority than the Preacher Man himself, LSU coach Dale Brown, had said so in an astonishingly chippy moment following his Tigers' 66-64 opening-round loss to the Bears last Thursday. Ah, but Brown has made his name as a motivator, and he proved to be one again. Cal coach Todd Bozeman, the 29-year-old who began the season as an assistant to Lou Campanelli, only to find himself in charge of the Bears on Feb. 8 when the players, chafing under Campanelli's verbal abuse, staged a putsch, had so steadied Cal that it closed the regular season with nine wins in 10 games. Bozeman happily used Brown's blathering to inspire his troops.
Not five years ago Bozeman was a part-time assistant coach who earned his living delivering Federal Express packages. Last year he delivered Kidd, and the fortunes of the Golden Bears were altered irrevocably. With five seconds to go and the scored tied against LSU, Kidd dribbled hard into the viscera of the Tiger defense, briefly turned his back to the basket and then spun between forward Lenear Burns and 7-foot center Geert Hammink before finally Hipping up a shot that dragged high off the backboard and through, setting up the encounter with Hurley.
On the game's very first scoring play against Duke, Kidd found forward Lamond Murray with an alley-oop pass for a dunk. Again and again Kidd pounded into the lane—at 6'4" and 205 pounds, he is one point guard who doesn't dart—and pitched passes out to teammates who calmly sank three-pointers.
Hurley, at 6 feet, is smaller than Kidd by four inches, and, at 165, lighter by 40 pounds, but he is wiser. A shooter and passer in equal measure, he was the man who, following Duke's early elimination from the ACC tournament a week earlier, had met individually with every Blue Devil for an attitude check. He had made six of seven three-pointers in Duke's 105-70 first-round defeat of Southern Illinois. And against Cal. even as the Bears pushed to a 10-point lead at the half, Hurley kept the Blue Devils competitive with another hailstorm of treys. On the evening he would drop in 32 points, pass for nine assists and, in a valedictory reminder of how he has grown since his freshman season, commit only one turnover.
Cal's lead crested at 18 with 18:04 left in the name, but then Kidd began to show the impetuousness of his youth. He started to push a little too hard, imagining opportunities for passes that weren't there. And here came the defending champs, jealous of their legacy, taking huge chunks out of the deficit even as their center, Cherokee Parks, sat on the bench with a badly sprained ankle, which he had suffered at the end of the first half. Duke actually pushed into the lead, at 77-76, with 2:21 remaining.
Cal moved back in front, though, on another improbable play, one to trump even the shot that beat LSU. Kidd drove the left baseline and, finding his path blocked, spied Murray in the right corner. But Hurley sensed the pass was coming and deflected it back whence it had come, into the scrum of players in the lane. "I just followed my pass," Kidd would say later, accounting for how he wound up with the ball once again. And how did the ball wind up in the basket? "I just threw it up there, like Joe Montana," he would say. "I don't know."
Hurley, who hadn't caught a rest all game, tried to keep Duke in it with a trio of three-point chances. But by then he must have been dog-tired. A three-point shooter will show his fatigue sooner than a layup artist will. After Hurley's last collegiate shots shanked off the rim, Kidd had won another NCAA tournament game for the Bears, once again with a shot in traffic.
The differences between Point Guard Future and Point Guard Past popped out of the box score. Kidd had fewer points (11) and more turnovers (four) than his counterpart, but more rebounds (eight). After the game Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski sniffled unabashedly as he recounted the joys of coaching Hurley and his backcourt mate, Thomas Hill, for four years. He also asked that the ill-feeling Bozeman has been suffering in some coaching circles, because of Campanelli's firing, now be forgotten. "As you progress through the tournament," Krzyzewski told the press, "I ask that you celebrate these kids who are playing the game. Because we all benefit from what it is these kids give us."
One wag had called Kidd's game-winner against LSU "a pretzel shot," and Kidd rather liked that. But Saturday's play—the one that sanctified his arrival as college basketball's new high priest of the point—begged for a christening, too.
Asked whether he had a name for the shot, Kidd had nothing to come back with for the first time all night. "I guess it was a turnaround, a hook shot—what would you guys call it?"
"How about," someone said, " 'a prayer?' "
The West subregional in Tucson ended with UCLA coach Jim Harrick saying he wouldn't be certain that Michigan guard Jimmy King's winning basket in the Wolverines' 86-84 OT win over the Bruins was legal until he saw a slow-motion replay. That was appropriate, because the two wild rounds in Tucson were so full of surprises that Harrick wasn't the only one to leave the McKale Center wondering if he really saw what he thought he saw.
The lower seed won three of the four first-round games, including 13th-seeded Southern's 93-78 upset of fourth-seeded Georgia Tech and 12th-seeded George Washington's 82-68 victory over fifth-seeded New Mexico. George Washington then knocked off Southern 90-80 to move' into the Sweet 16, which wasn't bad for a team that received one of the last at-large bids to the tournament.
But those upsets were surpassed by the upset-that-almost-was, ninth-seeded UCLA's scare of the top-seeded Wolverines on Sunday in last week's only overtime game. The Bruins led by as many as 19 points in the first half before Wolverine forwards Chris Webber (who finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds) and Ray Jackson (19 points) brought Michigan back. The Wolverines won the game when King put in a rebound of point guard Jalen Rose's miss with 1.5 seconds left in OT
Harrick questioned whether Rose's shot had beaten the 45-second clock. "I don't think there's a person in this room who knows for sure [whether the shot should have counted]," Harrick told reporters afterward. Of course, most of the assembled media thought that Rose's shot was legal—and a TV replay showing the shot clock confirmed this.
The Wolverines didn't have to worry about the legitimacy of their win, but they did leave Tucson with a few concerns. There was their familiar problem with free throws—they converted only 11 of 19, which opened the door for UCLA. Then there was Rose's shaky ball handling and shot selection down the stretch, which prompted coach Steve Fisher to bench him for part of the overtime.
And there was Michigan's tendency to coast at times, to play its best only when pushed. The Wolverines insist that's an unfair rap, but their performance Sunday only reinforced it.
Michigan thrives on criticism, though, real and perceived. The Wolverines enjoy thinking of themselves as unloved and underappreciated. The day before the UCLA game, Webber ticked off a list of what he considered unflattering things said or written about him by members of the media this season. The Wolverines have a way of converting such things into motivation. "Michigan may have lapses." Rose said, "but we have a commitment to ourselves that Michigan will never quit."
BEST LITTLE MAN
Western Kentucky point guard Mark Bell couldn't stop talking about reaching the Sweet 17 in the frenzied moments following the Hilltoppers' stunning 72-68 upset of the Southeast Region's second seed, Seton Hall, last Saturday afternoon in Orlando, Fla. To be sure, Bell was elated that his team had just joined the NCAA's Sweet 16, but at that moment he was more concerned about phoning his 17 older siblings: Shirley, Henry, Joe, Mattie, Albert, Annie, Charles, Mike, Brenda, Bridgette, John, Shelia, David, Patricia, Clemont, Tony and...how many is that?...oh yeah, Kathy. All were back home in Louisville, cheering for their baby brother.
Many of Bell's brothers and sisters had gathered, with their indefatigable 69-year-old mother, Mary, at Shelia's house to watch the Western Kentucky-Seton Hall game. Mary, who bore a total of 21 children (four of her kids and her two husbands are deceased), says that, for the most part, she was pregnant from 1941 to '55. Mark came along in '70, six years after his closest sibling in age. "I thought my child-birthing years were over with," says Mary. "But I'm glad I had him now."
Because of the ever-present crowd at home, Mark had to struggle for attention. It didn't help that he was a runt, the kid always chosen last for a pickup game at the local playground. It also didn't help that at Louisville's Ballard High he played in the backcourt with the much taller Allan Houston, who would go on to star at Tennessee. But as anyone who has had at least one older sibling can attest, dealing with 10 older brothers tends to make one scrappy. As evidence, the 5'8" Bell, the shortest guy on the court, grabbed a game-high nine rebounds in the Hilltoppers' 55-52 first-round win over Memphis State last Thursday. "When you grow up in a family the size of mine, you learn to fight for everything," Bell says. "A rebound to me is like a potato falling on the floor at home. Whoever gets it, gets it."
Bell was equally feisty in Western Kentucky's upset of Seton Hall, a team many observers were hailing as a favorite to make the Final Four on the strength of its 12-game winning streak. He converted a crucial driving shot with 4:19 left to pull the Hilltoppers within two points of the lead. Then, on Western's next possession, he sunk one of his four three-pointers to put the Hilltoppers in front for good. He finished with 20 points, four rebounds and the respect of much taller men.
Mark was itching to call his family after the big win, but chances are nobody there heard the phone ringing. "We were all hollering and stomping and crying, and you'd have thought the ceiling would fall in," Mary says. In the middle of the chaos Mark appeared on the television screen for a postgame interview. Says Mary, "There was so much fussing going on I finally said, 'Shut up you all, I can't hear what my baby's saying.' "
Mary, in case you missed it, he said, "Thanks, Mom."
Vanderbilt lost to Illinois 93-77 in November at the Great Alaska Shootout as Illini guard Andy Kaufmann made 12 of 14 field goal attempts. In Vandy's 85-68 second-round win over Illinois, which put the Commodores in the Sweet 16, Kaufmann fouled out after scoring only five points.
BEST ROLE REVERSAL
No one thought it possible, but the postseason was even grimmer for the Big East than the regular season. Not one Beastie made the round of 16, and Connecticut even lost at home to Jackson State in the NIT. Stepping smartly into the vacuum was the Atlantic-10, which bagged four NCAA bids, won all its first-round games and placed Temple and George Washington in the regional semis.
Be honest. Did you know anything about George Washington's Yinka Dare or Temple's Aaron McKie until last weekend? Four years ago McKie, then a senior-to-be at Philadelphia's Simon Gratz High, attended the storied Nike All-America Camp—but only as a spectator. He went to watch some of his more ballyhooed pals and while appraising the action at the camp, got the idea that he was as good as they were. Of course, those pals are sitting at home now; McKie, a junior guard, shot the Owls into the NCAAs and was the main man in Temple's wins over Missouri and Santa Clara.
Dare (pronounced dar-AY), the Colonials' 7-foot freshman center from Nigeria, can't shoot beyond 10 feet, which makes every one of his free throws an adventure. But he's agile and active, and he responds to cheers of "Hip, hip, Dare!" from the George Washington band. The Colonials share a city and a first syllable with a much more storied program, and coach Mike Jarvis cannot tell a lie: "One time I was giving a pregame talk. It was my best, most inspiring stuff. I ended by saying, 'Now let's go out and win one for Georgetown. I mean, George Washington.' It happens." That may be embarrassing, but not as embarrassing as the following is to the Big East: The four Atlantic-10 schools that made the NCAA field—Rhode Island and Massachusetts in addition to Temple and George Washington—represent areas whose Big East schools were not invited.
BEST TEAM DEFENSE
This designation is shared by two schools playing in the East Regional. Arkansas calls its defensive style "40 minutes of hell," and the nearly 12 minutes that St. John's went with only one field goal during the second half of the Razorbacks' 80-74 second-round victory must be what Dante's ninth circle is like. The Hogs made slop out of Holy Cross as well as the Redmen, forcing 50 turnovers in the two games. Meanwhile, Cincinnati locked up New Mexico State 92-55; it went out to a 39-8 lead using a trapping defense coach Bob Huggins learned from his dad, Charlie, a onetime high school coach. Notwithstanding Cincy's feline pedigree, Aggie coach Neil McCarthy said the Bearcats "look like a bunch of hungry dogs going after one pork chop. They run 10 guys at you kamikaze fashion."
Dwight (Fat Flight) Stewart. When Stewart, who stands 6'9" and goes 270 pounds, was a redshirt last year, he learned diet tips from 300-pound Oliver Miller, Stewart's predecessor as Arkansas's center and as the porkiest of the Hogs.
Game a little too close for comfort? No problem for Florida State. Against Evansville the Seminoles went from an 18-18 tie to a 36-18 lead. Two days later Tulane was on the short end of a 22-2 run by Florida State. Coach Perry Clark, whose team is supposed to be the Green Wave, had this to say of the Seminoles' offense: "All of a sudden this tidal wave crashes in. You sort of sit back and wait for it to go back out to sea, and then you see how much damage is done."
Back in 1989, when he played at Northwestern, Rex Walters, who's now with Kansas, missed three shots down the stretch in a loss to Brigham Young. He has kept a BYU schedule card from that season in his wallet ever since, and on Saturday, in the Jayhawks' 90-76 second-round victory over the Cougars, Walters scored 28 points and had six rebounds and six assists.
With Seton Hall gone—"Whenever people write that we're great, we usually stink," Pirate coach P.J. Carlesimo said, prophetically, on the eve of the Hall's upset loss to Western Kentucky—the nation's hottest team is Kentucky, North Carolina's 112-67 win over Rhode Island notwithstanding Winners of five in a row by an average of more than 30 points, the Wildcats cruised past Rider and Utah. "We can't play any better at both ends than we're playing right now," said coach Rick Pitino. And no one can play any better inside and out than Jamal Mashburn, the Wildcats' 6'8", 240-pound forward. When Utah started out with 6'9" Larry Cain on him, Mashburn went outside to burn Cain with three-pointers. So Ute coach Rick Majerus sent in 6'5" Phil Dixon—and Mashburn returned to the blocks for a little close-in mashing. "We're a difficult team to guard," said Mashburn, accurately.
Ninety-three is the magic number that Southern coach Ben Jobe recites to his Jaguars. Just squeeze off 93 shots a game, including free throws—that's one shot about eight seconds into every possession—and everything will work out fine. Southern, the champion of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, changed absolutely nothing for its first-round meeting with Georgia Tech of the high-rent ACC. This was the '93 tournament, and the Jags scored 93 points in a 15-point victory that left Tech coach Bobby Cremins shaking his snowy mop top. While doing its up-tempo thing, Southern shot less than 40% but so accelerated the pace of the proceedings that the Yellow Jackets found themselves playing a completely alien game. The Jags outscored Tech 54-34 in the second half. But don't ask Jobe if his Jaguars are like Loyola Marymount when Paul Westhead was coaching there several years ago. "No, they were similar to us," Jobe said. "I was playing this way when those Loyola guys were in diapers. You remember the jitterbug? We want to jitterbug, not slow drag."
The only mystery about Jobe is his age. He may be 62. Then again, he may be 63. "He was 58 for about four years one time," says Rodney Lockett, the school's sports information director. Call him Obi-Wan-Benjobe.
Southern's upset, a case of a 13th seed defeating a No. 4, still didn't match the shock value of the game that created the other great hole in the West Regional bracket. Arizona coach Lute Olson wasted so much breath defending the honor of basketball in his region this season that one wondered if he didn't protest too much. Turns out basketball in the West isn't so bad; Santa Clara, the 15th seed, looked pretty good knocking off Olson's Wildcats, who were seeded No. 2.
Half of the Santa Clara team looks like guys who took up basketball one overcast summer day when the surf was running low, and the Broncos must have been bummed indeed when their 12-point lead in the first half fell to a 25-0 Arizona run. Santa Clara nonetheless edged back, and won the game largely on the free-throw shooting of freshman point guard Steve Nash, a British Columbian who was signed after Bronco coaches watched him on a grainy home video. Nash sprinted to the foul line to take eight crucial free throws over the final minutes and made six of them, while Arizona repeatedly missed jumpers.
Also missing: the wife of Bronco coach Dick Davey, who was back home in San Jose directing a grade school play. It was, of course, Cinderella.
Both Southern and Santa Clara were gone by Sunday night. But as Jeannie Davey's child thespians and Jason Kidd and a host of other kids reminded us last week, come March, the play's the thing.