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ALIVE AND KICKIN' THE NCAAS GOT OFF TO A FREE-FOR-ALL START, BUT AFTER THE OPENING ROUNDS ONLY BIG-NAME TEAMS HAD A FOOT IN THE DOOR

March 27, 1995
March 27, 1995

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March 27, 1995

ALIVE AND KICKIN' THE NCAAS GOT OFF TO A FREE-FOR-ALL START, BUT AFTER THE OPENING ROUNDS ONLY BIG-NAME TEAMS HAD A FOOT IN THE DOOR

The early rounds of the 1995 NCAA basketball tournament produced
talk of ponytails and shaved heads, of toothpicks and Nirvana
T-shirts, of sad swan songs (goodbye, Jud Heathcote) and fantastic
flameouts (good riddance to the Big Ten, whose six teams were gone
by the end of the second round), and yet another unseemly incident
involving that train wreck of a human being named Robert
Montgomery Knight. And that was all before Scintillating Sunday, a
glorious seven hours of heroics, heartbreak and history.

This is an article from the March 27, 1995 issue Original Layout

Consider all that happened between the Georgetown-Weber State
tip-off at noon in Tallahassee, Fla., and the Arkansas-Syracuse
spine tingler that ended at 7:15 in Austin, Texas: Georgetown's
Don Reid did a Lorenzo Charles, UCLA's Tyus Edney did a Danny
Ainge, and Syracuse's Lawrence Moten did a Chris Webber. And as
for Arkansas's Scotty Thurman, all he did was a Scotty Thurman.

And what had all this wrought? Well, there was, during Rounds 1
and 2, much muscle flexing and even a little earthshaking from
some of those fill-ins on your office draw sheet -- the Old
Dominions, the Manhattans, the Miami of Ohios. Only one top seed,
Kentucky in the Southeast, made it through to the Sweet 16
comfortably. Two No. 2 seeds, Arkansas and North Carolina, are
lucky to be alive, and three No. 3's, Michigan State, Purdue and
Villanova, will be at home this weekend adjusting their sets and
boning up on the background of Boubacar Aw, the Hoya forward from
Senegal.

The cause of college geography was served by all this,
incidentally. Before Miami of Ohio, led by a dreadlocked warrior
named Devin Davis, chewed up Arizona 71-62 in the first round of
the Midwest Regional, Wildcat All-America Damon Stoudamire was
only vaguely aware that Ohio even had its own Miami. And we now
have a better fix on the location of Weber (pronounced WEE-ber)
State, which toppled Michigan State 79-72 in Round 1. ``I tell
everybody it's 150 miles east of Wendover, Nevada,'' says center
Jeff Lentfer. Oh.

Yet sort it all out, and this indisputable fact remains: This
year's Sweet 16 looks strikingly like a congregation of college
basketball's rich and famous. For all the talk of parity this
season, the lowest seeds to make the quarterfinal field were a
trio of sixes, Tulsa, Georgetown and Memphis, whose contribution
to Scintillating Sunday was David Vaughn's last-second putback to
beat Purdue. And none of those three schools is exactly Slippery
Rock. In each of the previous five NCAA tournaments there had been
one 12th-seeded interloper in the Sweet 16, but no Cinderellas
advanced this year. In the 11 years since the field was expanded
to 64, only the 1989 tournament had a stronger stack of high
seeds, and even that group included a No. 11, Minnesota.

Chances are, then, that the national champion crowned on April 3
in Seattle will not be a major surprise. Then again, it rarely is.
Year after year, lesser-known teams produce a handful of upsets in
the first round of the tournament but can't do it again 48 hours
later. The reason? They have terrific backcourt players, and they
have an imaginative game plan that utilizes those players and
``stretches the game out,'' as Murray State coach Scott Edgar put
it after his team scared the tar out of North Carolina in an 80-70
first-round game that was much closer than the score indicated.
But what they don't have is a frontcourt of concomitant talent and
effectiveness.

It can work the other way, too, of course. Alabama sophomore
center Antonio McDyess, possibly the tournament's biggest
individual surprise, could have sued for nonsupport from his
backcourt after the Crimson Tide fell to balanced Oklahoma State
66-52 in a second-round game in Baltimore. But generally the
half-a-loaf teams in the NCAAs lack a formidable department of
the interior, and that's why guards on those teams will be home
watching on TV as Wake Forest's backcourt master, Randolph
Childress, teams up with Tim Duncan, Maryland's Johnny Rhodes
works with Joe Smith, and Virginia's Harold Deane feeds off
Junior Burrough in the Sweet 16.

And, oh, the pain that some of those viewers will feel. Like
Ruben Nembhard, the splendid Philadelphia-born, Bronx-raised
Weber State guard whose Wildcats were beaten in Tallahassee when
Reid followed up Allen Iverson's air-balled jumper at the buzzer
with a teetering tip-in that gave the Hoyas a 53-51 victory in
overtime. The play conjured up memories of Charles's follow
shot, which gave Jim Valvano and North Carolina State the NCAA
title in 1983 and which Reid said he had watched on an NCAA
anthology show on ESPN just the night before his own heroics.
Missouri's bullnecked shooting guard, Paul O'Liney, is another
sad soul. His 23 points against UCLA were wasted when Edney, in
a play reminiscent of Ainge's mad full-court dash through Notre
Dame in Brigham Young's 1981 East Regional semifinal victory,
threaded his way through the Tigers in 4.8 seconds for a
buzzer-beating basket that gave UCLA a 75-74 win in the West
Regional in Boise, Idaho. And it was perhaps most painful for
Moten, who, with Syracuse leading 82-81 and in possession of the
ball with only 4.3 seconds left, called a timeout the Orangemen
didn't have (a la Michigan's Webber, in the Wolverines' 1993
final-game loss to North Carolina) and thus incurred a
technical foul. Thurman went to the line to shoot the two free
throws and made one to put the West Regional second-rounder into
overtime. In the extra session the Hogs rode Thurman's clutch
touch, as they did so many times during last season's title run,
to a 96-94 victory. Yes, Sunday's events will be long remembered.

And so should some of the lesser subplots of Rounds 1 and 2. There
was, for example, the ponytail that blew freely in the breeze
during St. Peter's 68-51 loss to Massachusetts in the East
Regional. ``It's part of me,'' said Mike Frensley, the Peacocks'
point guard, shrugging. As is the white T-shirt bearing a likeness
of the late grunge-rock idol Kurt Cobain of Nirvana that Frensley
wore to one press conference. Still, it was a Led Zeppelin CD that
was spinning on Frensley's portable player after the loss to
UMass. No stairway to heaven this year, dude.

Less hair, not more, was the style for Old Dominion, which pulled
off the biggest first-round shocker by beating Villanova 89-81 in
triple overtime in the East. Every one of the Monarchs shaved his
head before the Colonial Athletic Association tournament,
including guard Petey Sessoms, who outplayed Big East player of
the year Kerry Kittles with 35 points in 53 minutes in the
thriller against the Wildcats. Four North Carolina players,
starters Jerry Stackhouse and Jeff McInnis and backups Ed Geth and
Shammond Williams, also scalped themselves as a good-luck gesture
before the first game in Tallahassee, joining guard Donald
Williams, who had already adopted the bald look. Tar Heel
heartthrob Dante Calabria, however, was not asked to participate.
``We'd have all the girls at Carolina ready to kill us,'' said
Stackhouse.

Hair was not an issue when Mount St. Mary's Jim Phelan and
Michigan State's Jud Heathcote began their coaching careers four
decades ago. Both bowed out in the first round, but only Phelan's
departure (a 113-67 sacrifice to Kentucky) was expected. Heathcote
couldn't hide his disappointment after his Spartans fell to Weber
State -- nor could departing backcourt aces Shawn Respert and Eric
Snow, both of whom were still in tears a full hour after the game
-- but the crusty Heathcote dutifully appeared at the
NCAA-mandated press conference and, after taking a few minutes to
collect his emotions once he had returned to the locker room,
entertained questions from every last reporter who hung around
there, too.

Contrast Heathcote's performance with that of Knight, who, given
the opportunity to act like a horse's posterior, gladly accepted.
Knight did not accompany his players Alan Henderson and Brian
Evans to the podium for the session that followed a depressing
65-60 loss to Missouri in the first round in Boise. Knight showed
up 15 minutes later, by which time Mizzou's Norm Stewart and his
players were already taking questions, and then went ballistic
when he found out that press conference moderator Rance Pugmire
had told reporters that Knight wasn't coming. After the Missouri
contingent was finished, Knight took the stage and used the
opportunity to swear at and embarrass Pugmire. It was a pathetic
performance, and next to the grace displayed by the players
throughout the tournament, it was shameful.

Particularly graceful in the first two rounds was the overall play
of the guards. On the backcourt menu were terrific trios, dynamic
duos and superb solos. Heck, St. Louis, a first-round 64-61 OT
winner over Minnesota, didn't even list a center in its starting
lineup. Instead, the Billikens put down three G's. Anybody hear of
the following backcourt combos before last weekend? Jeff Massey
and Michael Hawkins of Xavier? They gave Georgetown all it could
handle before falling 68-63 in the first round. How about Derrick
Cross and Chris McGuire of Miami of Ohio? They attached themselves
like ticks to Stoudamire, which explains Stoudamire's 6-of-18
shooting, and were just as aggressive against Virginia's Deane in
Round 2 before falling 60-54 in overtime. Did you know of
bosom-buddy backcourtmen Alvin (Pooh) Williamson and Shea Seals of
Tulsa? They combined for 50 points -- 78% of the Golden
Hurricanes' scoring -- in Sunday's 64-52 second-round victory over
Old Dominion.

And after watching Colgate's gunslinger of a shooting guard,
Tucker Neale, go for 25 points during an 82-68 loss to Kansas in
the first round of the Midwest Regional, one couldn't help but
wonder how much difference there really is between his game and
that of the Jayhawks' superb workaholic at that position, Jerod
Haase. Neale doesn't wonder. ``I see these guys on TV and say to
myself, I'm as good as or better than any of them,'' he said. That
sentiment was echoed by St. Louis's Scott Highmark, who had 22
points in the Billikens' 64-59 second-round loss to Wake Forest.
``So many good guards never get the chance for major exposure or
to play with great big men because we get a rap out of high
school,'' said Highmark. `` `He's a step slow. He's not quite big
enough to be a two-guard.' But, really, good guards are a dime a
dozen.''

That might be an exaggeration. At tournament time, though, most
mid-major programs, lacking a Duncan or a Smith, must scramble
the strategic eggs with their backcourt. St. Louis coach Charlie
Spoonhour did it by allowing Highmark and fellow flingers Erwin
Claggett and H Waldman to rain treys upon the heads of Minnesota
and Wake Forest. Murray State's Edgar did it by turning loose his
threesome of guards -- Marcus Brown, William Moore and Vincent
Rainey -- on North Carolina. Murray's two starting frontcourtmen,
Fred Walker and Dwayne Davis, finished with zero points while
Brown, Moore and Rainey combined for 61 of the aptly anointed
Racers' 70. Texas's Tom Penders did it by turning the game over to
Terrence Rencher and Roderick Anderson, a backcourt tandem that
presses and yearns to be pressed. ``When [we get pressed], I don't
have to call as many plays and I can just let those two work their
magic,'' says Penders. The magic worked in a 90-73 first-round
rout of Oregon but failed against the more formidable wizardry of
Maryland's Smith, who had 31 points and 21 rebounds in the Terps'
82-68 victory.

Indeed, at tournament time even control-freak coaches are
sometimes forced to sit back and let their quarterbacks call the
plays. ``A lot of what works in the tournament are breakdown
plays,'' says North Carolina Charlotte coach Jeff Mullins, whose
49ers were themselves broken down by Stanford point guard Brevin
Knight in a 70-68 first-round loss in the East. ``Everyone is so
well-scouted that the defense can disrupt a set offense and a
guard has to freelance a little bit. That's why teams with
consistent guard play advance.'' And keep in mind that freelance
doesn't mean up-tempo. Tournament games are often in the hands of
guards precisely because the action is more deliberate. ``Players
become conservative, and coaches quit experimenting,'' says Wake
Forest coach Dave Odom. ``Every possession is important.'' That's
when good, strong-willed floor leaders come to the fore, and in
Childress, Odom may have the best. ``He's like a drill sergeant,''
says Demon Deacon senior forward Travis (Scooter) Banks.

But even Childress needs something more than a rude 'tude and his
own skills, which were painstakingly constructed from hours of
practice. He needs Duncan, the 6'10" sophomore man-child who
almost flawlessly fills the middle for Wake Forest. Freshman
forward Raef LaFrentz makes the point in a Kansas Jayhawk context:
``You can pack it in against us and the outside guys will kill
you, or you can guard the perimeter and we'll eat you up inside.
It's a huge advantage in this tournament to have two solid
forces.''

Two solid forces. ``Maybe we could've neutralized Childress,''
says Highmark. ``But Duncan?'' He shakes his head. ``We just don't
have one of those.'' Few teams have an Erick Dampier, either. He's
a 6'11", 255-pound force of nature for Mississippi State, but his
talents would not be nearly so formidable without the presence of
guard Darryl Wilson. In Sunday's 78-64 win over Utah in the West,
Dampier dominated the first half with 16 points; when Dampier
started getting extra attention, Wilson found room to score 24 of
his game-high 32 points in the second.

Probably the clearest example of a solid one-two punch is Oklahoma
State's combination of Bryant Reeves on the inside and Randy
Rutherford on the outside. Rutherford, in fact, might be the most
underrated player in the tournament, as well as a somewhat more
hip example of Okiedom than Big Country. Rutherford hails from
Broken Bow, whose population of 4,000 makes it, as he is quick to
point out, about 10 times the size of Reeves's native Gans.
Rutherford shoots horseshoes in the summer and chews on a
toothpick all the time, a habit that replaced an old obsession
with chewing tobacco. ``I eat with it,'' says Rutherford of his
'pick. ``I sleep with it. I even have sex with it.'' All in all,
tobacco might be less dangerous.

Can this countrified combo take the Cowboys all the way? Probably
not. At the Sweet 16 checkpoint it's necessary to have still
another dimension beyond LaFrentz's two forces. And who has it? In
the West it's UCLA, which has the enthusiasm of youth in freshmen
Toby Bailey and J.R. Henderson, and the stability of experience in
Edney and star foward Ed O'Bannon. In the Midwest it's Kansas,
which has a three-man forest of a front line to stop Arkansas's
Williamson and a coach, Roy Williams, to counteract the karma of
Thurman. In the East it's Massachusetts, which has an x-factor
named Lou Roe at forward to complement the classic combo of
caretaker point guard Derek Kellogg and graceful pivotman Marcus
Camby. In the Southeast it's Kentucky, which has superior depth --
nine players average double-digit minutes -- and a manic bench
jockey named Rick Pitino, who's ready to win it all. And, oh, yes,
the Wildcats also have the Sweet 16's designated philosopher, a
bruising frontcourtman named Mark Pope.

Pope is just as comfortable spewing out his Circle Theory as he
is spilling bodies near the basket. ``What we need is to not be a
linear society but a circular society,'' explains Pope. ``Then
we'd realize the closest emotion to love is hate. You can relate
it to basketball. You can say I've never in my life missed a jump
shot. I've just taken them from the wrong spots.''

Perhaps the Circle Theory would serve to console several victims
of last week's heartbreak. Edney didn't drive through you,
Missouri; you were just concentrating on a different player. You
didn't call a timeout you didn't have, Lawrence Moten; you and
your coaches were counting them in a different dimension of time
and space. The hypothesis that generally prevails at tournament
time, however, is not quite that elusive. It's called the Only the
Strongest Survive Theory, and this year's Sweet 16 is proof of its
veracity.

COLOR PHOTO:JOHN BIEVER Kentucky's Walter McCarty and friends forcefully rejected upstart Tulane's bid for a Round 2 upset. [Walter McCarty blocking shot by Tulane player]COLOR PHOTO:JOHN MCDONNELL/WASHINGTON POST (LEFT) Sunday buzzer-beaters by Edney and Reid touched off a Bruin bash and a Thompson tango. [UCLA's Tyus Edney shooting against Missouri]COLOR PHOTO:BOB ROSATO[see caption above--Tyus Edney and other UCLA players celebrating after win]COLOR PHOTO:JACK SMITH/AP (RIGHT) [see caption above--Georgetown's Don Reid shooting againstWeber State]COLOR PHOTO:PAUL SANCYA/INDIANAPOLIS NEWS [see caption above--John Thompson walking triumphantly with his arm raised]COLOR PHOTO:JOHN MCDONNELL/AP (LEFT)Mississippi State's Dampier, Maryland's Smith and Wake's Duncan stood tall in Round 2 and sent smaller teams packing.[Erick Dampier blocking shot]COLOR PHOTO:JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [see caption above--Joe Smith soaring toward basket]COLOR PHOTO:MANNY MILLAN [see caption above--Tim Duncan dunking the basketball]COLOR PHOTO:DAVID E. KLUTHOArizona will long remember Davis (42) with dread, while the Sooners will feel the weight of Manhattan.[Miami of Ohio's Devin Davis] COLOR PHOTO:JOHN BIEVER (TOP) [see caption above--Manhattan player landing on Oklahoma player]COLOR PHOTO:DAMIAN STROHMEYER UNC Charlotte's Roderick Howard seemed to lose his head during a 70-68 loss to Stanford in Round 1. [Roderick Howard upside-down on basketball court]