As Heshimu Evans returned to his old position, Kentucky showed
who's boss in the SEC
Who says there's parity in college basketball? Kentucky has won
two of the last three national titles and just missed a sweep by
losing to Arizona in overtime in the 1997 title game. Through
Sunday the Wildcats had gone 17-4 against what is regarded as
the toughest schedule in the country and had beaten more
opponents ranked in the Top 25 (five) than any other team. Yet
going into last week's meeting with then 17-0 Auburn, there was
no denying that the Tigers posed a threat to Kentucky's reign
over the SEC.
So much for threats. With an easy 72-62 defeat of Auburn,
followed by a 76-49 rout of Mississippi State last Saturday, the
Wildcats shook off the funk they'd been in since losing 47-46 to
Tennessee at home on Jan. 12. More important for Kentucky's
postseason hopes, the back-to-back wins seemed to answer a
question that had been vexing the Wildcats for a month: What in
the world happened to 6'6" senior forward Heshimu Evans?
During Kentucky's 9-1 start Evans had played like an
All-America, averaging 15.5 points and shooting 37.2% from
three-point range. But after scoring 31 points against Maryland
in a 103-91 victory on Dec. 12, the Strong Warrior (which is
what Heshimu means in Swahili) mysteriously turned feeble,
averaging 8.2 points and shooting 15.0% from beyond the arc as
Kentucky lost three of its next nine games. After scoring a
team-high 20 points against Auburn and 13 against Mississippi
State, however, Evans's troubles may be behind him. "I finally
started having fun again," he says. "This week I was able to
come off screens and make some things happen. I'd shied away
from that for a while."
There were a couple of reasons for Evans's drop-off. For
starters, coach Tubby Smith tried to compensate for the
Wildcats' outside shooting troubles by switching to a bigger
lineup on Jan. 2 against Florida. As part of the shake-up, Smith
inserted Michael Bradley at power forward, shifted Scott Padgett
to small forward and benched freshman guard Tayshaun Prince
while moving Evans from small forward to shooting guard. "That
was a hard adjustment for me," says Evans, a lefthander who's
not an especially adept ball handler and thus not entirely
comfortable at two guard. At that position he spends more time
on the right side of the floor, where he must often dribble with
his right hand.
It's no coincidence that Evans's rebirth coincided with his
return to forward last week, but the move might not have come
about had Smith not suspended center Jamaal Magloire for missing
a curfew. (It was Magloire's third suspension in the last 10
months.) Evans, however, says that the main source of his
troubles was in his head. Last week he got some advice from Fran
Fraschilla, his coach at Manhattan for two years before
Fraschilla left for St. John's and Evans transferred to
Kentucky. "I didn't think he was playing as hard as he had when
he was trying to prove he could play at Kentucky," says
Fraschilla. "His game has always been making hustle plays, but
the last couple of weeks he was tentative, and that's not him."
"He hit it right on the nose," says Evans. "It was good that my
shot was going in this week, but I was also on the ground,
rebounding, playing defense with energy." Evans knows, of
course, that if the Wildcats are to challenge for another
national title, he'll need to play that way all the time.
Notre Dame's Future
WILL THE IRISH BOLT THE BIG EAST?
At meetings scheduled for Feb. 4-5 (in London, of all places),
Notre Dame's board of trustees will decide whether the Fighting
Irish will leave the Big East and become a member of the Big
Ten, as the school's academic faculty senate recommended in
December. If the trustees do vote to switch, will they go the
whole 10 yards and join the Big Ten in all sports, which some
campus factions see as a plus for a football program that has
not finished in the Top 10 in five years? Or will the board
stand pat as a member of the Big East in most sports, the
largest exception being football, in which Notre Dame is an
Early indications are that the trustees will stay put. That was
the underlying message in a face-saving statement issued by the
Big Ten last Thursday, which in a multisyllabic, lawyerlike way
said that the Irish can't say no to joining the conference
because they were never asked. Example: "To date, the
preliminary meetings...have not produced a sufficient mutuality
of interests or intentions to determine whether the parties
desire to enter into a more formal phase of membership
That leaves the Irish to continue to toil in the Big East, a
prospect that isn't entirely pleasing to all the members of the
league. Certainly to some of them, notably the conference's six
other Catholic schools, Notre Dame's four years in the league
have meant increased ticket sales and the chance to rub
shoulders--if not shoulder pads--with the nation's most
celebrated Catholic institution. But other Big East members have
learned that just because you buy a blue-chip stock doesn't mean
you'll reap large dividends. The conference has had to pay out a
share of its NCAA tournament earnings every year, while the
Irish have brought almost nothing to the table in the key
revenue sport of men's basketball. "Most people from the outside
would say we got a bad deal," one top league executive says.
The Notre Dame men continue to flounder under coach John
MacLeod, whose record in seven seasons at South Bend is 89-104,
through last Saturday's 72-70 loss to Rutgers. The Irish were
23-43 in four seasons of Big East play and 0-3 in the conference
tournament. The future, despite the rise of freshman forward
Troy Murphy (18.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, until he
sprained his left ankle on Jan. 14), isn't bright. Six players
have transferred in the last three seasons, and last week two
sophomores became academically ineligible. "In basketball, they
haven't helped the league as many people thought they would,"
Boston College athletic director Gene DeFilippo says, "but the
potential is there." --Ivan Maisel
Boise State's Bomber
HAVE SHOT, WILL TRAVEL
A year after Pacific center Michael Olowokandi made the jump
from obscurity to the top pick in the NBA draft, another
well-traveled Big West player is beckoning pro scouts westward.
Having found a home at his fifth college in five years, Boise
State's Roberto Bergersen, a 6'6" senior swingman, was the
nation's fourth-leading scorer (24.5 points a game) through
Sunday and the main reason the 12-4 Broncos were in second place
in the Big West's Eastern division with a 5-1 conference record.
"He can really shoot, and he has good size for a guard," says
Nets director of player personnel Dave Pendergraft of Bergersen,
whom scouts have compared to Dale Ellis and Jeff Hornacek.
Three years ago, however, Bergersen was out of basketball. A
McDonald's All-America in 1994 at Decatur High in Federal Way,
Wash., he began his hoops odyssey by signing with Washington.
But he left the Huskies after a freshman season in which he
averaged only six minutes and 2.2 points a game and chose
hanging out with his high school buddies as his main course of
study. "Roberto was just too immature to say no," says Ed Boyce,
Bergersen's high school coach and now an assistant at Boise
State. "Instead of focusing on basketball and academics, he let
a lot of other things get in the way."
The following school year Bergersen migrated from one outpost to
another: Midland (Texas) College, a JC he stayed at for a month,
to the College of Southern Idaho, where he played one game and
dropped out, to Highline Community College near Seattle, where
he didn't play but began piecing his life together, earning an
associate's degree in the summer of 1996. The following fall he
arrived at Boise State and was reunited with Boyce.
Boyce and Boise have turned Bergersen, 23, into a virtual Boy
Scout. He has sworn off alcohol, married his girlfriend (Rhonda
Klein, a former member of the Washington soccer team) and now
has a 15-month-old son, Rylan. Roberto's big break came last
May, when the NCAA granted him another year of eligibility,
noting that he had played only one game in 1995-96. This season
Bergersen has drawn the notice of scouts with big games against
top teams, scoring 32 points in a 69-61 upset of Washington on
Dec. 5 and 30 in a 90-66 loss to Indiana on Dec. 11. Yet he
demurs when asked about winning the tight NCAA scoring race
(currently led by Delaware junior forward Mike Pegues, who was
averaging 24.9 points a game). "I'd almost rather not win it,"
he says. "We lost a couple of games at the beginning of the
season when I was scoring too many points."
Too many points? Such talk might be heresy among prolific
scorers, but as Bergersen has learned, a little maturity goes a
A Real Coaches' Poll
WHO'S THE COACHES' COACH?
We polled more than 100 coaches--115 to be exact, both head guys
and assistants--and asked the question, If you could go to only
one coaching clinic, whose would it be and why?
Duke's Mike Krzyzewski led the way with 16 votes because other
coaches are eager to learn the secrets of his success (two
national titles and seven Final Fours in the past 14 seasons).
Utah's Rick Majerus was next with 14 votes, and Bob Knight was
third, with 12. A large number of assistants cited Wisconsin's
Dick Bennett, who also finished with 12 votes, for a practical
reason: They figure if they get a head coaching job, they won't
have talent to burn, and they like the way Bennett gets the most
out of his players. (Fresno State's Jerry Tarkanian, who got no
votes, passed on this advice: "I told all my assistants that
they should go spend a week with Dick Bennett and learn about
the game. His Wisconsin team executes better than any I've seen.")
Rounding out the top five was a surprise choice, Bill Carmody of
Princeton, who got nine votes. "I'd love to find out what makes
Princeton tick," says Brigham Young coach Steve Cleveland.
"They're so predictable, yet so unpredictable."
The biggest surprise? That would be the two ballots that named
Don Meyer, coach of the NAIA's Lipscomb University in Nashville.
With 695 career wins he certainly is doing something right.
For the latest scores and recruiting news, plus Seth Davis's
College Hoops Mailbag, check out www.cnnsi.com.
WEEKLY SEED REPORT
A couple of critical swing voters had a change of heart from a
week ago, moving Cincinnati, a blowout winner over Louisville,
back to the top seed in the Midwest and demoting Maryland, which
needed overtime to dispatch Clemson. But that wasn't even the
hottest topic among our merry pollsters. The big debate is over
the top seed in the East.
The argument: If Connecticut and Duke both run the table (or win
at roughly the same pace as they have to date), which deserves
the cushy convenience of playing in the East? Proponents of the
ACC as the toughest conference say the Blue Devils ought to open
in Charlotte and move on to the Meadowlands, site of some of
their biggest wins. Big East boosters say the Huskies ought to
open at the FleetCenter in Boston before going to the
Meadowlands (and they'll sell a ton of tickets in both places).
The next two Saturdays, when UConn plays road games at St.
John's and then at Stanford, will reveal a lot about the Huskies.
As for the turbulent week gone by, we say so long to New Mexico,
loser to New Mexico State and UTEP, and we not only welcome back
Ohio State, which beat Purdue and Minnesota, but we're also
sticking the Buckeyes in the East so they too can play at the
FleetCenter. We'd relish seeing coach Jim O'Brien's return to
the Hub while his former school, Boston College, (winless in the
Big East) watches.
1. Connecticut (17-0)
2. Auburn (18-1)
3. North Carolina (17-4)
4. Ohio State (15-5)
1. Duke (19-1)
2. Kentucky (17-4)
3. UCLA (14-4)
4. Iowa (13-4)
1. Cincinnati (18-1)
2. Maryland (18-2)
3. Wisconsin (18-3)
4. Arizona (13-3)
1. Stanford (17-2)
2. Michigan State (16-4)
3. St. John's (16-4)
4. Indiana (16-6)