Fight to the Finish
Shane Battier is our choice in a tight race for player of the
With just under 17 minutes to play and his team trailing Duke by
three points on Sunday, North Carolina guard Joseph Forte made a
steal in the Blue Devils' backcourt and sprinted toward what he
thought would be an easy breakaway layup. As Forte left the
floor, however, Duke forward Shane Battier sprang from behind,
knocked the ball from Forte's grasp, then gathered it in his
hands and fired a pass upcourt to teammate Jason Williams, who
buried a three-pointer to put Duke ahead 53-47. The Tar Heels
never got closer, and after the Blue Devils put the finishing
touches on a 95-81 rout, Forte conceded that he hadn't seen
Battier coming. "I thought I was by myself," he said.
There was a fascinating game being played within Sunday's
game--namely, the three-way battle for player of the year honors
among Battier, Forte and Williams. Battier finished with a
marvelous 25-point, 11-rebound, five-block, four-steal
performance. However, the snuff of Forte's shot was emblematic
of why he is SI's choice in the tantalizingly close race. Says
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, "Whatever our game plan is, we can
be a little bit more innovative because we have Shane."
Though a slew of publications, including this one, tabbed
Battier, a 6'8" senior, as the preseason favorite for player of
the year, the candidacy of sophomore guard Williams gathered
considerable steam as he played extremely well during the first
two months of the season. Forte, also a sophomore, emerged as a
serious threat in February, when he averaged 25.1 points in eight
games and lifted the Tar Heels to the top of the ACC standings
and a No. 1 ranking.
Williams also finished with a flourish, scoring 33 points and
dishing out nine assists in the win over North Carolina, but
Battier has been more consistent all season. In addition,
Williams had stumbled at the free throw line of late, making only
50.0% in Duke's last 10 games and 67.3% on the season, through
Sunday. (Battier had knocked down 77.8% from the line.) Forte's
numbers are also gaudy--he was leading the ACC in scoring (with a
22.0 average) and was third in free throw shooting (84.4%)--but
he'd shot a much lower percentage from three-point range than
Battier (40.3% to 44.5%) while taking 103 fewer attempts. Forte
also occasionally had hurt his team with poor shot selection, as
evidenced by his 35.2% accuracy in the Tar Heels' five losses.
If the candidates' offensive numbers were comparable this season,
there was no comparison when it came to playing defense. Battier
had more steals than either of the other two, and his 2.2
blocks-per-game average was the fourth highest in the ACC.
For someone who is supposed to be an aspiring politician, Battier
has done a lousy job promoting his candidacy. Asked last week if
he should be voted player of the year, he characterized his play
as "nothing spectacular" and added, "I'll leave it in the hands
of the voters."
On Sunday, though, he took matters into his own hands, settling
a seasonlong debate with a decisive closing argument.
Our Votes for the Best of the Rest
Other Award Winners
--Men's coach of the year: Al Skinner, Boston College. After
going 17-40 the previous two seasons, Skinner engineered the only
worst-to-first finish in the history of the Big East, going 23-4
during the regular season, without a player taller than 6'8".
--Men's freshman of the year: Jameer Nelson, St. Joseph's.
Nelson was the third freshman in Atlantic 10 history to lead the
conference in assists, with 6.2 a game in the regular season.
Aside from Nelson, the Hawks, who were 24-5 through Sunday, are
basically the same group that went 13-16 a year ago.
--Women's player of the year: Ruth Riley, Notre Dame.
Season-ending injuries to Connecticut's Svetlana Abrosimova and
Tennessee's Tamika Catchings opened the door for Riley, a 6'5"
center who through Sunday was averaging 18.1 points (on 63.6%
shooting) and had swatted 86 shots while committing only 68
fouls. She also had her best game when it counted most: 29
points, 12 rebounds and five blocks against No. 1 UConn on Jan.
--Women's coach of the year: Sherri Coale, Oklahoma. After
finishing 5-22 in her first season in 1996-97, Coale has turned
the Sooners into an NCAA title contender. Oklahoma (24-4) has
clinched the Big 12 regular season title and was ranked No. 7.
--Women's freshman of the year: Alana Beard, Duke. Beard, a 5'11"
freshman guard from Frierson, La., dominated the already talented
No. 4-ranked Blue Devils with her all-around skills. She led them
in scoring with 16.5 points a game and had set a school record
with 94 steals despite missing four games with a dislocated thumb
on her non-shooting hand.
A Comeback for The Ages
Eastern Illinois Shocker
Facing a 21-point deficit with 8:26 to play in the Ohio Valley
Conference tournament final against No. 4-seeded Austin Peay last
Saturday in Nashville, Eastern Illinois, the second seed, didn't
look as if it had much of a shot at earning an NCAA tournament
berth. But scoring points in a hurry is a Panthers specialty.
Entering the game against the Governors, they ranked 10th in the
country in points per game and were on the verge of becoming the
first team in NCAA history to have two players--6'4" sophomore
forward Henry Domercant and 6'2" senior guard Kyle Hill--finish
among the nation's Top 5 scorers. Sure enough, with a furious
finish, Eastern Illinois rallied for an 84-83 win to earn its
second NCAA bid in school history.
Domercant started the comeback with two baskets, and Hill
erupted for 11 of the Panthers' next 15 points to bring Eastern
Illinois to within 10 with 3:15 remaining. From that juncture,
they contributed three field goals and two assists before the
final points came from 6'11" sophomore center Jan Thompson, who
rebounded a Hill miss with 0.6 of a second to play and, after a
gutsy--and correct--goaltending call by referee Jeff Nichols,
gave Eastern Illinois (21-9, 11-5 in the Ohio Valley) its only
lead of the game. "I knew if I started it, everybody else would
follow," said Hill, who was named the tournament's MVP after
averaging 33.0 points in the Panthers' three wins.
Hill, whose 23.5 points per game through Sunday was third in the
country, may have been the only person who believed he was bound
for stardom when he arrived at Eastern Illinois in 1997 from Argo
Community High in Summit, Ill. He was chronically tardy that
first season. Once, when the Panthers were leaving for a game at
Michigan State, Hill was a few minutes late for the bus, so coach
Rick Samuels ordered the driver to leave without him. (An
assistant coach stayed behind to take Hill in a car to the game,
during which he sat on the bench in street clothes.) Later that
season, Hill went through a 10-game stretch when he didn't play a
minute because of his attitude and lack of experience. "That year
was hard, but it helped me more than it hurt me," he says.
Domercant has undergone similar growth since redshirting his
freshman year. After averaging 9.3 points while shooting 39.2%
from the field last season, he took about 100 shots early each
morning last summer, and he has tried to follow that regimen
during the season as well. This year he made 50.0% of his shots,
including 43.8% from three-point range, while averaging 22.9
points, fifth best in the nation. "When we recruited Henry, I
thought he'd be a very good scorer," Samuels says. "I didn't
think it would happen in his sophomore season."
Though Domercant and Hill have been jockeying for the conference
scoring title all season, they insist they haven't spent the
season talking about who's ahead. If anything, says Domercant,
the battle is over who's the better assist man. "We're always
yelling in practice about who's throwing more passes," says
Domercant, who averaged 2.1 assists a game to Hill's 4.0. "We
know there's no way we can do this by ourselves."
The Spartans Go the Distance
UNC Greensboro's Hero
During the summer 2 1/2 years ago, David Schuck was a cadet at
the Air Force Academy, hunkered down in the Rocky Mountains on a
two-day survival training mission with no shelter, no sleep and
only an apple and a slice of bread to eat. Schuck, now a 6'7"
junior forward for UNC Greensboro, called upon that experience
on Sunday when he took a length-of-the-floor pass with 2.6
seconds left, lowered his shoulder on a drive to the hoop and
made the winning basket with 0.4 seconds remaining in the
Southern Conference tournament final. That score knocked off
Tennessee- Chattanooga, the No. 2 seed in the south bracket,
67-66 and handed the Spartans, the second seed in the north
bracket, a bid to the NCAA tournament. "Fortunately, I've been
in much more stressful situations than a last-second basketball
shot," Schuck says. "My Air Force training really helped me to
be as calm as I could be with our season resting on one shot."
Schuck, who grew up in High Point, N.C., transferred to UNC
Greensboro in the spring of 1999 after he was told the fact that
he'd suffered several concussions would prevent him from becoming
a fighter pilot (though he could have flown bombers and other
planes). Schuck was one of the first recruits signed by Spartans
coach Fran McCaffery, who enticed Schuck with the challenge of
helping rebuild a program that had lost 59 games in the previous
three seasons. Schuck, who played two years at Air Force and had
to sit out the 1999-2000 season after transferring, averaged 14.4
points and 8.3 rebounds for 19-11 UNC Greensboro this year.
In Sunday's final, the Spartans led the entire second half until
Tennessee-Chattanooga guard Clyde McCully sank a layup to give
the Mocs a 66-65 lead. Then McCaffery called for the Tap Play,
and Schuck and freshman guard Jay Joseph made like Christian
Laettner and Grant Hill, combining for the full-court miracle.
"I'd never hit a game-winner like that in my life," said Schuck,
who finished with a game-high 21 points. "I don't really know how
to act right now, but I'm sure I've never experienced such an
instantaneous feeling of joy in my life." --Tim Crothers
For complete scores and recruiting news, plus more news from Seth
Davis and Grant Wahl, go to cnnsi.com/basketball/college.
WEEKLY SEED REPORT
We're ready to turn our findings over to the real selection
committee, but several caveats go along with our recommendations.
Duke retains the No. 1 seed in the East by virtue of its win on
Sunday over North Carolina, but the Blue Devils could lose it
with an early exit in the ACC tournament or a loss to the Tar
Heels in the final. Michigan State gets the nod over Illinois as
the No. 1 in the Midwest, pending the outcome of the Big Ten
tournament. Red-hot Florida moves into the top spot in the South
but must at least make the SEC tournament final to hold on to
that seed. Big 12 regular-season champion Iowa State is in
position to claim a No. 1 should any of the top seeds falter.
1. Duke (26-4)
2. Iowa State (25-4)
3. Boston College (23-4)
4. Kentucky (19-9)
1. Florida (22-5)
2. North Carolina (23-5)
3. Kansas (23-5)
4. UCLA (20-7)
1. Michigan State (24-3)
2. Arizona (21-7)
3. Virginia (20-7)
4. Oklahoma (23-6)
1. Stanford (27-1)
2. Illinois (23-6)
3. Maryland (20-9)
4. Mississippi (23-6)
The Joe College Report
Shavlik Randolph, a 6'10" junior at Broughton High in Raleigh is
such a promising talent that USC has sent him hundreds of
recruiting letters, as many as 120 at a time. Maybe if the
Trojans cut down on their stationery and postage costs, they
could afford to give new warmups to their walk-ons, correcting
one of several injustices (including being told to sit behind
the bench) that led to three of them quitting the team in
It's just a game, folks. Try telling that to Arkansas coach
Nolan Richardson, who last week discovered that an unknown
assailant had shot his prized Percheron horse in the leg.
Veterinarians saved the horse, which was attacked on
Richardson's 155-acre ranch. "The police asked me why someone
would do this," Richardson said. "I told them, 'Hell, I'm a
basketball coach. I guess a lot of people don't like me.'"...
Props to Adelphi University of Garden City, N.Y., which at 29-0
was the only undefeated team out of 992 NCAA men's basketball
squads this season. Whether the Panthers can complete a perfect
season with a five-game run in the Division II tournament will
depend largely on senior point guard Ryan McCormack (17.1 points
Feat of the week: Down by 10 points against LaSalle, St. Joseph's
junior guard Marvin O'Connor scored 18 points in the final 59.8
seconds of play in the Hawks' 91-90 loss. O'Connor hit three
3-pointers, five free throws and two layups as he finished with a
career-high 37 points. LaSalle held on, however, by hitting 10
consecutive free throws down the stretch.