Basketball has been so bad at Rice since the Owls last won the Southwest Conference in 1954 that Don Knodel was asked by a friend when he decided to take the head coaching position four years ago, "Is this the only job in the country you can get?" Right now it is just about the only job Knodel would want. With victories of 85-78 over Arkansas and 75-67 over Texas last week, Rice stands two games ahead in the SWC with three games to play. In their important win over the Longhorns, the Owls trailed at half-time as they have in eight of their 11 league games this year. Then their busy guards, Tom Myer and Gary Reist, two out-of-state imports from Indiana and Ohio, shot down Texas' zone defense with 47 points between them.
Also a double winner, Kansas State knocked off Missouri 63-60 and Nebraska 69-62 to insure itself at least a tie for the Big Eight title. The Wildcats can thank the long memory and longer arms of defensive substitute David Lawrence for their victory over second-place Mizzou. Last year K-State lost to the Tigers when Pete Helmbock snuck behind the State defense for an easy layup late in the game. With the Wildcats ahead by one point and 1:16 to play last week, Helmbock attempted the same maneuver and looked headed for a sure basket when Lawrence stepped in his way and blocked the shot. The State sub retrieved the loose ball and added an insurance layup.
Unpleasant memories for Guard Don Ogletree figured in red-hot Cincinnati's 53-52 win over Louisville. Earlier the Cardinals had defeated the Bearcats by one point when Ogletree missed a free throw in the final 10 seconds of play. In the latest game, Ogletree retrieved his reputation by dropping in two foul shots with 17 seconds left to seal the Cincinnati victory, its 10th straight. Louisville's loss gave Drake, which defeated Wichita 90-83 in overtime and Tulsa 80-74, the lead in the Missouri Valley Conference. Two weak Louisiana teams, Loyola of New Orleans and Centenary, fell to Houston 99-80 and 97-72.
1. HOUSTON (20-3)
2. DRAKE (19-5)
During a time-out with two minutes to play and Oregon leading UCLA by 15 points, Bruin Coach John Wooden strolled over to the Ducks' bench, shook Coach Steve Belko's hand and said, "It's going to be a little wild at the end, Steve. So I thought I'd say congratulations now. You beat us every way you could." In handing UCLA its first defeat of the season and breaking the Bruins' winning streak at 25 games, the Webfoots out-shot the Bruins (43%-34%), outrebounded them (56-52) and, most important, outscored them (78-65). Center Stan Love and Forward Rusty Blair led four Oregon scorers in double figures with 19 points apiece, and Blair broke the tide of a UCLA rally early in the second half by firing in five consecutive field goals. The Ducks' win, coupled with their victory earlier in the week over Southern Cal 92-83, moved them into second place ahead of the Trojans in the Pacific Eight, and it letf the country without an undefeated major college team.
Neither Utah nor UTEP, the Western Athletic Conference's two best teams, seemed to want the league lead. First conference leader Utah was upset 83-69 by a Colorado State team that used a tenacious man-for-man defense to prevent the Utes from shooting from their favorite spots. The Redskins converted only 36% of their field-goal attempts. Their loss was UTEP's gain, but only temporarily. The Miners, suffering through a dismal 50-31 first half, dropped the WAC lead after a trouncing by Arizona 86-72. Coach Don Haskins turned to shock treatment at the intermission to rally his team. He stayed out of the locker room in hopes that his players would come up with the right answers. They were only slightly better in the second half.
Utah State, which had beaten Denver by 27 points earlier, and Santa Clara were also upset victims. The Aggies' offense was clogged up by the Pioneers' sagging zone defense, and they lost 78-73. Santa Clara again dropped into a tie with Pacific for the West Coast Athletic Conference lead when it was blackjacked by Nevada at Las Vegas 72-70.
New Mexico State trailed West Texas State with 10 minutes remaining to play, but rallied to win 87-73.
1. UCLA (21-1)
2. NEW MEXICO ST. (21-2)
Georgia Coach Ken Rosemond figured he would need hot shooting from his team to beat Kentucky and stay close in the Southeastern Conference race. Rosemond got just what he ordered as the Bulldogs hit 56% of their shots, but he failed to take into account the accuracy of Kentucky's sharpshooters. The Wildcats scored on 62% of their field-goal tries and won 116-86 to knock Georgia out of contention. The Wildcats, who later defeated LSU 121-105 despite 64 points by the Tigers' Pete Maravich, now need only two wins in their final four games to take their 25th SEC title in the league's 38-year history. Center Dan Issel sparked the Kentucky victories over its two closest pursuers with 91 points.
Iowa bounced out two of its top three rivals in the Big Ten with wins on the road. Illinois held the Hawkeyes' Johnny Johnson to 17 points, nine under his average, but Iowa had some defense of its own just when it was needed. With 8:45 to play and the Illini leading 63-60, Glenn (Chickenman) Vidnovic, a skinny, defensive substitute, began guarding Illinois' Rich Howat, who scored 32 points in the game. Vidnovic held Howat without a point for four minutes while his team opened the five-point lead that insured its 83-81 triumph. Johnson was back in top form against Ohio State. After telling Coach Ralph Miller, "Don't worry about me. I'm not going to miss all those eight-footers tonight," Johnson converted 16 of 24 shots and scored a career high of 38 points as Iowa won 97-89. Purdue then handed Illinois its sixth straight loss 88-81 as Rick Mount scored 40 points. The win kept the defending Big Ten champion Boilermakers in contention, two games behind the Hawkeyes.
Western Kentucky sewed up the Ohio Valley Conference championship by defeating Tennessee Tech 100-64 and Morehead 98-74 while independents Notre Dame and Marquette looked like sure choices for the area's two at-large bids to the NCAA tournament. The Irish beat Tulane 115-80, NYU 77-65 and West Virginia 114-78. The Warriors topped Detroit 80-60.
1. KENTUCKY (21-1)
2. IOWA (15-4)
The largest basketball crowd (10,050) in state history jammed the Jacksonville Coliseum last week to see Jacksonville revenge its only loss of the season by beating Florida State 85-81. The Dolphins' 7'2" Artis Gilmore dominated the game, scoring 19 points, snaring 21 rebounds and blocking eight shots, but he was not alone. Guard Rex Morgan passed for 11 assists, and Chip Dublin and Pembrook Burrows III combined to score 11 consecutive points in the first half to bring Jacksonville from six points behind into the lead. The crusher for FSU came with 10:35 left to play in the second period when Willie Williams, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds in all, fouled out. Williams had just rallied the Seminoles with 11 straight points to tie the score 59-59.
With St. Bonaventure, which defeated St. Francis (N.Y.) 87-57 and LIU 71-61, virtually assured an at-large bid to the NCAA championships, Niagara, St. John's, Villanova and Duquesne battled for the right to join the Bonnies. Niagara, 19-4 for the year, looks like the best bet after beating St. John's 72-70. Calvin Murphy led the Purple Eagles with 32 points, including the two decisive free throws with 14 seconds remaining in the game.
"I especially wanted to beat Duquesne because at the end of last year's game they were freezing the ball and I was pressing myself," remembered Villanova Guard Fran O'Hanlon. "They were going between their legs and behind their backs and they were making a fool out of me." As the Wildcats won 94-83 last week, O'Hanlon was nobody's fool. He scored 21 points and added 11 assists, including four baskets and three feeds during a seven-minute stretch in the second half when his team came from eight points behind to a four-point edge.
Syracuse's hot-tempered, 6'11" center, Bill Smith, was suspended indefinitely by his school as a result of clouting a referee a week ago at the close of the Orangemen's loss to West Virginia.
Davidson was upset 79-76 in overtime by Duke but later clinched its third straight regular-season Southern Conference title by beating George Washington 91-74. Boston College jolted Georgetown's hopes for a bid to New York's National Invitation Tournament with a 79-69 victory.
1. S. CAROLINA (21-2)
2. ST. BONA (19-1)