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A roundup of the week Dec. 12-18

PRO BASKETBALL—In the numbers game of the season, the Pistons sneaked by the Nuggets 186-184 in triple overtime in Denver. There were 251 shots, 142 baskets, 32 tie scores and 19 lead changes, and the game took three hours and 11 minutes to complete. Six NBA records, including most total points in a game, most assists and most field goals, were set. Detroit scored eight unanswered points in the last OT to get the win. For Denver, Alex English scored 17 fourth-quarter points, and Kiki Vandeweghe had a game-high 51. Utah streaked to the Midwest Division lead, jumping ahead early and coasting in wins over Houston (138-111) and Golden State (127-111). Milwaukee held on to the Central Division lead despite dropping three of four, including a 96-88 loss to Chicago. That snapped the Bulls' eight-game losing streak. Philadelphia clung to a slim lead over Boston in the Atlantic Division. The Celtics received important help from the bench in two wins: Kevin McHale scored 30 points in a 129-115 victory over Detroit, and Larry Bird, though hobbling on an ailing right knee, got 13, including the gamer with :04 left, as Boston beat Cleveland 110-108. Los Angeles, led by James Worthy's 28 points, regained the Pacific Division lead from Portland, 122-115.

BOXING—JEFF CHANDLER retained his WBA bantamweight title with a seventh-round technical knockout of Oscar Muniz in Atlantic City (page 22).

COLLEGE FOOTBALL—SOUTHERN ILLINOIS crushed Western Carolina 43-7 to win the NCAA Division I-AA championship in Charleston, S.C.

Carson-Newman beat Mesa College 36-28 to win the NAIA title in Grand Junction, Colo.

Tennessee defeated Maryland 30-23 to win the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

Northern Illinois beat Cal State-Fullerton 20-13 to win the California Bowl in Fresno.

PRO FOOTBALL—The Saints may no longer be 'Aints, but for the 17th time they ain't in the playoffs. Los Angeles Ram Kicker Mike Lansford slipped a 42-yard field goal just inside the left goalpost with :02 left and slipped the Rams past New Orleans 26-24 and into the playoffs. L.A. Quarterback Vince Ferragamo completed six of eight passes in the final 53-yard drive, after not connecting on any in the first 28 minutes of the second half. Chicago eliminated Green Bay from the playoff picture 23-21 on Bob Thomas' 22-yard field goal with :10 remaining. With that loss, the Packers, who had beaten Tampa Bay 12-9 in overtime the previous Monday night, conceded the NFC Central title to Detroit. The Lions themselves had to scramble to edge the Bucs 23-20. Washington clinched the NFC East crown by coming from behind to beat the New York Giants 31-22. Giants Kicker Ali Haji-Sheikh, a rookie, kicked five field goals to finish the year with 35, a league record. Seattle Quarterback David Krieg threw touchdown passes of 46 and 16 yards in a 24-6 win over New England, clinching a wild-card berth for the Seahawks, their first playoff spot ever. That victory eliminated Cleveland, although the Browns beat AFC Central champion Pittsburgh 30-17 on Quarterback Brian Sipe's four TD passes. The L.A. Raiders, No. 1 in the AFC West, gained the home-field advantage for the playoffs by whipping San Diego 30-14. Miami, the AFC East champ, thumped the New York Jets 34-14. Dolphin Safety Mike Kozlowski returned two interceptions for touchdowns within 61 seconds in the fourth quarter to seal the win. Denver, the other AFC wild-card team, was trounced by Kansas City 48-17; St. Louis crushed Philadelphia 31-7; Atlanta routed Buffalo 31-14, and Baltimore beat Houston 20-10.

HOCKEY—It grates on Gretzky. The Great One scored in his 31st consecutive game, breaking his own record, but the Smythe Division-leading Oilers still couldn't beat the Islanders. Butch Goring scored four goals in the Patrick Division leaders' 8-5 rout, their ninth straight victory over Edmonton. The Islanders stretched their unbeaten streak to seven by thrashing the Rangers 7-1 at Nassau Coliseum. They scored five goals in the last 9:25 to break open a close game. Norris Division-leading Minnesota was shut out for the first time this season at home by the suddenly respectable New Jersey Devils. The 2-0 win was the first shutout by Devils Goalie Chico Resch in 168 games. Thanks to Chicago, Buffalo tied Boston for the lead in the Adams Division. The Black Hawks beat Boston 5-2, while the Sabres defeated Hartford 4-1 and Vancouver 3-2.

HORSE RACING—FALI TIME ($23.40), ridden by Sandy Hawley, won the $1 million Hollywood Futurity at Hollywood Park by half a length over Bold T. Jay. The 2-year-old colt ran the 1[1/16] miles in 1:41[3/5].

INDOOR SOCCER—MISL: Cleveland Forward Craig Allen scored two goals in the Eastern Division leader's 8-5 defeat of Memphis. Kansas City took a one-game lead in the West with a 6-5 shootout victory over Buffalo.

NASL: Forward Stan Terlecki exploded for five goals to give the Cosmos a 12-7 win over Tampa Bay. That avenged a 6-3 victory by the Rowdies (their first of the season) two nights earlier and gained the Cosmos a share of the league lead with Golden Bay, which beat Tulsa 9-6.

MILEPOSTS—HIRED: As manager of the New York Yankees, YOGI BERRA, 58, who managed the Yankees to the American League pennant in 1964 and the Mets to the National League crown in 1973. He replaces BILLY MARTIN, 55, who was fired after one year of his third stint as Yankee manager.

NAMED: As football coach at Stanford, JACK ELWAY, 52, who had a 55-31-2 record in eight seasons at Cal State-Northridge (1976-78) and San Jose State (1979-83). Elway's successor as coach of the Spartans is his defensive coordinator, CLAUDE GILBERT, 51, who had a 61-26-2 mark at San Diego State from 1973-80.

SUSPENDED: For one year, by Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, outfielders WILLIE WILSON, 28, and JERRY MARTIN, 34, and First Baseman WILLIE AIKENS, 29, all of whom played for the Kansas City Royals last season, and Reliever STEVE HOWE, 25, of the Los Angeles Dodgers, for involvement with cocaine. The cases of Wilson, Martin and Aikens will be reviewed on May 15, while Howe's case won't be reviewed for one year.

DIED: JOHNNY BRIGHT, 53, a star tailback at Drake (1949-51) and a quarterback with the Calgary Stampeders (1952-53) and the Edmonton Eskimos (1954-63) of the Canadian Football League; of a heart attack; in Edmonton. Bright twice led the nation in total offense at Drake. He was inducted into the CFL Hall of Fame in 1970.

Memphis State Football Coach REX DOCKERY, 41, Assistant Coach CHRISTOPHER FAROS, 31, and Defensive Back CHARLES GREENHILL, 19; of injuries suffered when the twin-engine aircraft in which they were passengers crashed near Lawrenceburg, Tenn. Dockery had a record of 23-41-2 in six years at Texas Tech (1978-80) and Memphis State (1981-83).

Doug Kotar, 32, who gained 3,378 yards in eight seasons with the New York Giants (1974-81); of problems arising from a brain tumor; in Pittsburgh.

John Merritt, 57, who was the second-winningest active college football coach before his retirement last month; of heart failure; in Nashville. Merritt had a 233-67-11 record in 31 seasons at Jackson State (1953-62) and Tennessee State (1963-83). Merritt coached TSU to five undefeated seasons and was the Division I-AA Coach of the Year in 1982, but he missed most of the team's games this season because of illness.