PASSING THE TEST
If Illinois goes on to win the Big Ten, coach Lou Henson may look back at last Saturday's 75-65 victory over Indiana as the one that proved his team's mettle. Earlier in the week the nation's No. 1 ranking had dropped by Champaign-Urbana for a brief visit before Minnesota upset the Illini 69-62 in Minneapolis on Thursday night. Illinois's first loss of the season was also its first game without three-point specialist Kendall Gill, who fractured the fifth metatarsal bone of his left foot four days earlier against Georgia Tech.
As if losing Gill for eight weeks wasn't depressing enough, forward Nick Anderson was helped off the floor with an apparent knee injury late in the first half against Indiana, and the Hoosiers held a 35-25 lead at intermission.
But Henson marshaled his troops for a stirring comeback. The rally was led by forward Kenny Battle, who scored 16 of his game-high 22 points in the second half, and, yes, Anderson, who got 17 of his 21 points even with a painful twisted knee. In the first 8:46 of the second half, Illinois outscored the Hoosiers 26-9. "They were able to jack it up a gear, maybe two gears, in the second half," said Indiana coach Bob Knight. "That's the mark of a good team."
Illinois was back on track, and Indiana's 13-game winning streak was over—not least because of Hoosier shooting star Jay Edwards's sudden inability to hit from the foul line. The Big Ten leader in free throw percentage last year (.917), he went a shocking 1 for 6 in the final 4:14 against the Illini. Still, Edwards's futility at the line didn't upset Knight nearly as much as a couple of soft Edwards passes that Illinois converted into breakaway slams.
"I just didn't think he was playing at a pace that was anywhere near the pace of the game," Knight said. "He isn't ever going to be a really good basketball player until he learns that. It's just a good thing that he's playing for a man with extraordinary patience."
Huh? Well, Knight realistically can't get too angry with his squad of over-achievers. Only two of Knight's teams, the juggernauts of 1975-76 and '76-77, ever won as many as 13 in a row (during one stretch over those two seasons, the Hoosiers had a 34-game winning streak). And with the Michigan and Illinois road games behind them, the Hoosiers, 6-1 in the Big Ten and 16-5 overall, are in fine shape.
THE HILLS ARE ALIVE
West Virginia, which turned out to be the surprise of the college football season, also has a sleeper in hoops. The Mountaineers had a 15-2 record and a 14-game winning streak after their 98-82 win over Duquesne on Jan. 28 in Pittsburgh, and they are starting to dream of becoming the first West Virginia team to make it to the Final Four since 1960, Jerry West's senior season.
"I like this team," says coach Gale Catlett. "We can press you, run you, zone you when we have to. And we have great quickness."
Indeed, the Mountaineers rely on a relentless man-to-man defense (allowing foes only 39.4% from the floor) and a jam-it-inside offense that has made 6'8" senior Darryl Prue and 6'6" sophomore Chris Brooks among the hottest shooting duos in the nation. Brooks is hitting 64% from the floor, Prue 63.9%.
The downside is that both Brooks and Prue are struggling at the line, each converting only around 40%. To keep opponents from exploiting Prue and Brooks at the end of close games, Catlett wants his team to feed guards Steve Berger and Herbie Brooks, both of whom are better than 78% from the foul line.
"This is the best team I've ever seen at West Virginia," says Duquesne's Jim Satalin, who's in his 16th season as a head coach. "They've got to be one of the top 10 or 12 teams in the country."
BIG DOINGS IN THE DOME
Even before televangelist Jimmy Swaggart's fall from grace, there were folks in Baton Rouge who swore that Swaggart was only the second-best preacher in town, after LSU basketball coach Dale Brown. Since going to LSU in 1972, Brown has done a remarkable job of selling roundball in football country. Yet not even Brown could have foreseen what transpired Saturday 80 miles down Interstate 10 in the Louisiana Super-dome. A crowd of 54,321—a regular-season college basketball record, larger than the 52,693 who watched Houston beat UCLA 71-69 in the Astrodome on Jan. 20, 1968—saw the Tigers upset Georgetown 82-80 on Ricky Blanton's follow shot at the buzzer.
Blanton's game-winner came after a Georgetown free throw by Charles Smith with 20 seconds left. The Tigers got the ball into the hands of Chris Jackson, the sensational 6'1" freshman guard whose 26 points led LSU, but he was triple-teamed and had to dish off to reserve guard Russell Grant. Grant's shot was tipped by the Hoyas' Alonzo Mourning, but Wayne Sims, who scored 24 in a strong effort, knocked the loose ball to Blanton, who shoveled it in.
While Georgetown coach John Thompson said the crowd wasn't nearly as distracting as a full house in a smaller arena, Brown chose to label the event "the greatest game I've ever been involved with." The reason? "I love Louisiana, and I think of what a wonderful recruiting advantage it will be," said Brown, no doubt hoping the national exposure might help him spread the gospel that with 7-footer Stanley Roberts—sitting out because of Proposition 48—set to join Jackson next season, the future looks super for at least one preacher man in Baton Rouge.
Last season Pitt's celebrated front line of Charles Smith, Jerome Lane and Demetreus Gore averaged 40.6 points and 24 rebounds a game. Their replacements—Brian Shorter, Bobby Martin and Darelle Porter—are averaging 40.6 points and 22.9 rebounds....
Our advice to coaches: Get yourself a Sanders. Jeff of Georgia Southern, Kenny of George Mason, Fernando of Monmouth (N.J.), J.D. of Texas Tech, Robert Lee of Jacksonville (Ala.) State, and, coming off the bench, Yamen of Central Michigan, have averaged a combined 103.7 points a game. The six Sanderses, who aren't related, might make quite a team. Only Loyola Marymount (109.7) and Oklahoma (109.5) are averaging more than 103.7 points this season.
Lowell Hamilton (45) helped the Illini stuff the Hoosiers and their 13-game win streak.
Knight consoled Gill, whose injury dampened Illinois's prospects.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Michigan State's 6'1" junior guard came off the bench to score 64 points in wins over Purdue and Minnesota. In the 106-83 victory over Purdue, he had 40 points, including eight three-pointers.