TEMPLE OF DOOM
West Virginia, which hoped to silence its doubters with a convincing win at Temple, instead gave them more fuel as the Mountaineers lost to the Owls 74-56 to end the nation's longest winning streak at 22. It now appears that coach Gale Catlett's team isn't quite as good as its record indicates. Sound familiar, West Virginia football fans?
The Mountaineers made the mistake of concentrating so hard on stopping guard Mark Macon and center Duane Causwell that they created openings for 6'7" freshman guard Mik Kilgore, who scored 33 points, 14 more than his career high.
On offense Catlett had to be most disappointed with forwards Darryl Prue and Chris Brooks, who together had only nine points, 17 below their combined season average.
Yet take it from Temple coach John Chaney, it would be a mistake to write the Mountaineers off. Chaney called them a "very, very good team," which deserves to be in the Top 20. With their 23-3 record, they are a lock for an NCAA berth.
Chaney's own Owls are in a more tenuous position. Now 16-10, they may have to beat the Mountaineers again in the Atlantic 10 tourney to make the NCAA field. The first two rounds of the conference tournament will be played in Philadelphia's Palestra, but a rematch would be played on the higher seed's home court, in this case West Virginia's.
Louisville, perennially one of the nation's hottest teams as tournament time approaches, finds itself in disarray after one of the most confusing, confounding stretches in Denny Crum's 18 seasons as the Cardinals' head coach.
The trouble actually began when 6'9" senior center Pervis Ellison sprained a ligament in his left knee in a game against Ohio State on Jan. 29. At the time, the Cards were on a tear and probably would have been ranked No. 1 had they not lost to the Buckeyes. But Louisville rolled on, knocking off Virginia Tech at home 108-95 and then Memphis State on the road 101-85.
When Ellison returned against Florida State on Feb. 6, the Cardinals looked invincible. Strangely, however, the team lost four of its next seven. Internal problems came to the surface last week when senior forward Kenny Payne criticized his teammates after a 72-67 home-court loss to Memphis State in which the Cards spotted the visitors an incredible 24-0 lead. "If some guys aren't playing hard," Payne said, "Coach Crum needs to say, 'Take a seat.' "
Crum considered that, but finally decided to stick with the usual lineup two nights later against Southern Mississippi, and the Cards responded with a 96-83 win. "Better," said Crum, "but I'm still not sure we're over [the slump]." He was right. On Saturday the Cards lost at South Carolina 77-73.
The question now is whether the Cards have enough time, or desire, to regain the chemistry that has made them so formidable. "We had been playing great when Pervis got hurt," said a concerned Crum. ""At that point, people's roles changed. And when Pervis came back, we had to change back, but we've had a hard time doing it."
Look for Crum to shuffle his Cards, especially the guards, as the team heads toward a March 10 return to South Carolina for the Metro tournament.
SO LONG—UNTIL SEATTLE?
On his farewell tour, wrapping up a 38-year career at the age of 69. Oregon State's Ralph Miller has so far collected a beer stein, a pictorial book on Idaho, a Stanford golf bag, a print of the Grand Canyon, a videotape of the Southern Cal song girls, a Caribbean cruise, and golf vacations to San Diego and Arizona. But the best gift of all has come from his team, which is 19-6 and hoping to give him his 10th appearance in the NCAA tournament. After a tough 60-58 loss to Stanford in Corvallis on Saturday, the Beavers are one game behind UCLA in the race for the No. 3 spot in the Pac-10.
An NCAA bid would be a fine exit for Miller, one of only six coaches to take three different schools to the tournament. (Miller did it with Wichita State, Iowa and Oregon State.) A spot in the Final Four would be even better, considering that Miller has never had a team advance that far, but the distance to Seattle is longer for Oregon State than it is for, say, Georgetown or North Carolina. That's because the Beavers are weak inside, both offensively and defensively.
Says Washington coach Andy Russo, "They're a rather unorthodox group. They don't ever post a guy up. They don't really guard you much inside. Their rebounding is bad. But they get it done. They force a lot of turnovers. They play with a lot of intelligence and a lot of poise, and it's just truly a pleasure to watch them."
The Beavers' catalyst is 6'3" point guard Gary Payton, who ranked fourth nationally in assists and 12th in steals, going into last weekend. The conference's leading scorer, with a 22.2 average, Payton is also the best outside shooter on a team that leads the Pac-10 in three-point shots attempted and made.
Yet for all his good qualities as a player, Pay-ton has made enemies of opponents because of the way he mouths off during games. "I'm just a competitor," Payton says. "I do those things because I want to win."
Some observers contend that because this is his last year, Miller is letting Payton get away with behavior that he wouldn't have tolerated before. But Miller sees a lot of himself in his feisty floor leader. "Gary hates to lose and so do I," Miller says. "I even hate to lose at cards. I think I can relate very closely to his attitude about sports."
A day after coach Ron Greene announced his resignation, effective at season's end, his Indiana State players got into a nasty donnybrook with Wichita State. Seven Sycamores were ejected, leaving only four to play most of the second half against Wichita. And after two of those fouled out, Greene's team had only two men on the floor for the last thirty seconds of the Shockers' 84-69 win....
In Tom Penders's first season at Texas, the Horns have hooked some impressive numbers: 21 victories (for the first time since 1979), a school-record 2,607 points, and an average attendance of 10,009 (up from 4,027 last season)....
Rice's junior guard D'Wayne Tanner isn't sure what to make of the Houston newspaper that, noting a supposed facial resemblance between Tanner and UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, ran side-by-side photos of the two. Said Tanner, who is black, "I never thought I'd be compared with a short, bald white man." Speaking of UNLV, Runnin' Rebel star Stacey Augmon claims the media is responsible for the team's lousy free throw shooting (62.3%). Says Augmon: "If people keep making a big deal about it, pretty soon we won't make any....
You guys need to stop it." Got that, guys? Don't harp on the fact that Vegas made only 5 of 12 at the line in its 88-87 loss to LSU.
Prue has been a big player for the Mountaineers, but he came up short against the Owls.
Payton leads the Pacific-10 in both scoring and riling up foes.
Miller is making sure his last hurrah is something to cheer about.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Michigan's 6'7" senior forward scored 68 points in wins over Wisconsin and Ohio State. Rice converted all seven of his three-point shots and scored 38 points as the Wolverines beat the Badgers 92-70.