COMING OF AGE
Arizona's frontline rotation of 6'11" Sean Rooks, 6'11" Brian Williams and 7-foot Ed Stokes has been dubbed the Tucson Skyline, but LSU sophomore center Shaquille O'Neal flattened the landscape considerably last Saturday. In leading the Tigers to a 92-82 victory over No. 2 Arizona in Baton Rouge, the 7'1" O'Neal laid claim to the title of the nation's best big man.
O'Neal, who is only 18 years old, shook off a pulled stomach muscle and foul trouble to take command of the game down the stretch, scoring 16 points in the final six minutes. He finished with 29 points, 14 rebounds, six blocks and five steals while playing only 28 minutes. "I wanted to dominate the game," O'Neal said. "That's the next step for me. I want to be one of those dominating centers."
O'Neal is getting the best possible tutoring toward that goal. He worked out with Bill Walton for four days before Thanksgiving (at LSU's expense), and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar flew in to watch O'Neal on Saturday and worked out with him after the game. Walton has been especially helpful in teaching O'Neal how to play with foul trouble. O'Neal fouled out of nine games last season, but he hasn't been disqualified in any of LSU's five games this year, though he has had four fouls in three of them.
O'Neal's emergence has undoubtedly been aided by the early departures of last season's leading scorer for LSU, Chris Jackson, who went to the NBA, and of 7-footer Stanley Roberts, who left the Tigers to play in Europe. There is no question that O'Neal is now the focus of the Tigers' offense, and he has proved himself worthy of the spotlight. Through last weekend, he has averaged 25 points, 14.8 rebounds and 4.8 blocked shots.
"When the big fella plays like that," said LSU coach Dale Brown, "I suddenly become an awfully smart coach."
Maybe coach Roy Williams of Kansas and coach Rick Pitino of Kentucky should stop trying to bury the hatchet over the hard feelings stirred up by the Jayhawks' 150-95 drubbing of the Wildcats a year ago. Every time they do, they seem to reopen the wounds. No doubt Kentucky's 88-71 victory over Kansas last Saturday made the Wildcats feel a little better, but it was clear that there was still bad blood between Williams and Pitino.
Let's review: In Kansas's rout last year, Pitino was upset because Williams left starting forward Mark Randall in the game with less than four minutes remaining and the Jayhawks ahead by more than 40 points. Pitino later phoned Williams to voice his displeasure, and the issue might have ended there if Williams hadn't 1) told the media about Pitino's call, and 2) informed the press that he had researched Pitino's coaching history and found, among other things, that in Kentucky's 111-75 rout of Tennessee Tech last season, Pitino's leading scorer, Derrick Miller, had logged more total minutes than Randall had against the Wildcats. Williams said that he brought this up only to show how easy it is to appear to be running up the score.
"The idea of a personal call is to patch things up on a personal level and not to report them back to the media," Pitino said. "And I do not appreciate someone looking things up like that. He does not have to look up anybody else's box score, anybody else's history. He does not have to look up my NBA Knicks scores. He just has to concentrate on coaching Kansas.... Let's forget about this nonsense."
On Saturday, Kentucky couldn't administer the kind of whipping it had taken from Kansas last season, but the Wildcat players admitted they tried. Point guard Sean Woods, who led Kentucky with 25 points, said the desire for revenge was "a hunger."
Pitino, who has refused to schedule Kansas again, said he wouldn't have tried for a similarly lopsided score even if the Wildcats could have done it. "I'll give [Williams] a little advice from a good old country boy from Kentucky," said the New York City-born Pitino, tongue in cheek. "The best thing for him to do in this situation is to turn the page. Forget about [last season's] game."
We would all like to, gentlemen, but you won't let us.
THE BEASTS ARE BACK
Big East teams won six of the eight games in the ACC-Big East Challenge last week, a fact you'll probably be hard-pressed to remember a month from now. The series, played among 16 teams at four different sites, didn't really prove anything about the relative strengths of the conferences—eight games in December never will—but there were several developments worth noting. For instance:
•Georgia Tech guard Kenny Anderson showed that even prodigies can have slumps. Anderson made only five of 20 shots in a 73-72 overtime loss to St. John's on Dec. 5, dropping his field goal percentage for the season to 37.8. Although he bounced back to score 32 points in a 92-72 victory over Fordham on Saturday, Anderson is evidently feeling the pressure caused by the departures to the NBA of forward Dennis Scott and guard Brian Oliver. "Kenny's struggling because too much is expected of him," said Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins. "He's trying to do too much."
•Syracuse discovered that it must continue to wait for a new, more mature LeRon Ellis to emerge. After a disappointing '89-90 season in which the center complained frequently about cheap fouls and officiating, among other things, Ellis was said to be a new man this season. That was before he ran into the locker room in the middle of the second half of Syracuse's 86-79 win over North Carolina State on Dec. 4. Evidently, harsh criticism from coach Jim Boeheim about unaggressive play had driven Ellis from the court. An assistant coach quickly brought him back to the bench, but the Boeheim-Ellis situation bears watching.
•Georgetown's Alonzo Mourning gained a measure of revenge against Duke's Christian Laettner, who outplayed Mourning in the East Regional final two years ago, when both were freshmen. In a 79-74 victory over the Blue Devils on Dec. 5, Mourning had 22 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks, and he helped harass Laettner into missing 17 of 22 shots. The difference, said Laettner, was that "Alonzo didn't get into foul trouble. My freshman year, it wasn't that he didn't play well. He had to guard Danny Ferry and that allowed me to get free buckets."
•Although North Carolina's five freshmen and Duke's Grant Hill have received more notice, Wake Forest freshman Rodney Rogers might have a bigger impact on his team than any other ACC newcomer. Rogers, a versatile 6'7" forward, scored 19 points in the second half against Villa-nova after having been shut out in the first half. The Deacons lost, but if you're looking for an ACC sleeper, they might not be a bad choice.
If Wichita State keeps playing well, the Shockers are going to have to learn how to celebrate their victories properly. In a game against No. 12 Alabama on Dec. 4 in Wichita, forward Claudius Johnson scored as the first half ended, giving the Shockers a 33-31 lead. Wichita State coach Mike Cohen was so excited he leapt into the air, and came down awkwardly on his left leg.
Cohen felt pain in his knee, and instead of giving a half-time talk, he had the knee examined by a doctor. During the second half, he returned on crutches and wearing a brace to protect a ruptured tendon in the knee and watched as the Shockers upset Alabama 74-71. The next day Cohen underwent surgery, and he's expected to wear the brace for six to eight weeks. He may keep the brace and crutches as good luck charms. Wichita State pulled off another upset four nights later, beating Oklahoma State 72-69.
Cohen wasn't the only Shocker who was hurt against Alabama. Center Phil Mendelson was fouled with 6.6 seconds left in overtime and opened up a bloody gash under his right eye that would later require five stitches. He stayed in the game, though, and made two crucial free throws.
Though Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson escaped Levitt Arena without injury, he was pained by his team's performance. He closed the Tide's dressing room and would not allow the players to talk to reporters. But Sanderson had plenty to say later. "We have a problem, and if it's me, I'll leave," he said. "It's a disgrace, having the ability we have. Georgia beat [Wichita State] by 44 and Dartmouth, which doesn't even give scholarships, beat them by 15. I know they're tough at home, but this is a disgrace."
Actually, Georgia only beat the Shockers by 31 and Dartmouth won by 11, but Sanderson has a point.
SHE DOES IT ALL
Baylor center Maggie Stinnett will tell you that she's a bit over her ideal weight, but no one at the school is complaining. After all, having had a baby so recently does make it hard to stay in shape.
Stinnett, nee Maggie Davis, sat out last season because she was pregnant, and she gave birth to Earl Wayne Stinnett II in May. Though Stinnett claims she's not playing as well as she did before her pregnancy, she leads the Bears with an average of 15.4 points and 9.9 rebounds a game. How much did they miss her? They were 4-23 without her last season, but have won five of their first eight games this year.
Stinnett is a sixth-year senior who red-shirted her freshman season after injuring an ankle in her first game, then played three seasons. She made the all-conference first team as a sophomore and junior. The pregnancy forced her to miss her fifth year of eligibility, which is normally the maximum the NCAA allows, but Stinnett took advantage of a provision that allows the five-year clock to be extended for a variety of circumstances, pregnancy among them.
Juggling the demands of a baby, class-work and basketball isn't especially difficult, according to Stinnett. "My husband is a big help, and we have a baby-sitter who helps as well," she said. "It really comes down to time management. You don't have a lot of time to waste." But there are also rewards, one of which is a loyal cheering section.
"Little Earl is a good fan," Stinnett said. "He hasn't missed a home game."
ANOTHER BIAS TRAGEDY
When James (Jay) Bias died last week, in the same Maryland hospital in which his brother Len had been declared dead four years ago, it was almost too cruel a twist of fate to be believed. Both had so many things in common—youth, strength, athletic talent. Len, a star forward at the University of Maryland, had overdosed on cocaine and died on June 19, 1986, the day after he was taken in the first round of the NBA draft by the Boston Celtics. Now Jay was dead at age 20, shot and killed in the parking lot of a Hyattsville, Md., shopping mall after apparently trying his best to avoid a dispute with the alleged gunman, Jerry Tyler, in a jewelry store.
Jay was a talented basketball player whose passion for the game seemed to wither after his brother's death. In 1987-88, Jay, a 6'7" forward, averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds as a senior at Northwestern High in Hyattsville, but academic problems kept him from accepting a scholarship to a four-year school. Instead, he enrolled at Allegany (Md.) Community College, where he averaged 17 points and eight rebounds in his only season.
"He was one of the top five or 10 freshman players in junior college," said Rick Ball, who publishes a junior college recruiting newsletter. "He wasn't as polished as Lenny, but he had big-time college talent."
Providence and James Madison were among the schools that were interested in Bias, but he left Allegany in 1989, and he never played organized basketball again after that.
"He didn't seem like the same Jay as far as basketball was concerned," said Clinton Venable, who played with Bias at Northwestern and Allegany and now plays for Bowling Green. "I used to think it would be a shame if he didn't use his talent, but now that seems like such a small thing. First Len and now Jay. It's just not fair."
Guard Greg Sutton of Oral Roberts averaged 46 points in four games last week, including a school-record 68 in a 116-114 overtime loss to Oklahoma City University and a tournament-record 48 against Texas Southern in Arkansas State's Citizens Bank Classic in Jonesboro. The previous tournament record was held by a young gunner from Rutgers who scored 38 points for the Scarlet Knights in a game in 1965. His name: Jim Valvano....
It was a strange week for the NAIA's Texas College, which lost by 94 points in one game and two points in another. The 159-65 blowout was administered by Southern University; Prairie View A&M claimed a 2-0 forfeit victory when Texas College didn't show up for a game, saying the contract for the game arrived too late. "They sent us a contract 10 days [before the game], which we didn't respond to," said Texas College athletic director Richard Watkins. "It would be pretty tough to say we forfeited."...
You've heard about those fast-food giveaways at basketball games? Well, imagine how UCLA fans felt after the Bruins beat Notre Dame 99-91 last Saturday in Pauley Pavilion. A local eatery offers free hamburgers to the first 500 fans with ticket stubs from any game in which UCLA scores 100 points or more, and the Bruins just missed the century mark despite a steady chant from the crowd in the final minutes of "Whopper! Whopper!"
Despite his limited playing time, O'Neal left the Wildcats' vaunted front line in shambles.
Mourning had the Blue Devils feeling blue indeed as he evened a two-year-old score.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Louisiana State's 7'1" sophomore center, Shaquille O'Neal, averaged 24 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks as the Tigers beat Chapman College, 101-68, and upset No. 2-ranked Arizona, 92-82.
Dana Chatman, Louisiana State's 5'5" senior point guard, scored 31 points and had 10 rebounds and seven assists in another Tiger upset, an 84-75 defeat of No. 5-ranked Louisiana Tech.
Columbus Parker, a 6-foot sophomore guard for Johnson C. Smith, averaged 34 points and 4.3 rebounds as the Bulls beat Hampton 78-54 and Virginia State 88-73 and lost 107-82 to Virginia Union.