On the Road Back
By the time Notre Dame took in Les Misèrables on Broadway last Saturday night, it was hard to believe that only a week earlier the musical's title could have described the Fighting Irish themselves. Notre Dame was 1-5 then and saddled with a horrible schedule that, starting Dec. 6, would leave the Irish without a home game for 48 days—a span of nine games. Last week, though, the Irish righted themselves with three straight wins, including an impressive 88-76 defeat of No. 8 North Carolina at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
The Irish started the week with a 64-58 win over No. 23 USC and an 87-79 defeat of LaSalle before giving first-year coach John MacLeod the kind of victory at the Garden he needed more of last season as coach of the New York Knicks. MacLeod traces the Irish's revival back to a practice session the day after Christmas.
"Suddenly things started to click," he says. "The big guys started pounding the boards, and the guards started attacking. I knew if we could keep up that level of performance, we'd be all right."
Forward Daimon Sweet and guard Elmer Bennett have helped lead the transformation, but forward LaPhonso Ellis is the key. He missed parts of his sophomore and junior seasons because of academic ineligibility, but against the Tar Heels he was spectacular, leading the Irish with 31 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and four steals. "He's thinking of the NBA and is really playing harder," said North Carolina coach Dean Smith after the game. "He looks thinner."
He is. Ellis lost 20 pounds and reduced his body fat from 13% to 8% in the off-season. And he has improved just as noticeably in the classroom. He had a 3.15 GPA last semester and is now only 12 hours away from a degree in accounting.
Let's Hear It for the Scorer
The final score was 258-141. In the time it took to read that, Troy (Ala.) State probably could have made two three-pointers and a layup. That's how fast the Trojans were scoring in their record-setting home-court win over DeVry Institute of Technology, an NAIA school from Decatur, Ga., on Sunday.
The Trojans made 51 of 109 three-point attempts, both figures being NCAA records. Their 123 points in the first half was an NCAA mark until they scored 135 in the second. In short, the next time someone asks what team holds the NCAA record for anything having to do with scoring, guess Troy State.
The Trojans (13-3 at week's end), are a Division II independent. They opened this season with 14 straight road games and won 11 of them. The only losses were to Division I Auburn, Wyoming and Georgia Southern. But nothing they've done before will draw as much attention as that 258-141 score.
"It's ironic it happened in the 100th year of basketball," said Troy State coach Don Maestri. "I don't think Dr. Naismith ever expected to see the ball go through the peach basket this often."
The Wimp Factor
When Wimp Sanderson, the ever-pessimistic coach at Alabama, learned his team was ranked 17th in the preseason by the Associated Press, he said, "If we're Number 17 in the nation, it's a sick nation." That kind of negativity may be why the Crimson Tide has one of the country's most underappreciated programs, despite having gone to the NCAA tournament nine times in 11 years under Sanderson and having reached the Sweet 16 six of those seasons, including the last two. But it's hard to ignore Alabama this season. Its 65-63 win over Arkansas last week added to an impressive list of victims that includes Virginia, North Carolina State and Villanova. At week's end the Tide was 14-1.
Alabama wins with defense—it held the Razorbacks to 39.7% shooting—but it is anything but bland. Sophomore guard James Robinson, who scored 20 points against Arkansas, is nearly as flashy as Sanderson's plaid sport coats. Robinson likes his nickname, Hollywood, so much that he signs it on his classwork.
Then there is his teammate, Robert Horry, a talented but inconsistent 6'9" senior forward who has given headaches to Sanderson. Horry has worked to improve his attitude this season. "Robert has been very unselfish," Sanderson said recently. "I'm proud of the way he's playing."
Not so fast, Coach. That was before Horry inexplicably hoisted up a shot with 15 seconds left and the Tide leading Arkansas by one point—when Alabama could have simply run out the clock.
Sanderson worries enough without lapses like Horry's. He schedules Saturday games for the afternoon partly because that gives him less time to agonize about them beforehand. He's not exactly calm during the games, either. "I'm not the world's best analyst [after games]," says Sanderson. "I get so emotional and can't remember what happened. I don't know what state I'm in." He is, of course, in a football state, but the Tide's basketball team has carved out a corner for itself.
The Haarlem Shuffle
Bowling Green coach Jim Larranaga thought a tournament in Holland would be a good way for his young team to gain experience. He didn't know how bizarre that experience would be.
The Falcons, with nine freshmen on their roster, were supposed to be overmatched at the Haarlem Week Basketball Tournament, from which they returned last week. The 12-team field included two pro teams from Israel, the Australian and Lithuanian national teams, a World Basketball League all-star team and several European teams with former NBA players, such as Purvis Short and David Thirdkill. So it was no surprise when the Falcons lost their first two games, 99-82 to the Lithuanians and 72-69 to Commodore den Helder, the top club team in the Netherlands. But Bowling Green got a reprieve when a Greek squad that had won its first two games abruptly returned home for a league game. A coin flip was held between Bowling Green and one of the Israeli teams to determine which lucky loser would replace the Greeks.
Given new life, the Falcons pulled off two upsets, edging Commodore 68-67 in a rematch and then beating Kalev Tallinn, an Estonian team, 92-89, to earn a spot in the finals. The win over Commodore might have been the strangest part of a strange tournament. The Dutch fans abandoned their home team and rooted wildly for the Falcons. "Every Bowling Green score was received with loud, jubilant cries of joy," according to Mart Smeets, a Dutch television sportscaster.
"They were the best crowd I ever saw," Larranaga said. "They were clapping, singing, cheering; it was unbelievable."
The unexpected home-court advantage couldn't carry Bowling Green through the championship game, however. The Australians blew out the Falcons 93-57. But Bowling Green was consoled somewhat when its point guard, Michael Huger, who is from Harlem, was voted the most spectacular player in Haarlem.
After the Northwestern State team bus broke down, all the players and coaches had to hitchhike about 50 miles to Shreveport. La., for the Demons' game against Centenary. Some arrived in cars and some in an 18-wheeler, but the Demons still prevailed, 112-77.... Through Sunday, forward Ginny Doyle of Richmond had made all 53 of her free throws this season, breaking the single-season NCAA women's record of 49 straight, and had a string of 59 going back to last season, the alltime record.
At the Garden, Ellis and the Irish brought a formidable foe to Heel.
'Bama has blazed to a fast start, and it's also strong on finishes, as Darby Rich shows here.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
LaPhonso Ellis, Notre Dame's 6'8" senior forward, averaged 23 points, 13.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks as the Irish defeated No. 23 Southern Cal 64-58, LaSalle 87-79 and No. 8 North Carolina 88-76.
Sheryl Swoopes, a 6-foot junior forward for Texas Tech, scored 56 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and had 10 steals in a pair of Red Raider victories, 98-76 over SMU and 78-65 over 21st-ranked Texas.
Shelby Petersen, a 5'8" sophomore guard, scored 58 points on 20-of-27 shooting, including 15 of 21 three-point tries, to lead the Division II South Dakota women over Peru State 95-60 and Morningside 94-80.