In the dead ofwinter in Missoula, Mont., the best place to warm up is at Dahlberg Arena, homeof Montana's red-hot team, the Griz. The team's nickname is the Grizzlies, butcall them that in Missoula and you might as well have OUT-OF-TOWNER stamped onyour forehead.
If you ever getout that way, try to make it to Dahlberg for Spud Night. That's when fans bringpotatoes to be donated to a local food bank in return for free french fries ata Missoula restaurant. The Griz collected about half a ton of spuds on SpudNight last Thursday and celebrated the occasion by whipping Idaho 73-58. Twonights later they beat Boise State 53-48 to improve to 6-0 in the BigSky-Conference and 17-1 overall, the best start in the school's history.
But be sure youget to Dahlberg early. The 9,000-seat arena fills up fast, with fans sitting soclose to the sidelines that they can touch their heroes—and roll the occasionalpotato across the floor during timeouts. Missoulians are crazy about the Griz,which is a major reason why Montana is 264-42 at home since 1971.
"We're theonly game in town," says first-year coach Blaine Taylor, a Missoula native."It's not like Los Angeles, where you have the Lakers, the Clippers. UCLA,USC and on and on. This is Missoula. Around here, we are the Lakers."(Taylor could have said the same for the women's team at Montana. The LadyGriz, led by forward Shannon Cate, have been among the NCAA's top 10 inattendance for each of the last three seasons.)
It helps that theGriz are good, and have been so for two decades. Montana's only losing seasonsince 1971-72 was '77-78, when it forfeited 11 of its 18 wins for using anineligible player.
Taylor, a formerMontana point guard, was the last player Jud Heathcote recruited for the Grizbefore Heathcote left in 1976 to coach Michigan State. "Can you believethat Jud wanted to coach Magic Johnson instead of me?" Taylor says. Taylorhas six Montana-born players on his roster, including 6'11" senior centerDaren Engellant, who is from tiny Geraldine (pop. 350) and is the Griz'sleading scorer (14.5 points per game) and rebounder(8.4).
Montana'sall-senior starting lineup also includes guard Roger Fasting, whom Taylordescribes as the glue of the team, and small forward Delvon Anderson, a juniorcollege transfer from San Francisco, whose arrival last season helped Montanareach the NCAA tournament for the first time in 16 years.
The Griz may beheaded back there this season. But to fully appreciate this team, you have towatch it play in Missoula. You'll walk out into the Montana winter with a warmfeeling.
Late Bloomer inRaleigh
When NorthCarolina State coach Les Robinson sensed that some of his younger players werefrustrated by their lack of playing time earlier this season, he gathered theteam in the locker room and wrote a set of stats on a chalkboard: 2.7 points,1.7 rebounds and 8.1 minutes per game. After the players agreed that thenumbers were lousy, Robinson said, "Those were the freshman stats of thatguy right there." He was pointing to Tom Gugliotta, the team's seniorforward.
Gugliotta hasdeveloped into a probable first-round NBA draft choice and, as such, is thepatron saint of bench warmers, living proof that sometimes hard work reallydoes pay off. His star continued to rise last week, when he scored acareer-high 36 points to lead the Wolfpack to a 99-88 upset of No. 10 NorthCarolina. The 6'10", 240-pound Gugliotta also displayed the skills thathave caught the attention of pro scouts, making eight of 14 three-pointattempts and adding eight rebounds, five assists and four steals. At week's endhe was second in the ACC in scoring (23.3 points a game) and was leading theconference in rebounding (10.1). "Think of [Phoenix forward] Tom Chamberswith a better attitude." said one NBA Eastern Conference scout. "That'swhat Gugliotta has a chance to be if he keeps working hard."
There seems to belittle doubt that he'll keep working. Gugliotta was a 6'7". 190-poundproject when he arrived at North Carolina State in 1988. He probably would havewound up at either Fairfield or Iona if Jim Valvano, the Wolfpack coach at thetime, hadn't been a close friend of Gugliotta's father, Frank, who coached atWalt Whitman High in Huntington Station, N.Y., for 32 years.
Gugliotta beganchanging people's perceptions of him in his sophomore year, when he was namedMVP of a tournament in Charlotte in which Ohio State's Jimmy Jackson and ByronHouston of Oklahoma State also played. Gugliotta averaged 11.1 points and sevenrebounds as a sophomore, and 15.2 points and 9.1 boards last year, animprovement that can be traced to long sessions in the weight room and latenights by himself on the Reynolds Coliseum court. "I was a late bloomer,but I dedicated myself to being a basketball player," he says. "I justwanted a chance. I guess I like proving people wrong."
Gugliotta's onlyregret is that his father couldn't share in his development. Frank died theweek before his son's first practice with the Wolfpack. "I think about himbefore every game when we have the team prayer," Gugliotta says. "It'ssomething that motivates me."
SouthernIllinois's 64-59 victory over Illinois State last Saturday put the Salukis incontrol of the Missouri Valley Conference at 7-0, 14-2 overall. The win waseven more gratifying because it came on Illinois State's home court inNormal.
That's whereSouthern Illinois had lost the championship game of the MVC tournament to theRedbirds in 1990. The loss cost the Salukis an NCAA tournament bid, even thoughthey were 26-7 for the season. Southern Illinois coach Rich Herrin complainedlong and loud about the snub, and the wounds haven't completely healed.
Last week'svictory won't erase that memory, but it did give the Salukis a 1½-gameconference lead over the Redbirds. Leading the way with 31 points and 14rebounds was 6'8" junior forward Ashraf Amaya, who has never been accusedof complaining long or loud about anything.
Amaya, theleague's leading scorer and rebounder, is a soft-spoken sort who avoids thespotlight. Ask him about the preseason poll of the media that picked him to winthe conference Player of the Year award, and his response is, "It's a greathonor." End of conversation.
But Amayacommands attention on the court. He scored 21 of his points in the second halfto help Southern Illinois overtake the Redbirds. If the Salukis keep leaning ontheir quiet star, they may have no reason to complain about anything.
Joe Rhett, SouthCarolina's senior forward who plays with a pacemaker because of an irregularheartbeat, was carried off the floor after collapsing early in the second halfof the Gamecocks' 60-57 loss to Mississippi State last Saturday. Rhett waslater reported in good condition at a Columbia, S.C., hospital.... The familyof sophomore guard Charles Harrison is upset with Georgetown coach JohnThompson for implying that Harrison left the Hoyas because of academicdifficulties. Thompson said Harrison would probably attend a junior collegethis semester. Instead, Harrison has enrolled at Wake Forest. Harrison'sgrandmother, June Russ, said he transferred mainly because he didn't likeThompson's coaching style.... Pace University upset Philadelphia Textile, thetop-ranked team in Division II, 39-38 last week. The low score was no surprise;Pace is the No. 1 defensive team in Division II, and Philadelphia Textile isNo. 2. Textile coach Herb Magee, the leading scorer in Textile's history, with2,235 points, is likely to win his 500th game this week, but he'll probablylose his scoring record to senior Randy Stover, who needs 179 points to passMagee.
Players of the Week
Jesse Ratliff, a 6'6" sophomore forward for North Texas, scored 23 pointsand grabbed nine rebounds in a 72-59 win over McNeese State, then had 40 pointsand 22 boards in a 90-72 defeat of Nicholls State.
Texas A & M's Dena Russo, a 6'1" senior forward, made all 11 of hersecond-half shots and finished with 25 points in a 74-73 upset of Texas. Shethen scored 26 points in an 85-83 overtime loss to Rice.
Ron Ward, a 6'6" senior center, averaged 34.3 points as NAIA Concord(W.Va.) beat Bluefield State 91-75, Alderson-Broaddus 104-90 and W.Va. State104-98.
DAVID E. KLUTHO
Keith Crawford soared over some small fries as Montana mashed Idaho on Spud Night.
DAVID L. JOHNSON/ACTION IMAGES
Gugliotta went from bench warmer to leader of the Pack.