BEARCATS CLAW BACK
After the buzzer had sounded on then No. 21 Cincinnati's 88-82
win over No. 22 Rhode Island at Shoemaker Center in Cincinnati
on Sunday, Ruben Patterson, the Bearcats' 6'6" senior forward,
tore the white Michael Jordan designer jersey off his back and
wadded it up as if he were going to throw it into the crowd. But
Patterson, who had just matched a career-high with 27 points in
his first home game in more than two months, hesitated and kept
the singlet clutched in his hand. For the first time in a long
while, wearing a white jersey at the Shoe was something he could
feel good about.
Between Nov. 17 and Sunday, wearing white in that gym had been
all sweat and no glory for Patterson, who kept in shape during a
14-game suspension for NCAA rules violations by playing on the
white-clad scout team in every minute of every Bearcats
practice. "Any time there was action on the floor, I had to be
in it," says Patterson. "I might get a few sips of water;
otherwise I was running." But practices--even coach Bob
Huggins's grueling workouts--aren't the same as games. "Games
are much more intense," says Patterson. "It feels great to be
playing in them again."
Patterson couldn't have picked a better one for reintroducing
himself to the home crowd. Rhode Island, much improved (13-4)
under first-year coach Jim Harrick and appearing in its first
regular-season national TV game, kept it close despite getting
pounded on the boards 37-18. The Rams ultimately lost because
they had no one who could guard the versatile Patterson, who led
both teams in scoring and rebounding (10). He had scored just 29
points total in Cincinnati's previous three games, which were
all on the road. "Nobody thought he'd take over immediately,"
says teammate Melvin Levett. "I'm just glad he didn't wait a
couple of more games."
Though Patterson's contributions were clearly needed, there had
been some concern in Cincinnati that his return might negatively
affect what has become, against all odds, a very good team.
Unlike last year's Danny Fortson-led Bearcats, who started the
season ranked No. 1 and then struggled under weighty
expectations before losing to Iowa State in the second round of
the NCAAs, Cincinnati this season has flourished as a starless
underdog. After a 20-point loss to Xavier in early December, the
Bearcats appeared to be the mediocrities everybody thought
they'd be without Fortson, Darnell Burton, Damon Flint and
Charles Williams, who are all gone from last year's team.
But then a funny thing happened. Two starters, D'Juan Baker and
Kenyon Martin, were given three-game suspensions for misusing
the athletic department's long-distance access codes, the same
offense that was a factor in Patterson's suspension. Desperate
for bodies, Huggins had to give significant minutes to Bearcats
on the far end of his bench, which included two football
players, Brent Petrus and Brad Jackson, who had joined the team
primarily for winter exercise. Instead of crumbling, Cincinnati
jelled. Between the loss to Xavier and a 66-63 overtime loss at
Marquette last Thursday, the Bearcats won 10 in a row. After
their defeat of Rhode Island they were 15-3 and ranked No. 18 in
the latest AP poll.
"Last year we had more talent," says senior forward Bobby
Brannen, whose points per game have soared from 5.0 last season
to 16.9. "This year we play harder and really defend. It's been
more fun because with all the talent we lost, not much was
expected from us. So we've had a great time showing everybody
that we can play."
HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN
Minnesota finally won its first Big Ten game of the season last
Saturday--against sad-sack Ohio State, now 0-6 in league
play--but the Gophers are still on pace for one of the biggest
season-after-making-the-Final-Four swoons ever (chart, right).
How to explain Minnesota's drop from 16-2 to 1-6 in the
conference? Coach Clem Haskins knew he wouldn't have last year's
stars, guard Bobby Jackson and center John Thomas, both of whom
moved on to the NBA, but he wasn't prepared for the mass
defection that followed March Madness.
Charles Thomas, a 6'4" junior guard who figured to be a featured
performer this season, transferred to Eastern Kentucky in July.
Two months later 6'8", 270-pound power forward Courtney James
was suspended for the season after he had been found guilty of
one count of misdemeanor domestic assault for an incident
involving a girlfriend. (He then accepted an offer from a pro
team in Greece.) Kevin Loge, a 6'10" redshirt freshman center
and former top 100 recruit from Morris, Minn., transferred to
North Dakota State to get out of the big city. Also, point guard
Khalid El-Amin, a two-time Minnesota Mr. Basketball who had
given Haskins a verbal commitment as a high school sophomore,
changed his mind as a senior and is now having a Big East
rookie-of-the-year season at Connecticut.
The remaining players are limited in talent and have been
plagued by maladies, which has made finding a go-to Gopher a
challenge. Senior swingman Sam Jacobson began the season in a
horrid shooting slump, making only 17 of 58 shots (29.3%) in the
first three games before righting himself with a 24.2-point
average over a five-game stretch. But then he sprained his back
while getting out of a chair two days after a loss to Purdue on
Jan. 2 and missed three games. Small forward Quincy Lewis
sprained his left thumb on Dec. 28 and has been shooting
tentatively ever since. Guard Kevin Clark, a junior college
transfer who Haskins had hoped would replace some of Jackson's
scoring, is taking medication to prevent seizures caused by a
heart condition and has struggled at times to adjust to Division
I play. Also on medication is starting center Kyle Sanden, who
has been plagued by fainting spells. That has left the paint to
6'8" power forward Miles Tarver, who has at least made up for
his offensive shortcomings--he was 0 for 4 from close range in
an eight-point loss to Michigan on Jan. 20--with candid
observations. Said Tarver, after he was razzed mercilessly by
Wolverines fans, "I don't know who is sinking faster, us or the
PRICE IS RIGHT
Senior guard Katrina Price is usually the big attraction at
Stephen F. Austin women's games, but lately she has had
competition. Fans at Johnson Coliseum have started watching a
huge purple-and-white board that sits in the stands at one end
of the arena. On the board, which is festooned with balloons and
streamers and decorated with action photos of Price, a manager
constantly updates her career scoring total. After her 23-point
performance in last Saturday's 76-69 win at Southeastern
Louisiana, Price is just 33 points from breaking the Ladyjacks'
career scoring record of 2,062 points.
No. 25 Stephen F. Austin is to host McNeese State on Thursday
and Sam Houston on Saturday, and during one of those games the
Price index should hit 2,063. "We're all looking forward to it,"
Ladyjacks coach Royce Chadwick says. "It's kind of an
inevitability, but it's still one of those moments you'll
remember when you're 75 and sitting on the back porch dipping
Price is scoring 23.4 points a game, sixth best in the country,
but that isn't her most impressive average. Her grade point
average is 3.6, and last semester Price, a kinesiology major,
pulled down a 4.0. When it comes to her schoolwork, Price is
nearly always right. "She gets a 92 and she's not happy,"
She has high standards on the court too. An honorable mention
All-America last season, the 5'10" Price spent part of last
summer playing with the USA Basketball Jones Cup team in Taiwan.
Back at school she has surpassed 20 points 11 times this season
for the Ladyjacks, who are 15-2 and aiming for an NCAA
tournament berth for the 11th straight year.
In the crowd at most games are four or five of Price's eight
sisters. The youngest is 20 and the oldest 40 (at 22, Katrina is
No. 8), and all live within two hours of the Stephen F. Austin
campus in Nacogdoches, Texas. At least six will be there to
watch the scoring record fall. "It feels awkward to play a game
when they're not there," Price says. Her sisters' support has
become even more important recently. The girls' father, Leo, who
made the two-hour drive from Waco to see Katrina's games
whenever he could, suffered a fatal heart attack two months ago.
The girls' mother, Daisy, faithfully attended Katrina's games at
La Vega High in Waco before she died of cancer four years ago.
"I'm playing out my career for them," Katrina says of her
parents. "I know they're watching." --DANA GELIN
Is it the shoes? North Carolina State, which has had four
players miss time this season because of foot injuries,
including three with broken bones, thinks it might be. So, in
what is surely a p.r. nightmare for sneaker impresario Sonny
Vaccaro, the Wolfpack has temporarily dumped its Adidas shoes in
favor of Nikes. Though N.C. State athletic director Les Robinson
could find no other Adidas-affiliated program with a similar
pattern of injuries, he made the switch for peace of mind.
Questions about footwear, he said, "get in peoples' heads."...
Kansas's Raef LaFrentz returned to action with a bang last
Saturday, getting 31 points and 15 rebounds in just 24 minutes
in an 88-49 demolition of Texas Tech. The question remains,
though, Will the nine games LaFrentz missed with a broken finger
cost him in the player of the year balloting, especially since
North Carolina's Antawn Jamison played so well in his absence?...
What's with Missouri? The Tigers (11-8 through
Sunday) have a 4-0 record versus Top 25 teams since Dec. 30,
including last week's upsets of third-ranked Kansas and No. 10
Iowa. Now, if they could figure out how to win on the road
(Missouri has lost 18 straight away from the Hearnes Center,
including a 55-point whipping at the hands of Kansas State on
Jan. 3), the Tigers might get to go to their first NCAA
tournament in three years.
For the latest scores, polls and recruiting news in men's and
women's college hoops, check out www.cnnsi.com
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN F. GRIESHOP Having been suspended for 14 games, Patterson (23) jumped at the chance to beat Rhode Island. [Ruben Patterson in game]
COLOR PHOTO: ELSA HASCH/ALLSPORT Eric Harris and his fellow Gophers have gone from the penthouse to the outhouse.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES
It seems only months ago that Minnesota coach Clem Haskins was
basking in the limelight at the Final Four. Oops, it was only
months ago. Minnesota is having one of the worst follow-up
seasons to a Final Four appearance ever. Here's a look at the
worst drop-offs since 1975 and what happened to cause them.
SCHOOL FOUR SEASON Comment
Michigan State 1979 12-15 Magic Johnson bolted after
sophomore season, and Spartans have never been the same
Providence 1987 11-17 Rick Pitino left to take
Knicks job, and every coach since has paled by comparison
Seton Hall 1989 12-16 Considering Pirates lost
three starters and two reserves, winning 12 games was a feat
Duke 1994 13-18 Coach K out all year due to
exhaustion, and Blue Devils only now are back in top form
Mississippi St. 1996 12-18 Dontae' Jones and Erick
Dampier left school early, along with senior Darryl Wilson
Minnesota 1997 8-10* Golden Gophers short on
talent after losing Bobby Jackson and John Thomas to NBA
WEEKLY SEED REPORT
If this were college football, North Carolina might have moved
up and taken the No. 1 seed in the East Regional after its
103-55 blowout of 20th-ranked Florida State last Saturday. But
blessedly, this is hoops, not helmets, and running it up doesn't
count, so Duke, a 72-65 winner over Virginia, stayed atop the
East in our poll.
Meanwhile, Connecticut's loss to St. John's dropped the Huskies
a notch from a No. 2 to a No. 3. No big deal, you say? Consider
this: Only three No. 2s have lost to No. 15 seeds since the
NCAAs expanded to 64 teams in 1985, but 11 No. 3s have lost to
The week's big losers were Syracuse (beaten by Notre Dame and
UConn) and Iowa (defeated by Michigan State and Missouri), both
of which dropped out of the seedings. Some voters dropped Kansas
to a No. 2 after its loss to Missouri, but the Jayhawks remained
a No. 1 seed on most ballots. The week's big winners were
Arkansas and New Mexico, cracking our poll for the first time.
UCLA benefited from UConn's fall and moved up to a No. 2. And
Michigan held on to a No. 4 seeding despite its loss to
Illinois, but Michigan State, the Big Ten leader at week's end,
is knocking hard at the door.
Finally, everyone is watching this week's Arizona game at
Stanford to see if a new No. 1 will emerge in the West.
1. Duke 1. North Carolina
2. UCLA 2. Kentucky
3. UConn 3. Purdue
4. Princeton 4. Arkansas
1. Kansas 1. Arizona
2. Stanford 2. Utah
3. South Carolina 3. Mississippi
4. New Mexico 4. Michigan