DOWN AT THE HEELS
Four straight losses ended North Carolina's run in the Top 25.
Is its streak in the NCAAs next?
At North Carolina they're known simply as the Streaks, and fans
can rattle them off like their home phone numbers: The Tar Heels
have had 29 consecutive seasons with 21 or more wins, 35
straight finishes among the top three in the ACC and 25
appearances in a row in the NCAA tournament. But after a dismal
76-71 loss to a mediocre Florida State team at home last
Saturday dropped North Carolina's record to 11-8, talk turned to
another streak: the Tar Heels' four straight defeats and how
that streak might signal the end to all the others.
After a shocking loss to Weber State in the first round of the
1999 NCAA tournament, North Carolina appeared loaded for
redemption this season. With the only starting five in the
nation that featured a McDonald's All-America at every position,
the Tar Heels debuted with victories over USC, Georgetown and
Purdue to win the Maui Invitational and jump to No. 2 in the
polls. Through Sunday they were 8-8 since. "We've been making
too many stupid mistakes," says 7-foot junior center Brendan
Haywood. "It's very frustrating. A lot of people don't believe
in us right now, and maybe they shouldn't."
Haywood has become a lightning rod for criticism. His 71.4%
shooting from the floor led the nation at week's end, but he was
taking fewer than seven shots a game, a manifestation of the
passivity that has characterized the entire team. Coach Bill
Guthridge is more concerned with the Heels' porous defense,
which was allowing 71.6 points a game, the second most in the
ACC. North Carolina is tall but slow--a team better suited to
the 1970s than to the 21st century--and consequently had given
up more turnovers (15.5 a game) than it had caused (12.5).
Against Virginia on Jan. 18, North Carolina shot 58.6% from the
floor and outrebounded the Cavaliers by 13--and still lost,
thanks to 21 turnovers. And that was with senior Ed Cota at
point guard. Facing Florida State without Cota, who was out with
a viral infection, the Tar Heels shot 50.0% from the floor but
committed 16 turnovers and allowed 10 three-pointers, many on
wide-open looks. In the game's decisive final minutes North
Carolina played Julius Peppers, a walk-on from the football
team, and Jonathan Holmes, a freshman who entered the game with
40 career minutes.
In the postgame locker room, where U-N-C and N-I-T were uttered
in the same sentence, Haywood and freshman wunderkind Joseph
Forte looked stunned, each stating that he had never lost four
consecutive games in his life. The loss left North Carolina with
its worst record after 19 games since the 1964-65 season, during
which Guthridge's predecessor, Dean Smith, was hanged in effigy
in January after four straight defeats.
So far the Tar Heels' coaching staff has been subjected to
nothing more than an increase in angry mail. "Losing is
contagious," says Guthridge, who regularly speaks to Smith to
get his input. "We need to get the feeling back that we can win."
Saturday's defeat ended one significant Carolina streak: a
nation's-best 172 straight appearances in the AP Top 25. The
fate of the other Streaks will be decided shortly. "We want to
live up to this school's great tradition," Forte says. "That's
why each loss gets tougher. We need some wins urgently."
Indiana's Family Feud
ALFORD VERSUS KNIGHT
Last week's much ballyhooed reunion between Indiana coach Bob
Knight and one of his former stars, Steve Alford, now a rival
Big Ten coach at Iowa, didn't disappoint those eager to see
fireworks between the two. The game was a hard-fought one that
the Hoosiers narrowly won, 74-71. Then the real entertainment
At his postgame press conference Alford extended an olive branch
to Knight by praising him to the point of absurdity. "Everything
he does he does with class," gushed Alford, who led Indiana to
the 1987 NCAA title, the most recent of the three Knight has won.
Several moments later Knight proved Alford a questionable judge
of character. "If Alford wants to sit down and talk to me
instead of holding press conferences about a lot of bull----,
I'll be glad to sit down and talk to him and explain things a
little bit," snarled Knight.
Thus commenced a statewide parlor game: What exactly had Alford
done to inflame Knight? Alford pleaded ignorance, and Knight
isn't saying, at least not publicly. But a source close to
Knight asserts that Knight became ruffled when Alford declined
his invitation to play a small role in the 1993 movie Blue
Chips. (Alford's appearance would have benefited a university
scholarship fund.) Alford, then the coach at Manchester College,
a Division III school, reportedly couldn't be in the movie
because he had to work at his basketball camp the week he was
needed for filming. Knight became further incensed last spring
when Alford made an aggressive play for Indiana transfer Luke
Recker, who initially decamped to Arizona before ending up at
What finally set Knight off was his feeling that in press
conferences last week, Alford had aired their dirty
laundry--i.e., had acknowledged that there was a rift between
them--and had used the media to sway public opinion against
Knight. "To Coach Knight, Alford's press conferences represented
the ultimate in the slick, p.r.-savvy new school of college
coaches," says a member of Indiana's athletic department. "Coach
is definitely old school."
STAY-AT-HOME HERO AT HOFSTRA
Hofstra coach Jay Wright had every reason to be worried that he
might lose his top recruit, Craig (Speedy) Claxton, in the
spring of 1996. Fran Fraschilla had just begun his two-year
stint as St. John's coach, and one of the first things he did
was call to tell Wright of his intention to recruit Claxton, a
5'11" senior at Christ the King High in Queens, N.Y. Claxton had
given Wright an oral commitment the previous fall but had not
yet signed a letter of intent. "I wish you wouldn't do this,"
Wright told Fraschilla, "but I understand that you have to."
Wright knew that recruits usually turn starry-eyed when a
big-time college comes calling, but in this case Claxton didn't
even bat an eyelash. He declined Fraschilla's offer without so
much as granting him a home visit. "Comfort is a big thing with
me," Claxton says. "I was comfortable with Hofstra."
Since that time Claxton has transformed Wright's program into
his very own comfort zone. He led the Flying Dutchmen in scoring
as a freshman and was named the America East Conference player
of the year as a sophomore. His stats fell off during an
injury-plagued junior year, but he has come back so strong that
he's the leading contender for this year's
Claxton, who earned his nickname as a superquick 5'3"
eighth-grader, was third in the nation in scoring (24.4 points
per game) through Sunday, thanks partly to 40-point performances
last week in wins over Hartford and Maine that lifted the Flying
Dutchmen into sole possession of first place in the America
East. Earlier this month seven NBA scouts showed up at Hofstra
to watch him play. "I thought he would be good," Wright says,
"but there's no way I thought he'd be this good."
Claxton was still a secret early last summer when he began a
European tour with a team of collegiate all-stars that included
North Carolina's Kris Lang, Syracuse's Etan Thomas and Arizona's
Loren Woods. Wright had to lobby to get Claxton a place on the
team, but Claxton ended up being named the team's MVP after
leading the U.S. to a 9-1 record. "Some of the guys were asking
me, 'How come we haven't heard of you before?'" he says.
Claxton is still a close friend of St. John's point guard Erick
Barkley, who was two years behind him at Christ the King and who
lived with Claxton's family for a year after Barkley's mother
moved to Georgia. Claxton doesn't mind that he doesn't yet have
Barkley's name recognition. "Everybody always underestimates
me," he says. "First it was junior high school, then high
school, now it's college." He smiles and adds, "Next year it
might be the pros."
A HOT HAND IN LAS VEGAS
Kaspars Kambala, UNLV's 6'9", 250-pound junior power forward,
doesn't lack for critics. His father, Guntars, tracks Kambala's
progress on the Internet from his home in Riga, Latvia. "If I
have a good game, I probably won't hear from him," says Kaspars,
"but if he sees something he doesn't like, he'll call." Ditto
for Kambala's fiancee, fellow UNLV student Jessica Graham, who,
Kambala says, "lets me have it when I don't play well." Then
there's Runnin' Rebels coach Bill Bayno, who, following a
40-point loss to Cincinnati on Jan. 2, offered this biting
assessment of Kambala's 10-point, three-rebound performance: "He
was intimidated. If he says it was anything else, it's a cop-out."
Kambala played to decidedly mixed reviews during his first two
years in Las Vegas, thanks mostly to inconsistency. He's seeing
a lot more thumbs up this season. Through Sunday he had led UNLV
to a 3-1 start in the Mountain West Conference and a 12-4 record
overall. He was tops in the league in rebounding (9.4 per game)
and was fourth in scoring (18.9). He earned his biggest raves
the night of Jan. 17, when he had 32 points and 18
rebounds--both career highs--in an 85-73 win at New Mexico. Said
Lobos coach Fran Fraschilla, "We put three guys on him, and he
toyed with us."
Part of Kambala's new look this season is his shaved pate--"I
wanted to be more aerodynamic," he says--but his improvement is
primarily the result of the hard work he has done since he came
over from Latvia in the fall of 1995. Kambala is a fitness
fanatic whose workout routine includes early-morning jogs,
weekly yoga classes and boxing lessons with renowned referee
Richard Steele. After missing the last six games of his
sophomore season because of torn cartilage in his right knee,
Kambala returned last summer for a second stint at Pete Newell's
Big Man Camp in Hawaii, where, says Newell, "all the teachers
said he was one of the most improved players."
Kambala's footwork has been much smoother this season than in
the past, and he has increased the range on his shooting.
Mostly, he says, he is playing better because he's thinking
better. "I'm more under control now," says Kambala. "I still
have work to do, but for the most part I'm happy."
A COWBOY WHO CAN'T SHOOT
As of Sunday, Oklahoma State point guard Doug Gottlieb may have
been leading the nation in assists for the second straight year,
but he wasn't doing much else to help the Cowboys win. Gottlieb
was averaging 9.6 assists a game but was shooting a woeful 18.8%
from three-point range and 40.5% from the foul line. In Oklahoma
State's 64-59 loss last Saturday to Texas A&M, Gottlieb played
35 minutes and scored two points on 1-for-6 shooting, though he
did have 13 assists....
Pauley Pavilion didn't provide much of a home court advantage
for UCLA during the Bruins' 76-61 loss to Arizona on Jan. 20.
UCLA shot four free throws in the game....
Of the nine defeats suffered by Top 25 teams on Saturday, none
was more shocking than Arizona's 80-72 loss at USC. The Trojans,
who had been playing with a six-man rotation, lost two players
to season-ending injuries two days before facing the Wildcats.
One was 6'7" sophomore Sam Clancy, who was USC's top scorer and
rebounder, and the other was senior sixth man Jarvis Turner.
For the latest scores and recruiting news, plus more from Seth
Davis and Grant Wahl, go to cnnsi.com/basketball/college.
COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT SHARPE A pair of Seminoles put the squeeze on Jason Capel as the Tar Heels fell to mediocre Florida State on Saturday.
COLOR PHOTO: GEORGE KALINSKY/MAJOR LEAGUE GRAPHICS Claxton went for 14 against Fordham as Hofstra won the ECAC Holiday Festival title.
WEEKLY SEED REPORT
Sure, parity is the order of the day in the college game, but
this is getting ridiculous. Fourteen teams in the AP Top 25 lost
a total of 17 games last week, with nine of those losses coming
on Saturday alone. Needless to say, the carnage had its effect
on our seeds.
Most significant, Duke is now atop the East, a spot from which
it may be hard to budge the Blue Devils. They have 11 games left
in the regular season, and seven are at home, where they've won
44 in a row. (In fact, with games at Chapel Hill and Raleigh
also on the schedule, Duke will take only two overnight trips,
to play at Clemson and Georgia Tech.) Pencil the Blue Devils in
for first- and second-round games in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Also ascending to a top seed is Syracuse, which was still
undefeated as of Sunday. How the Orangemen did in their
Monday-night matchup with Connecticut will determine whether
they remain a No. 1 in the future.
The other big winner of the week was Ohio State. With victories
over Michigan State and St. John's, the Buckeyes make their
first appearance in our poll this season, as the No. 2 seed in
1. Duke (15-2)
2. Connecticut (13-3)
3. Indiana (14-3)
4. Florida (14-3)
1. Cincinnati (18-1)
2. Auburn (16-2)
3. Michigan State (13-5)
4. Texas (12-5)
1. Syracuse (15-0)
2. Arizona (16-3)
3. Tennessee (16-2)
4. Tulsa (18-1)
1. Stanford (15-1)
2. Ohio State (13-3)
3. Kansas (14-2)
4. Kentucky (13-5)