UCLA got a huge lift from JaRon Rush that may carry the Bruins
to the NCAA tournament
After UCLA sophomore JaRon Rush sank what appeared to be a
game-winning jumper with three seconds remaining last Saturday to
upset top-ranked Stanford on its home court, Cardinal coach Mike
Montgomery ran onto the floor and insisted to the officials and
to his UCLA counterpart, Steve Lavin, that the shot clock had
expired and the Bruins still trailed by a point. Lavin did what
any good coach would do: He spirited his players off the court
and toward the locker room while the refs still had UCLA ahead.
Only the joyous Bruins mistakenly went to the wrong locker room,
where the door was locked, leaving them stranded in a hallway.
They were then summoned back to the floor, where the officials
were examining a television replay of the closing seconds. Upon
further review, UCLA's 94-93 overtime victory stood, prompting
the Bruins to run jubilantly off the Maples Pavilion court once
more. "It's rare when you get to celebrate a win twice," Lavin
It was indeed unusual, but given the dearth of opportunities UCLA
has had to celebrate this season, Lavin will take it. Two weeks
ago the Bruins were coming off their sixth loss in seven games
and seemed destined to miss the NCAA tournament for the first
time in 12 years. But last week they demonstrated impressive
resilience, overcoming 19- and 15-point deficits in road wins at
Cal and Stanford, respectively, to run their record to 17-11 (8-8
in the Pac-10). Now instead of a dispiriting trip to the NIT, the
Bruins have a good shot at an NCAA at-large bid if they can beat
the two Washington schools this week. "I'm proud of the way this
team has handled adversity, but we really needed that win on
Saturday," Lavin says. "You can only go on moral victories for so
No UCLA player wanted the win as much as Rush. He'd learned just
five days before the game against Stanford that the NCAA, which
had suspended him for 29 games in January because of benefits he
had received from an agent, had reduced that penalty to nine
games, clearing the way for him to return last Saturday. Rush had
worked out with the Bruins while he was suspended, but he had
attended only about a half-dozen practices in the last three
weeks because he'd had to meet with lawyers in his hometown of
Kansas City, Kans. Rush seemed overwhelmed by the week's events,
which were capped by his team-high 19 points in 26 minutes on
Saturday. When he made his way into the locker room, the first
thing that he did was go to a sink and splash cold water on his
face and neck. "I just looked at myself in the mirror and
thought, I can't believe this is happening to me," Rush says.
UCLA had been arguably one of the nation's most underachieving
teams before last week. As the Bruins piled up losses, they
provided fodder for critics who deride Lavin as someone who is
capable of recruiting talented players but has little clue what
to do with them once they get to UCLA. One NBA scout who visited
a practice early this season came away unimpressed and said,
"There was no teaching going on."
Lavin's well of optimism remains bottomless, however, and that
has served the Bruins well. "I don't know that I feel
vindicated," he says. "All the criticism goes with the territory.
I try to teach my players that if you keep your chin up and have
a good attitude, then special things are possible."
Big South's Big Winner
ANOTHER DANCE FOR WINTHROP
The night before he scored 18 points and got 18 rebounds to help
Winthrop beat host UNC-Asheville 75-62 and clinch the Big South
Conference's automatic bid to the NCAAs, Eagles forward Greg
Lewis couldn't draw iron. Too excited to sleep, the 6'6" junior
sat up in bed until 3 a.m. shooting woefully at the Nerf hoop
he'd brought with him while nervously yapping at his roommate,
swingman Derrick Knox. "Just 40 minutes from the Big Dance,"
Lewis kept saying. "DK, do you have any idea what I've been
through to get here?"
Lewis's odyssey began in 1994 when he flunked the 10th grade at
East High in Akron because he had skipped nearly 100 days of
classes. The following year he dedicated himself to his academics
and played organized basketball for the first time, making the
East High varsity. The next season, as a senior, he led the city
in scoring. With no basketball eligibility left and still lacking
sufficient credits to graduate, Lewis turned to John Saucier, an
Akron minister and AAU coach, who steered him to Medina (Ohio)
Christian Academy. Lewis would awaken at six every weekday
morning for a two-hour journey, including a car trip and two bus
rides, to get to the tiny religious school where he was the only
black student. Lewis averaged 29.6 points a game at Medina and
earned his diploma. From there he went on to Seward Community
College in Liberal, Kans., for a semester before settling at
another juco, Howard College in Big Spring, Texas, where he had a
17.9-point scoring average a year ago.
Last summer Saucier cold-called 30 colleges, seeking a Division I
school that would sign Lewis. The last school on his list was
Winthrop. Lewis had never heard of Winthrop and wanted to go to
South Alabama, which also came through with a scholarship offer.
There was one hang-up: Lewis's mother, Brenda, refused to sign
the letter of intent for South Alabama, insisting, "I like
Winthorp [sic]!" Actually, what she really liked was Eagles coach
Gregg Marshall, who had impressed her as a man that she could
trust. Marshall had a scholarship available only because a player
had recently left Winthrop to play pro ball in Belgium, so Lewis
accepted it in July. He ended up leading the Eagles in scoring
this season. "Greg's a hungry kid," Saucier says. "He's been
knocked down plenty of times, but he has always refused to
Like Lewis, Winthrop had a long climb to the Big Dance, having
finished in the bottom half of its league for 14 straight
seasons before winning the last two Big South tournaments. A
year ago the Eagles were crushed 80-41 by Auburn in the first
round of the NCAAs. Now, after winning at Missouri and taking
Maryland to overtime during the regular season, Winthrop will no
longer be satisfied with just earning another NCAA bid. "Last
year at the tournament we were awestruck," Marshall says. "This
year our motto is, Get to the dance with a chance to advance.
When you're around G-Lew, you start believing anything is
possible." --Tim Crothers
BUZZ IS GOOD FOR APPALACHIAN STATE
After Appalachian State lost the Southern Conference championship
game for the second straight year last February, Mountaineers
junior guard Tyson Patterson refused to take off his uniform. He
was still wearing it in the car as his mother, Teresa, drove him
from the Greensboro Coliseum back to their home in Winston-Salem,
N.C. "My dream had been snatched away again," Patterson says, "so
I kept the uniform on to let that painful feeling really soak
Patterson, the Mountaineers' 5'7" senior point guard, played his
final season with calculated vengeance, leading the league in
assists (5.3 a game) and averaging 13.5 points to earn the
Southern Conference Player of the Year award. He dedicated his
performance in the 2000 league tournament to the woman who raised
him, his grandmother Mary Harper, who died on Feb. 26 while he
played in his final home game. In Sunday's title meeting with
College of Charleston, Patterson honored Harper with a game-high
21 points in Appalachian State's 68-56 victory. Despite playing
with a broken bone in his shooting hand, he averaged 22.7 points
over three games to win the tournament MVP award.
"Tyson and I have been through so many ups and downs, and we both
wanted this very badly," Appalachian State coach Buzz Peterson
said after clinching the title. "It's like 1,000 pounds lifted
off our backs. Our team was not going to be denied this time."
Patterson was Peterson's first recruit after the coach arrived
four years ago at Appalachian State, a school with an enrollment
of 12,300 in Boone, N.C., and the two have rebuilt the
Mountaineers' program together. Earning Appalachian State's first
NCAA bid in 21 years and only its second ever is particularly
sweet for Peterson, who finally has a trophy to go with the one
he got in 1982 for being named North Carolina high school player
of the year over a guy named Mike. (Jordan and Peterson later
became friends and roommates as Tar Heels.) "I appreciate this
accomplishment much more than when I went to the NCAAs four times
as a player," the 36-year-old Peterson said. "I've come to
understand that you never know if you'll ever get back there."
An hour after the Southern Conference title game, Peterson began
gathering his players for the bus ride home, which would include
a detour to his favorite rib joint, Little Pigs, in Asheville.
Peterson called out to Patterson to hurry up and get dressed, and
Patterson promptly pulled off his uniform--the same one he'd worn
home a year ago. --T.C.
Ohio Valley Finale
A REVERSAL OF FORTUNE
Southeast Missouri State forward Roderick Johnson swore he had
watched the videotape of last year's buzzer-beater loss to Murray
State in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament final "literally
over a hundred times." Indians coach Gary Garner said he had
awakened some nights with a vision of the game-winning, running
one-hander by Racers guard Aubrey Reese hanging in the air, ready
to fall. On Sunday morning Mike Branson, a 6'6" Southeast
Missouri State senior, returned to his hotel room after
breakfast, turned on the TV and saw the winning basket replayed
yet another time. "I walked down to Rod's room and said, 'Did you
see that?'" Branson says. "He said he saw it. Everybody on the
team saw it."
That's the essence of life in a mid-major conference. Reese's
shot sent jubilant Murray State to the NCAA tournament and the
Indians, who had a 20-9 record, into a summer of discontent. So
when Southeast Missouri State defeated Murray State 67-56 in
Sunday's league championship rematch at the Gaylord Entertainment
Center in Nashville, the Indians exorcised two nettlesome demons
in one shot. Not only did they break the Racers' choke hold on
the conference--Murray State had won the last three Ohio Valley
Conference tournaments and 12 of the last 13 regular-season
titles--but they also harassed their chief tormenter from last
year into a nightmare of his own. Reese, the league's leading
scorer, at 21.0 points a game, and winner of the most valuable
player award, shot 1 for 18 and scored just three points against
Southeast Missouri State. "Last year's game is behind me now,"
said Johnson, whose 14-point, eight-rebound performance earned
him the tournament's MVP award. "I righted a wrong."
Holding players below their scoring average is a hallmark of this
year's Indians. While they didn't have a player named first team
all-conference, they led the Ohio Valley in scoring defense (61.8
points per game), field goal percentage defense (38.1, the
seventh-best mark in the nation) and blocks (5.3 a game).
Sunday's win was especially gratifying for Garner, who took over
at Southeast Missouri State in 1997. Garner, 57, coached at Drake
for seven seasons before he was fired in 1988, and it was a long
road back for him. He worked for one season as an assistant at
Tulsa; spent "two miserable years," by his account, selling real
estate in Des Moines, and served six years as the coach at Fort
Hays State in Hays, Kans., where he won the Division II national
title in '96. Garner seemed more stunned than euphoric as he
walked off the floor on Sunday. Asked why that was, he could only
reply, "I guess I was so excited that I wasn't excited."
For the latest scores and recruiting news, plus more from Seth
Davis and Grant Wahl, go to cnnsi.com/basketball/college.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID GONZALES Helped by Billy Knight's nine points, UCLA overcame an early 15-point deficit to stun Stanford.
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES The much-traveled Lewis scored 18 points to help put Winthrop on the road to the NCAA tournament.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Patterson was surpassingly good during Appalachian State's title run.
WEEKLY SEED REPORT
Alas, our work is done, and now the real selection committee
takes over, but we sign off after some dramatic turns of event.
Stanford's loss to UCLA last Saturday didn't cost the Cardinal a
No. 1 seed, but a loss to Arizona this week might. The Wildcats,
with losses to Oregon and Oregon State, did lose their top seed,
though, and unless it is clear that Loren Woods will be back in
time for the NCAAs, they probably won't get much sympathy in the
seedings. Our panel gave Arizona's spot to Michigan State, but
with this caveat: The Spartans must make it further than Ohio
State in the Big Ten tournament to keep that No. 1 seed.
1. Duke (24-4)
2. Ohio State (22-5)
3. Florida (23-6)
4. Texas (22-7)
1. Cincinnati (28-2)
2. Arizona (24-6)
3. Syracuse (24-4)
4. Kentucky (22-8)
1. Michigan State (23-7)
2. Temple (23-5)
3. Tennessee (24-5)
4. Oklahoma State (23-5)
1. Stanford (25-2)
2. Iowa State (26-4)
3. LSU (25-4)
4. St. John's (21-7)