The No. 1-ranked Wildcats were floored by their own
After Purdue's shocking 72-69 upset of No. 1 Arizona at the
inaugural John Wooden Tradition in Indianapolis, it seemed fair
to ask: How did the Wildcats, who had already compared themselves
to the best college teams of all time, fall to the Boilermakers,
who had just lost on their home court to Central Michigan? Well,
the plain truth--rather, the plane truth--was that Arizona played
like a team that had flown 7,200 miles to play four games in six
Granted, the Wildcats were missing center Loren Woods, who was
suspended for the season's first six games for accepting improper
benefits from a family friend, but that hadn't kept Arizona from
beating No. 8 Illinois 79-76 to win the Maui Invitational on Nov.
22. That night the Wildcats flew from Maui to Los Angeles to
Denver to Indianapolis, arriving at 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
"Yesterday in practice it felt like we were still somewhere over
Colorado," Arizona coach Lute Olson said after last Saturday's
loss to Purdue, and in the game forward Richard Jefferson, a
Wooden Award candidate, looked exhausted, scoring zero points in
23 minutes before fouling out. Several of his teammates were a
step slow as well, failing to deny the baseline or corral loose
balls. The Boilermakers raced out to a 15-3 advantage, and even
Purdue coach Gene Keady appeared stunned.
"There will be some very strong lessons learned from this," a
chagrined Olson said, and though he was referring to lessons
learned by his players, here's hoping that he, too, learned
something in his role as schedule maker. Arizona's party line was
that it had accepted an invitation to play in Saturday's game to
honor Wooden (a check for six figures from the organizers
probably didn't hurt), but as the 90-year-old Wizard of Westwood,
a Purdue alumnus, walked around the court wearing a Boilermakers
hat after the game, it was enough to make you wonder if the
Wildcats had honored him a bit too much. --Grant Wahl
Dayton Hits the Top 25
A Bittersweet Triumph
On the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving, Dayton coach Oliver
Purnell summoned senior guard Tony Stanley to a room in the
Flyers' hotel in Lahaina, Hawaii, where Dayton was competing in
the Maui Invitational, and handed him a telephone. Tony's
grandmother, Lucille, was on the line with the news that Tony's
37-year-old mother, Karen, had died of pneumonia in Philadelphia
earlier that day. The illness had come on so suddenly that Tony
wasn't even aware that she'd been sick. The news caused him to
collapse into Purnell's arms, and the two cried together. "It was
amazing," Purnell says. "You're in the excitement of this
tournament, and all of a sudden something like this happens and
none of the basketball matters anymore."
After the phone call, Purnell and Stanley went for a long walk,
during which Stanley said he still wanted to play the next day
against sixth-ranked Maryland in the consolation game. Play he
did, scoring a game-high 21 points and holding the Terps' star
guard, Juan Dixon, to two points on 1-of-8 shooting in a 77-71
Flyers win. The victory was Dayton's second upset of a ranked
team in three days--the Flyers opened the tournament with an
80-66 drubbing of No. 12 Connecticut--and it catapulted Dayton
into the AP Top 25 (at No. 24) for the first time in 26 years.
Perhaps more important, Dayton left Maui a closer team. "Because
of what went down with my mom, I bonded tighter with my teammates
than I ever had in my four years here," Stanley says.
Following a stellar career at Washington-Lee High in Arlington,
Va., Stanley took his time getting his game under control. He did
little but shoot during his first two seasons at Dayton, but last
year, while leading the Flyers in scoring (14.7 points a game)
and steals (1.7) as Dayton made its first NCAA tournament
appearance since 1990, he had more assists than turnovers for the
first time. "Tony came in with a lot of talent, but he had to
learn to let the game come to him," Purnell says. "He has also
learned the importance of bringing guys together with his
The need to lead was what drove Stanley to play against Maryland
despite his grief. "I owed it not just to my mom but also to my
teammates," he says. "I'm the captain. If I'm down, they're
down." Which is not to say he didn't keep his mother in mind.
Each of the six times he stepped to the free throw line, he
looked up and pointed toward the sky to honor her memory.
End of an Era?
Exempt Games Face Extinction
Without tournaments such as the Maui Invitational, non-elite
schools like Dayton would rarely if ever have the chance to play
three straight games on a neutral court against ranked teams.
(The Flyers also lost 76-59 to Arizona in Maui.) These
tournaments exist because of their so-called exempt status under
NCAA rules, which charge a participating team only one game
against the regular-season limit of 28. Not only do these events
create scintillating matchups, such as Arizona's win over
Illinois in Maui or No. 2 Duke's narrow escape from Temple in
the preseason NIT, but they also provide lesser lights like
Dayton with an opportunity to boost their power ratings. Now,
however, exempt tournaments are under assault--a cowardly
assault at that--from the major conference commissioners.
The commissioners' reasons for eliminating the events include a
desire to have all schools play the same number of games and to
minimize missed class time. (These are the same guys who don't
bat an eye when some of their players are on the road for three
weeks straight during the NCAA tournament.) What it's really
about, of course, is money. The commissioners would prefer that
their teams play a couple more home games instead--for which
they propose adding one game to the 28-game limit--thereby
reducing travel expenses and permitting their schools to pocket
more revenue. They may get their way, though most other
interested parties oppose the elimination of exemptions. "The
coaches want to play in these events, the kids want to and the
fans want us to," Kansas coach Roy Williams says.
Because the proposal is so unpopular, the
commissioners--especially those from the big power conferences,
the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Conference USA, Pac-10 and
SEC--are doing their best to push it through without leaving any
fingerprints. Any league can propose a piece of legislation to
the NCAA's management council, but when the issue of eliminating
exempt tournaments was discussed during last June's meeting of
the Collegiate Commissioners Association (CCA), none of the
attendees volunteered to do so. So the CCA enlisted an NCAA
committee, the championships/competition cabinet, to put the
proposal before the management council. "You won't see any one
conference stand up and sponsor the legislation, because
everyone's worried about a backlash," says one conference
commissioner who wishes to remain anonymous. "So we clouded it
in the legislative process. That way it's faceless."
In October the management council approved the proposed
legislation "without specific endorsement." Since all NCAA
legislation requires two management council approval votes
before going to the board of directors for a final vote,
exemption elimination has now passed the first of three
necessary steps. If it seems unlikely to pass the rest, given
the cold reception the proposal has received, keep in mind that
while every other conference appoints only one representative to
the 49-member management council, the big seven conferences are
each accorded three spots.
For the latest scores and recruiting news, plus more from Seth
Davis and Grant Wahl, go to cnnsi.com/basketball/college.
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Jet-lagged Wildcat Eugene Edgerson lost the ball to Carson Cunningham in Purdue's win.
COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL CONROY/AP A grieving Stanley helped beat Maryland with 21 points.