NCAA BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT : MIDWEST REGIONAL : Guards Put Longhorns in High Gear : Texas: Penders’ wide-open offense utilizes his players’ skills.
Perhaps the best backcourt in college basketball, Texas guards Lance Blanks, Travis Mays and Joey Wright are billed as BMW, the ultimate scoring machine.
The three combined for 86 points in the Longhorns’ 102-89 victory over Xavier in an NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal game Thursday night. Texas will play Arkansas in the final today at Reunion Arena.
“I don’t know of any other guards in the country better than the Texas guards,” Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson said Friday.
The numbers support Richardson. Blanks, Mays and Wright have scored more than 500 points apiece in each of the last two seasons--and Mays is the Southwest Conference’s career scoring leader.
Blanks, a 6-foot-4 senior, is averaging 20.2 points.
Mays, a 6-2 senior, is averaging 24 points and has been voted the Southwest Conference player of the year for the second consecutive season.
Wright, a 6-2 junior, is averaging 19.3 points after moving from shooting guard to point guard.
Blanks and Wright transferred to Texas from Virginia and Drake, respectively, because they chafed against structured offenses. Mays almost left Texas after his freshman season because he felt restricted by former Longhorn coach Bob Weltlich, a protege of Indiana Coach Bob Knight.
But all three have flourished under Coach Tom Penders, who installed a guard-oriented, fast-break offense and transformed the Longhorns into the Runnin’ Horns after he succeeded Weltlich in 1988.
Although Blanks is disliked throughout the conference, Texas Tech players and fans have a special distaste for him.
Taunted by Tech fans, who shouted racial slurs at him during a game last season, Blanks took out his frustrations on the court, collapsing a basket with a dunk.
He didn’t say a word while simply staring at the fans, as officials reset the basket.
Selected as the most hated player in the conference by a Dallas newspaper columnist, Blanks allegedly spit in the face of a Texas Tech player during another game.
“It wasn’t a malicious act,” Blanks said. “I definitely don’t go around spitting on guys. But the emotions were high, and I did spit on him. It wasn’t intentional and I apologized and that was the end of that.”
During the Southwest Conference tournament two weeks ago, Blanks received a technical foul after he made what an official perceived as an obscene gesture after a bad call.
Has Penders ever told Blanks to tone down his act?
“He’s told me he doesn’t care if I run in the stands, just make sure that I put points on the board and stop people on defense,” Blanks said.
Said Penders: “Lance is a hotdog, that’s all he is. Have you ever seen Michael Jordan play? He sticks out his tongue and raises his fist. People (in Texas) aren’t used to that type of stuff. That’s all Lance does.”
What do Blanks’ teammates think of him?
“I love his antics,” Wright said. “They’re exactly what this team needs because all the other guys are pretty quiet, and Lance brings out all that excitement in everybody.”
But not everyone appreciates Blanks.
“He’s a good player, but I don’t understand why he wants to get out on the court and embarrass his team and his school,” Arkansas forward Todd Day said. “Nobody wants to be around anybody who’s going to embarrass you.”
Blanks is the son of Sid Blanks, a former Houston Oilers defensive back.
“My father has had a big impact on my career,” Blanks said. “The biggest was deciding whether I was going to transfer from Virginia. I let him make the decision since I made the first decision (to go to Virginia), and it didn’t work out.”
Mays was so distraught after his freshman season at Texas, he was ready to return home to Ocala, Fla., and transfer to the University of Florida.
“I was gone,” Mays said. “My bags were packed. But I thought it out and talked with my mother and Coach Weltlich. He said the situation would get better.”
But it got worse.
A disciplinarian, Weltlich punished the players by making them run wind sprints. When Mays passed out while sprinting, Weltlich said he would have to run twice as much in the next practice to make up for what he had missed.
After players complained about his tactics, Weltlich was fired at the end of the 1988 season.
“I wasn’t the saddest person in the world when Coach Weltlich was fired,” said Mays, who has flourished in two seasons under Penders.
Mays averaged 21.9 points during the 1988-89 season, and surpassed that this season despite playing with a hyper-extended index finger on his shooting hand since January.
After averaging 24.8 points before the injury, Mays averaged 21.6 points in 11 games while playing with the finger heavily taped. The low point came when he missed a free throw that would have beaten Arkansas. Given a reprieve, the Razorbacks won in overtime.
With the injury healed, Mays is averaging 30.6 points in three NCAA tournament games, including a career-high 44 during a first-round victory over Georgia.
While Blanks and Mays are expected to score, it’s Wright’s function to distribute the ball to whomever has the hot hand.
And he has done an outstanding job of directing the Longhorn offense.
“I think Joey Wright is the most underrated player in the country,” Arkansas’ Richardson said.
But Wright didn’t begin his career as a point guard.
A shooting guard at Gavit High in Hammond, Ind., Wright was switched after transferring to Texas from Drake, where he was a reserve.
Why did he leave Drake?
“Let me put it this way, I love the program I’m in now and I love this system and my coach to death,” Wright said.
“Everything was the opposite at Drake. I didn’t like the system. They played so slow that I could never show my game.
“I was recruited on false pretenses. I just got fed up. I left after my first year, so you know I had to be pretty upset.”