The streak lives. The Shaq-de-Shaq Dance does not.
Of course, that’s what happens when a 64-game home winning streak collides with Louisiana State junior center Shaquille O’Neal. Something had to give and Saturday evening at Arizona’s McKale Center, it was LSU, which was little match for the No. 3-ranked Wildcats.
The final score was 87-67, but all you really need to know about the night’s events was the linescore of O’Neal, the 7-foot-1, 295-pound All-American who single-handedly destroyed Arizona in last season’s LSU victory.
The numbers, please:
Last year--29 points, 14 rebounds, six blocked shots, five steals.
This year--10 points, four rebounds, three blocked shots, four steals and, oh, yes, five fouls.
O’Neal was hounded the entire game by Arizona defenders. Seven-footer Ed Stokes was stationed in front of him. The 6-foot-10 Sean Rooks was positioned behind him. Chris Mills, 6 feet 6, visited often, as did a Wildcat guard on occasion.
By game’s end, O’Neal had attempted only six shots in 22 minutes. His point total was the lowest since his freshman season. His frustration level was considerably higher.
Last season, after slamming a dunk over Rooks, O’Neal broke into an impromptu dance, which became known as the Shaq-de-Shaq. Rooks stewed. Despite scoring 18 points that day, Rooks couldn’t forget the sight of O’Neal’s mocking post-dunk performance. And in case he did, Rooks’ teammates were quick to remind him.
“If we saw it on TV, we’d go to his room and taunt him about it,” Arizona guard Matt Othick said. “He took it to heart, you could tell.”
So could O’Neal. A year ago, he blocked one of Rooks’ shots with his elbow. This time he swatted away at least two of Rooks’ jump shots, but it didn’t matter. Rooks refused to be intimidated.
Late in the game, after O’Neal had stuffed another one of Rooks’ shots back in his face, the two players exchanged words.
“I don’t care how good you play,” O’Neal said, “I’m still a No. 1 draft pick.”
A stunned Rooks later called it the best line he has ever heard from an opponent.
Minutes later, when O’Neal fouled out, Rooks delivered something of a payback. He waved goodby.
“Hey, that last foul was emotional,” Rooks said.
The Arizona strategy was simple: surround O’Neal and take your chances with everyone else. That’s exactly what the Wildcats did, executing Coach Lute Olson’s plan to perfection. LSU did the rest, missing shot after shot on the perimeter and finishing the evening with a shooting percentage of 38.
“I don’t know too many people who can go out and score 30 points a night with three or four people on them,” O’Neal said.
“As far as true centers go, Shaquille is the best,” Olson said. “But we think both of our big guys can play, too.”
No argument here. O’Neal didn’t record a dunk, and he barely crept into double figures. Arizona increased its home streak to 65.
“He had my respect before the game,” Rooks said of O’Neal, “and he has it after the game.”
Maybe this time, O’Neal will say the same about Rooks.