Is He Hip on Tournament? Let Him Count the Ways
Sixteen takes, not all of them sweet, on college basketball in the time of war.
1. Luke Walton collapses. He fell in the exhaust of Arizona’s doubled-over win against Gonzaga. Walton on hardwood said everything you need to know about one of the most enthralling NCAA games ever played.
2. Fan Appreciation Night. At the end of the Arizona-Gonzaga game, more than 14,000 fans at the Huntsman Center stood to applaud the extraordinary effort they had witnessed. It was the sort of tribute normally reserved for the Three Tenors.
3. Duke gets booed. The Blue Devils ought to get credit for two road victories in Salt Lake City. The team was heckled against Colorado State and derided against Central Michigan. Why the backlash for such a classy program? A lot of people, flat-out, think America’s Program receives preferential treatment from officials. Of course, most of Duke’s success has do with it being perennially well-coached and having the best players.
4. The almost upsets. The underdogs had a chance to make unprecedented inroads against the power-conference schools but came up maddeningly short in the cases of Gonzaga versus Arizona, Wisconsin Milwaukee versus Notre Dame, Utah State against Kansas, East Tennessee State against Wake Forest, San Diego against Stanford, Tulsa against Wisconsin and Western Kentucky against Illinois.
5. Thank you Vermont. On the same day police escorted Cincinnati Coach Bob “the Volcano” Huggins from the court after his first-round ejection against Gonzaga, an officer stopped Vermont Coach Tom Brennan before he headed home. It took Vermont 42 hours to reach Salt Lake City after getting stranded by a Denver blizzard, yet the school handled its first tournament trip with uncommon dignity.
“You’re a class act,” the officer told Brennan.
6. French disconnection. NCAA events are supposed to pump money into local economies. Friday night, a colleague and I struggled to find an open restaurant table in jam-packed Salt Lake City. As we circled the city block we spotted a neon light promoting an establishment called “Au Bon Appetit.”
The war hits home: Could a boycott of French products get us fed?
Mais bien sur!
The restaurant was half-empty.
“A year ago zzzzz-place was packed,” the owner told us in a thick French accent.
He said someone had vandalized a chubby chef statue outside the front door.
He said the boycott was a shame because it was only hurting the Americans who worked there.
7. Mascots. Is there anything more humankind-affirming during tough times than news of two university mascots almost coming to blows? The good news is the Oregon Duck and Utah’s “Swoop” made up after their first-round altercation at the Midwest Regional. Pacific 10 Conference Commissioner Tom Hansen will not take disciplinary action against his conference’s mascot although he said, “Once, I did have to reprimand the Stanford Tree.”
8. The look on Mark Few’s face. The Gonzaga coach was still numb after his team’s heartbreaking defeat to Arizona when the question was broached about the UCLA job. Few coached the game of his life Saturday against Arizona, brilliantly matching Lute Olson’s moves. Few knows UCLA may now come calling and it’s not going to be easy to say no. But what about the kids that just played their guts out for him? The nucleus of Gonzaga’s squad will return next season.
But will Few?
9. Creighton crouch. After his team’s upset loss to Central Michigan, Creighton Coach Dana Altman sat by himself behind a blue curtain, head buried in his hands. He blamed himself for his team’s loss. Altman’s name had surfaced as a possible candidate for the UCLA job.
Probably not now.
10. Radio daze. I had the misfortune of sitting to the immediate right of the Cincinnati basketball color commentator ejected from Thursday’s first-round game against Gonzaga for cursing an official.
As of Sunday, the National Radio Hall of Fame had not requested a copy of the game tape.
11. Rick Majerus’ one-inch vertical leap after Utah defeated Oregon. Down his star player, sidelined because of mononucleosis, Majerus worked coaching magic in spinning that opening-round win. There’s no question he would bring instant credibility to UCLA, but the beauty of his gig in Utah is that he runs his program with little interference from the administration.
12. Teenage girl screams at the top of her lungs behind press row for entire Colorado State-Duke game. She was rooting hard for her Rams to pull off the upset. Midway through the second half, I was pulling hard for Duke.
13. Maryland’s Drew Nicholas beats North Carolina Wilmington with a last-second three-pointer. I’m calling it the most dramatic exit through an arena tunnel since Bo Jackson’s touchdown run against Seattle.
14. Auburn apology. No way Auburn deserved to get into this tournament ahead of Boston College. I said so last week. Sorry, boys, we could have sworn you were a football school.
15. Brigham Young. Because of a bracketing gaffe, BYU would have had to switch from the Friday-Sunday South Regional format to the Thursday-Saturday Midwest had the Cougars won two tournament games. (The school does not play games on Sundays.)
It would have caused embarrassment and messed up office-pool brackets.
First-round score: Connecticut 58, BYU 53.
16. UCLA chatter. This tournament features Dick Enberg, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and people buzzing about the Bruin program.
Just like old times.
The only thing missing is UCLA.