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MEN'S NCAA TOURNAMENT / EAST REGIONAL : Boston College Is Doing More Than Just Keeping Court Time

March 25, 1994|GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MIAMI — Malcolm Huckaby, Boston College's deep-thinking senior guard, was watching ESPN the other night when he heard the announcer start talking about "watch" teams.

The way Huckaby understood it--and let's face it, how hard can it be to understand anything on ESPN?--a watch team gets invited to the NCAA tournament, loses its first- or second-round game, collects its commemorative souvenir wristwatches and quietly returns home.

That was supposed to be Boston College this year. The ninth-seeded Eagles would lose to No. 8 Washington State in the opening round of the East Regional or, if they survived the first game, get thoroughly beaten by top-ranked North Carolina in the next round. Back to Chestnut Hill they would go, wearing their new timepieces.

Yes, well, instead of being a watch team, the Eagles (22-10) have become the team to watch as the regional semifinals begin tonight.

Boston College, which disposed of the mighty Tar Heels, now faces another basketball institution, this time Bob Knight's Indiana Hoosiers (21-8). Afterward, No. 2-seeded Connecticut (29-4) plays No. 3 Florida (27-7), but there is little doubt which game is attracting most of the attention.

Nothing against the Huskies and Gators, but the underdog theme plays well this time of year. Connecticut and Florida were expected to be here. That's why the NCAA selection committee awarded them such high seedings. Indiana, seeded fifth, and Boston College weren't such sure things.

"I think we were on Cloud 9 for a couple of days, but I think we're back down now," Eagle Coach Jim O'Brien said.

Three seasons ago, Boston College was 1-15 in the Big East Conference, and O'Brien was fighting to save his job. Even this season there were whispers that he could get the pink slip.

But then came the NCAA invitation, the school's first since 1985, followed by the victories over Washington State and North Carolina. At last, vindication.

"For the last three years, we've been watching the NCAA tournament from our dorm rooms," Huckaby said. "It would have been a shame to go all four years without getting here."

Since beating the Tar Heels, the Boston College players have been treated like royalty back home. If guard Gerrod Abram receives any more congratulatory backslaps, he'll have to be treated for welts.

"Around campus, it's been just like a dream," he said.

That was before the Eagles arrived here, hunkered down in front of a VCR and started watching tapes--eight, and counting--of Indiana's motion offense and its recently improved defense.

"They're really not that gifted as athletes, but they're very smart," Huckaby said.

Of course, that isn't to say the Hoosiers are five dorks with slide rules and sneakers.

Forward Alan Henderson, who averaged 23 points and 12 rebounds in Indiana's two tournament victories, will give Eagle center Bill Curley (20.3 points, 8.9 rebounds) lots to think about. Hoosier guard Damon Bailey and forward Pat Graham, who have been hobbled by injuries in recent weeks, said they're feeling much better these days. And then there's Knight, who was kind enough to remind everyone last week that he still knew a thing or two about the game. He proved it, too, as Indiana took the mystery out of Temple's matchup zone Sunday at Landover, Md.

Nor are the Hoosiers buying any of this miracle-on-Chestnut Hill stuff.

"We looked at the (Boston College-North Carolina) tape, and it wasn't a fluke," Henderson said.

Even Knight said that his assistants were told to pay careful attention to the Eagles in that game.

"We felt there was a very, very definite possibility of Boston College beating North Carolina," he said. "Boston College really had some strengths that really fit into North Carolina's weaknesses."

Despite the compliments, Boston College's Abram said he isn't sure the rest of the country is convinced.

"I don't think none of us are going into the game thinking we're afraid of Indiana, or nothing like that," he said. "We're still going into the game as the underdogs. We beat North Carolina and everybody who picked North Carolina is now picking Indiana to win. So that's just keeping us going."

Meanwhile, Connecticut is considered the favorite in the second game. The Huskies feature one of the nation's top five players, junior forward Donyell Marshall, whose 19.5-point, seven-rebound tournament averages actually have been questioned by some Connecticut followers. He averaged 25.4 points and 8.8 rebounds for the season.

"If you look at it, 19 points from anyone else would be a good night," Marshall said.

Marshall is the centerpiece for the Huskies, but not the only player who can cause damage. In all, four Connecticut players--Marshall, Donny Marshall, Doron Sheffer and Ray Allen--are averaging in double figures.

Florida features one of the premier backcourts with Dan Cross and Craig Brown.

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