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NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK : Getting Into NCAA Tournament for First Time, Going Against UCLA Is Putting Other South Carolina Campus on the Map


UCLA is doing the Charleston, all right, but it's the other Charleston.

Not College of Charleston, the longtime NAIA super-power that got its second NCAA bid in four seasons. And not the Citadel, whose version of March Madness probably has nothing to do with basketball.

The Bruins' first-round Midwest Regional opponent Thursday is the younger, quieter, far less famous school in that South Carolina college metropolis.

"Sure, people confuse us for them," said Charleston Southern senior guard Brett Larrick, referring to Charleston, College of. "That happens. Charleston has two teams in the tournament, and really, a few years ago nobody knew there were any here at all.

"But after yesterday, I'm sure they've gotten a couple calls meant for us, and they're like, 'Man, we don't like this.' They've learned what it feels like."

This is NCAA tournament first-timer Charleston Southern, which would be confusing enough, even if the name were geographically correct.

"Actually, we're in North Charleston," said Larrick, the Buccaneers' 6-foot-4 leading scorer, at 19.6 points a game, who happens to be from that great Southern city of Elyria, Ohio--just outside Cleveland. "How we got Charleston Southern as our name, well . . .

"North Charleston is the city we're in. I guess we're called Southern, because we're down South."

So, Charleston Southern is actually north of College of Charleston?

"Actually," Larrick said with a sigh Monday by phone from the Buccaneers' basketball office, "they're east of us."

And for most of the last few years, way above Charleston Southern on the college basketball ladder.

The Big South Conference had an automatic bid starting in 1991, but the one previous season Charleston Southern won the postseason tournament was in 1995--when the Big South was denied an automatic NCAA bid because it didn't have enough teams.

So, when it came to college hoops in Charleston, the Buccaneers barely made a blip--which makes their yearly matchup with College of Charleston, as Charleston Southern Coach Tom Conrad says, "the biggest game in the low country."

"Oh, it's incredible," said Conrad, who is completing his first season as head coach after five as an assistant under Gary Edwards. "College of Charleston has been around for 100 years, we've been around for 30. We want a lot of the things they have."

Charleston Southern lost to College of Charleston in November, 81-68, but in late December, with Larrick torching the Gamecocks' heralded guards for 30 points and six rebounds, beat South Carolina at Columbia when the Gamecocks were struggling to a 5-5 start.

The senior-laden Buccaneers, hit with injuries, were mediocre during the league season, then lost quick point guard Errol McPherson to a knee injury late in the year. Charleston Southern lost its last three regular-season games with Larrick moved to the point position, finishing the regular season, 14-12.

But in the conference tournament, Conrad put Larrick's younger brother, Adam, in at the point, moved Brett back to shooting guard, and Charleston Southern beat Coastal Carolina, UNC Asheville and Liberty for the Big South title, with Brett Larrick averaging 20 points in the three games and Rolando Hourruitiner scoring 24 against Liberty in the title game.

"Getting Adam into the starting lineup might have been the key," Brett Larrick said. "He just gets us into our offense--and I don't have to worry about going and getting the ball, he knows exactly where to give it to me. In the first game, I knew when he went down the baseline left, if he got stopped, he'd look down the baseline, and I was on the right side, and I got two threes that way."

So, toss this private, Christian school--with about 2,500 students, the third-smallest in the tournament--into a first-round matchup with UCLA, and voila! the headlines come, the phones start ringing, and, at a campus selection-day viewing party, the excitement begins.

"We've been stealing a little of their publicity," Conrad said of UCLA. "They're a great team, they deserve all of it. But we want some, too. And now, we're getting it."

So, although Charleston Southern thought it would stay out east--and was hoping for nearby Winston-Salem, N.C., an East sub-regional site--for the Buccaneers, the only direction truly relevant these days is upward.

Here's the glamorous Auburn Hills, Mich., matchup: 15th-seeded Big South representative Charleston Southern, with no national titles, versus 34,000-student UCLA, which has won 11 national championships and has been a national story all season after firing Jim Harrick two weeks before it began.

"We saw everything happening and everything going on with them losing their coach, listening to him on [ESPN's] 'Up Close,' seeing all the stories on [Steve] Lavin taking over," Larrick said.

"It's weird when you think back. We watched UCLA, they were national champions not too long ago, they went through all that stuff, now we're getting ready to play them."

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