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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT

Script Has Really Changed in This One

Midwest Regional: What appeared to be a cakewalk for Kansas has turned into two intriguing matchups--one being a genuine Cinderella story.

March 20, 1998|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — "Hello?" answered Rhode Island Coach Jim Harrick, knowing darn well who was calling his hotel room at 11:30 p.m.

"We're coming after you! We're coming after you!" the caller said.

Nothing like getting a prank phone call . . . from your son.

When the Midwest Regional brackets were released, no one could have dreamed of the story lines it would produce.

It appeared on paper as the most boring of the four regionals, a coronation of top-seeded Kansas en route to its first national title for Coach Roy Williams.

Instead, amid Tammy Faye Baker's tears, Rhode Island snuffed Kansas in a tremendous upset last weekend, and tiny Valparaiso became a tournament heartthrob with stunning victories over Mississippi and Florida State.

The early-round upsets transformed the mild Midwest into a wild, wide-open, family affair with one precious ticket to the Final Four suddenly very much up for grabs.

In tonight's first game at the Kiel Center, tournament seeding form holds as No. 3 Stanford meets No. 2 Purdue.

In the nightcap, however, Kansas-killer Rhode Island, the sixth-seeded team, takes on No. 13 Valparaiso in an intriguing matchup.

A surprise?

"Ask all 16 teams who they'd want to play," Harrick said of the remaining schools in the tournament. "They'd say, No. 1, Valpo, and, No. 2 Rhode Island. But there's a reason the No. 1 seed isn't here."

What's more, no other game has blood ties like this one.

There are, of course, the Harricks. UCLA ran Jim Sr. out of Westwood for lying about an expense account--meanwhile, up at Fresno State, players are brandishing Samurai swords. . . . Harrick, after sitting out a season, was hired at Rhode Island, where in his first season he has taken the Rams two games deep into the tournament.

Not that this is vindication for his UCLA ouster.

"I don't like the word." Harrick said. "I don't know what word to use. To the people that knew me, know me, my family and friends, I don't have to vindicate anything. I do feel a great deal of satisfaction."

Harrick's most outspoken defender after his firing was his son, Jim Jr., now an assistant coach at Valparaiso.

That father and son coaches from obscure Division I schools should meet in the round of 16 is nothing short of divine intervention, the Harricks say.

But so much for sentiment. Each wants to take each other apart on the court.

"It means a lot to me as father-son, mentor-student," Jim Jr. said Thursday. "But I want to win this game."

There is also the story of the Drews. Homer is Valparaiso's coach. Homer's son, Bryce, is the star guard and the hero of the Crusaders' first-round victory over Mississippi. Another son, Scott, is a Valparaiso assistant.

Bryce Drew looks as wholesome as wheat bread, but Rhode Island's Jim Harrick knows better, having spent a week at Valparaiso last year after his firing.

"You think that choir boy, Opie, is not an assassin when he steps across the line?" Harrick said.

Then there are Bob and Bill Jenkins, Valparaiso forwards and brothers. Their 15 minutes of fame have brought offers for modeling contracts.

"Don't think we're in school to be models," Bob Jenkins said. "We don't want to be the Doublemint twins."

Not to be outdone on "Family Ties Weekend," Stanford forward Peter Sauer's father, Mark, is president and CEO of the St. Louis Blues and the Kiel Center, where the Midwest Regional is being played.

"I always love playing in front of my dad, whether my dad is working at the arena or not," Peter said.

More connections?

Rhode Island center Luther Clay is a transfer from Purdue, a possible story line if those teams meet in Sunday's regional final.

There is also a great matchup of players who are mirror images of each other--Stanford's Mark Madsen, 6 feet 8, 235 pounds, and Purdue's Brian Cardinal, also 6-8 and 235.

Both are bruising, physical types who lead with their chins.

Game 1 plot point?

"Cardinal's going to come down and want his spot and Madsen's going to think not," Stanford Coach Mike Montgomery said.

Cardinal wears braces on both ankles, knee pads and an elbow pad on his right arm. His legs are a mass of bruises and welts. He has taken on the toughest the Big Ten has to offer, Michigan's Robert "Tractor" Traylor included, and said he is looking forward to mixing it up with Madsen.

Montgomery said Cardinal reminds him of former UCLA All-American David Meyers, the forward who played on John Wooden's last national title team in 1975.

Cardinal is by far the better outside shooter, having made 29 of 64 three-point shots this season--45%.

Madsen's three-point line?

"I'm oh-for-one in my Stanford career," the sophomore said. "And the one I did take, I took a lot of flak for it."

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