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WOMEN'S BASKETBALL MIKE TERRY

Minnesota's NCAA Problems Not Over

January 23, 2002|MIKE TERRY

Minnesota officials hoped their bad times with the NCAA investigators had ended with Clem Haskins and his disgraced men's basketball program.

However, new allegations against Minnesota were revealed over the weekend, but they pertained to the women's program and former coach Cheryl Littlejohn.

The allegations may be considered minor by the NCAA, and Gopher officials are hoping they earned some leniency by self-reporting them.

Among violations reported by Minnesota are Littlejohn arranging or providing free or reduced-cost housing for prospective student-athletes; buying four fleece jackets for student-athletes, and employing the mother of a student-athlete ($250 for housekeeping services).

Littlejohn is also accused of arranging a $60 loan from a student manager to a student-athlete, and arranging transportation for student-athletes and their family members.

This latest mess obscures Minnesota's strong season. The Gophers are 14-3 under first-year Coach Brenda Oldfield, including victories in eight of their first nine games for the best start in school history. The Gophers are 4-2 in the Big Ten after upending No. 5 Wisconsin on Sunday, their first win over a Top 25 team since 1995, and moved into the Top 25 for the first time in 20 years.

Minnesota will get a hearing with the NCAA on April 14-15. Any sanctions wouldn't begin until next season.

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With the first half of conference play complete, the Pacific 10 clearly can see the mission in front of it.

There are six weeks left--five weeks of conference play and the first women's Pac-10 tournament--to prove the conference deserves more than the four teams it usually gets into the NCAA tournament, and also show the selection committee it doesn't deserve fewer teams in the field of 64.

Third-ranked Stanford, 18-1 and riding a 10-game winning streak, is the only lock for a berth even if it doesn't win the conference tournament and its automatic NCAA slot.

After that, six teams, separated by one game, are fighting for their NCAA lives; go ahead and subtract California, UCLA and Washington State from the process unless they produce a miracle in the conference tournament.

"It's important for some teams to break out," USC Coach Chris Gobrecht said. "It would be nice of the committee to take six or seven of us, but it's important that something happens in February that says these teams are the stronger teams in the conference.

"The conference tournament may be our last resort. But it's not good if we all stay clumped together."

Others see a need to knock off Stanford.

"To have Stanford beaten would get a little more light on conference," Oregon Coach Bev Smith said. "I would hope we're seen as a competitive league. But having someone beat Stanford would do more justice to our league."

Washington Senior Associate Athletic Director Marie Tuite is the Pac-10 voice on the 10-member NCAA tournament selection committee.

She is up against the Big 12, Southeastern, Big Ten and Atlantic Coast conferences that dominate the polls. Among her arguments will be end-of-season finishes, head-to-head competition, common opponents and win-loss percentages.

A definitive line between the top five conference teams and the second tier would strengthen Tuite's position.

Which means Arizona State, USC, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Oregon State have six weeks to sell themselves to the selection committee--or spoil it for somebody.

"There's no doubt the tournament is much needed," Washington Coach June Daugherty said. "Stanford is very good and getting national recognition. But we're seeing several teams in the Pac-10 coming on strong. It puts more importance on the tournament."

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