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Battle Fatigue Sets In Early on Disorienting Day

March 21, 2003|Mike Penner

Uncertain and uneasy, life during wartime proceeded Thursday with the opening games of a college basketball tournament that did not include UCLA, USC, North Carolina and, in a few too many arenas across America, perspective.

In Indianapolis, where Missouri had just held off Southern Illinois' upset challenge with the help of a dubious blocking call, television play-by-play broadcaster Gus Johnson excitedly exclaimed, "Missouri dodges a bullet!"

In Oklahoma City, where North Carolina State's Marcus Melvin was keeping his team close to California with accurate long-range jump shots, another television announcer, Jay Bilas, advised Cal to tighten its perimeter defense because "Melvin is a deadly three-point shooter!"

In Salt Lake City, where Cincinnati was in the process of losing nothing more important than a first-round playoff game, Bearcat Coach Bob Huggins, six months removed from a heart attack, got so worked up over a traveling call that went against his team that he drew two technicals and was ejected from the game with more than 15 minutes to play.

Traveling with Huggins, as a sign of red-faced Cincinnati solidarity, was the team's radio analyst, Chuck Machock, also sent off for allowing himself to get a little too caught up in the moment.

The Midwest Regional is not the Middle East, as TV viewers knew quickly enough when they tuned in to CBS and were told to switch to ESPN and ESPN2 if they were interested in tracking the progress of the NCAA tournament. There, fans had to blink their eyes awhile before acclimating themselves to the strange new ground rules.

Yes, it was true -- they were actually watching CBS' live footage and listening to CBS' announcers on ESPN while one bottom-of-the-screen crawl advised to "tune to ABC for continuous coverage of the war with Iraq." Another proposed to viewers watching the action on ESPN that the best way to follow the tournament online was to log on to

Once that wall of confusion was hurdled, Southland basketball fans, without a local team to support for the first time in 19 NCAA tournaments, settled in to confront the once unthinkable question:

How do we follow -- i.e., how does TV cover -- a tournament with no UCLA, no USC, no Pepperdine, no Loyola Marymount, no Cal State Northridge or Long Beach State?

The answer was sneak-previewed last week at Staples Center.

For those who missed the Pacific 10 Conference tournament, Thursday's locally televised parade starred the better half: Cal followed by Arizona followed by Stanford followed by Arizona State.

Green to the gills with envy, downcast Bruin and Trojan fans watched all morning and afternoon as Cal edged North Carolina State in overtime, 76-74 ... and Arizona overwhelmed a goggle-eyed Vermont squad, 80-51 ... and Stanford held off the University of San Diego -- coached by Brad Holland, ex-Bruin -- by a 77-69 margin ... and Arizona State, seeded 10th in the West, upset John Calipari's seventh-seeded Memphis Tigers, 84-71.

Record for the day by Pac-10 teams not named UCLA or USC: 4-0.

Number of Pac-10 teams not named UCLA or USC headed for Pod Saturday, a.k.a. the second round: All four of them.

On the bright side, a car commercial was aired featuring Tyus Edney's end-to-end game-winner against Missouri in the 1995 tournament. Remember when? It was good to see that again -- and, pleasant surprise, the video footage from that era is remarkably well-preserved.

In addition, Holland coached a strong enough game to impress UCLA officials and alums, but not strong or smart enough to eliminate Stanford and extend the Toreros' season into the weekend.

In other words, he's available for the first interview.

And, just to get Holland ready for the UCLA job and all it entails, if and when:

(All together now, Bruin fans ... )


Jason Keep is San Diego's best player and leading scorer, but he was sidelined for much of the second half because of foul trouble, and the Toreros were doing fine without him. In fact, they led Stanford without him. Once down by 19, San Diego caught the Cardinal and held a 66-63 lead with less than four minutes left.

Upset there for the taking, Holland figured it was time to send in the closer.

In came Keep, a 6-foot-10 senior center.

Down came the Stanford defense, double-teaming Keep under the basket.

Off went the Cardinal on a 14-3 run to clinch the victory and preserve the Pac-10's undefeated day.

Elsewhere in the Potential Bruin Coaches Division, Mark Few coached a full game for Gonzaga, which was more than Huggins did for Cincinnati, and Roy Williams got out of the first round with Kansas, although, typically, it was tougher than it should have been -- a 64-61 win over Utah State.

Next, Few and Williams apply directly within the Pac-10. In Saturday's second round, Few and Gonzaga take on Arizona, with Williams and his Jayhawks bracing for Arizona State.

Unlike Vermont, which was awed by its first NCAA appearance in its 103 years of college basketball, Gonzaga will be rested and ready, and the Bulldogs have a proven record of frustrating veteran coaches in the tournament. Huggins was the latest in a lengthening list, throwing a tantrum that sent him out of the West Regional before the end of the first round -- premature even by his standards.

Huggins hopped and stomped and huffed and puffed, carrying on as if he were applying for the other available basketball coaching job in Los Angeles.

He looked like just the man for the Clippers.

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