Big Spotlight Shining On Little Rhody
They are no longer Little Rhody, the “other” school in the state of Rhode Island, snarling and snapping at times to get recognition.
And were it not for the presence of 13th-seeded Valparaiso, whom the Rams will meet in an unlikely Midwest Regional semifinal in St. Louis Friday night, Rhode Island would do quite nicely as the Cinderella team of this year’s NCAA Tournament, which has been pared from 64 to 16 teams.
But URI can still be your favorite underdog, after knocking off top-seeded Kansas and becoming the talk not only of Rhode Island but of the entire college basketball community.
Rams coach Jim Harrick, who knows something about teams on a roll in tournaments, told his players to pick up their expectation levels.
“Rhode Island watches you all year long,” Harrick told his team before last Friday’s first-round game against Murray State, which began as a toss-up between No. 8 and No. 9 seeds and turned quickly into a Rhody romp. “But the United States of America watches you in the NCAA Tournament. I use a thing I call consistent excellence, which is something that will carry you throughout the whole tournament. Focus on what you are doing. Be physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared to play, and do the very best that you can.”
Harrick has talked like that for years, particularly since his UCLA team won the 1995 national championship.
“When we’re playing the way we can, nobody can stop us,” said Tyson Wheeler, who has had to tone down his game somewhat, at Harrick’s request, in favor of a more team-oriented offense. “We’re like brothers.”
A sweet flight for UW
The Washington Huskies headed for the next round of March Madness basketball in style Tuesday.
Rather than spending the day on commercial flights, the team boarded the Seattle SuperSonics’ Boeing 727 jetliner - with an interior designed especially for tall people.
With the Sweet 16-bound flight time cut in half to Raleigh, N.C., the team had time for an afternoon practice at Duke University, where Washington coach Bob Bender has played and coached.
The Huskies are scheduled to play the second-seeded Connecticut Huskies on Thursday night in Greensboro. A win there would give Washington its first Elite Eight appearance in 45 years.
Joining the team on its trip to Greensboro was legendary UW coach Marv Harshman, Bender’s special guest. After a two-day visit to Seattle after beating Richmond 81-66 on Saturday to reach the final 16 NCAA teams, the team also departed with the good wishes of thousands of converted Huskies fans.
“And confidence,” Bender added. “We’re leaving with much more than before.”
The NBA Sonics offered the Huskies the use of their jetliner. The Huskies paid the equivalent of commercial rates for use of the airplane.
Old friends meet in Anaheim
When you won an NCAA title just two years ago, have made back-to-back trips to the Final Four and reached the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive year, it is hard to sell the line about being disrespected.
But Kentucky players have adopted that attitude as the second-seeded Wildcats (31-4) prepare this week for Friday’s NCAA South Regional semifinal against sixth-seeded UCLA. The winner advances to Sunday’s South Regional championship game. Both Kentucky and UCLA reached the Elite Eight last year.
“Everyone talks about the fact that there wasn’t a marquee player on this team. An NBA player,” senior guard Cameron Mills said. “But other than the (1996) championship team, there’s probably more talent on this team than there’s been the last eight or nine years at Kentucky.”
It will be old times revisited when Kentucky and UCLA (24-8) take the floor at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. The teams played at the inaugural John R. Wooden Classic in 1994, at Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim.
Kentucky was ranked second in the nation, but UCLA freshman J.R. Henderson sank two free throws with 0.6 seconds remaining to give the Bruins an 82-81 victory, an emotional uplifter that helped spur UCLA to its 11th NCAA title and first in 20 years.
West to meet West
Jerry West, the greatest shotmaker in West Virginia history, was impressed by the greatest shot in school history by another West - Jarrod.
Jarrod West’s last-second 3-pointer lifted the Mountaineers past Cincinnati on Saturday and into the NCAA Tournament’s round of 16.
“That was kind of cool,” said Jerry West, who was watching the game on television. “But it wouldn’t have made any difference whose name it was.
“I was watching the end of the game and the kid from Cincinnati made almost the same shot that he made the game before. Then the West kid comes down and shoots the thing and you say to yourself, ‘My God, it didn’t look like it had much of a chance to go in,’ and it banks it. It made no difference - it went in.”
West Virginia faces Utah on Thursday in the West Regional in Anaheim, Calif., and Jerry West said he plans to be there.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:
East semifinals, Thursday
N. Carolina (32-3) vs. Michigan State (22-7)
Connecticut (31-4) vs. Washington (20-9)
West semifinals, Thursday
West Virginia (24-8) vs. Utah (27-3)
Arizona (29-4) vs. Maryland (21-10)
South semifinals, Friday
Duke (31-3) vs. Syracuse (26-8)
Kentucky (31-4) vs. UCLA (24-8)
Midwest semifinals, Friday
Purdue (28-7) vs. Stanford (28-4)
Rhode Island (24-8) vs. Valparaiso (23-9)
This sidebar appeared with the story: SWEET 16
East semifinals, Thursday N. Carolina (32-3) vs. Michigan State (22-7) Connecticut (31-4) vs. Washington (20-9) West semifinals, Thursday West Virginia (24-8) vs. Utah (27-3) Arizona (29-4) vs. Maryland (21-10) South semifinals, Friday Duke (31-3) vs. Syracuse (26-8) Kentucky (31-4) vs. UCLA (24-8) Midwest semifinals, Friday Purdue (28-7) vs. Stanford (28-4) Rhode Island (24-8) vs. Valparaiso (23-9)