A. B. Williamson said he was sorry. "I apologize for the team and and the university," the Howard coach said, "for such a poor offensive show. Only 43 points against a 2-3 zone is very, very embarassing."

Pioneering for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference among the NCAA elite, this was Howard's dream game. It could not have gone much worse. In the tournament and the arena players most to compete, Howard was not competitive.

Unfortunately for the Bison, they were consistent. Dreadfully, possibly historically consistent. They missed 22 of 30 shots the first half and 22 of 30 shots the second. Wyoming had four more assists during the 78-43 rout than Howard had field goals. Pauley Pavilion was nearly empty with five minutes to play -- and compounding the loss were some instant judgments:

"They were right much overrated," said a Cowboy official.

"That league shouldn't be given an automatic bid," muttered more than a few customers.

Nobody was quite sure what to make of the Bison before the game, for while there was obvious talent, a 17-11 record and back-to-back double-figure losses to Towson State and Longwood College suggested the sort of massacre cowboys nearly always manage against buffalo.

Williamson, who presumably saved his job by winning the MEAC tournament, put much of the blame on "the mystique of Pauley Pavilion and our first time in the NCAAs."

Pauley can be imposing, with its Bruin blue-and-gold and memories of excellence perhaps never again to be seen. Most schools hang banners of conference championships and a top 10 ranking here and there during their basketball lives.

In Pauley, second-place finishes in the NCAA do not rate a mention. Only No. 1 banners get hoisted there -- and 10 of them are on display. It can be overwhelming even for players accustomed to big-time pressure.

According to Williamson, it was vital for Howard to get the lead. That way it could dictate the tempo of the game, keep the Cowboys from packing a zone and forcing players naturally jittery from shooting farther from the basket than absolutely necessary.

So the Bison were down eight points before a crowd that included a few hundred Howard faithful could get settled properly. Garnett hit a short baseline jumper, Mike Jackson stole a pass and scored a layup and Garnett and Kenneth Ollie sank open shots from near the free-throw line.

The blitz had begun. A clearly better team was gaining confidence with every pass and every passing second. Howard also was unlucky. Down, 9-4, Garnett's block of Larry Spriggs seemed a certain goaltend. None was called. Howard got the rebound; Garnett blocked another shot. And Howard center James Terry was called for an offensive foul.

If one possession could capsule an entire game, that was it for Howard. Terry and Spriggs each had three fouls the first half and four before the second half was four minutes old. Spriggs played just 25 minutes before fouling out, Terry only 18.

None of the six Cowboys who played at least 12 minutes made less than half his shots. One of the worst shooters -- if you can call eight for 13 bad -- was Wyoming's best player, Charles Bradley.

He is a playground chum of many Howard players, from suburban Baltimore. He competes in the summer Washington, D.C., Urban Coalition League and somehow found his way to Laramie for an education in more than basketball.

"Couldn't pass up the experience," he said after the game, looking up at an oversized cowboy hat that seemed natural planted atop his head. "It's a good environment, clean and open. I didn't want to stay near home, or go ACC (as brother Dudley had)."

Like Dudley, Charles is a 6-5 guard with extraordinary wingspan and an obsession to lasso every loose ball. He is stronger than his brother and more inclined toward offense. Bradley, guard Rolando Blackman of Kansas State and center Wallace Bryant of San Francisco were the reasons a half-dozen NBA scouts were on hand.

Bradley surely made them salivate. Once he flicked a Howard pass toward the sideline and leaped over the press table while somehow slapping it behind him 20 feet to a teammate. Garnett soon scored. Another time, Bradley went about eye-high with the rim to grab a half-court lob pass and gently lay the ball in the basket.

Their buddy was as prepared for his moment of glory as Howard's players were not. The three Bison whose scoring averages were in double figures for the season, forwards James Ratiff and Spriggs and guard Bernard Perry, were a combined 11 for 39. Worse, the Bison made only 36 percent of their free throws the second half. And were outrebounded by 15 for the game.

"What sort of team can beat us?" the 6-8 Garnett said. "Well, it would be one with a guard who can shoot from the outside . . . You need that great outside shooter to keep our zone from sagging."

Howard's primary guards, Perry and Rodney Wright, made five of 21 shots from the field.

Bad as they were playing, the Bison still trailed by just 10 points with 15:26 left in the game. In the next 10 minutes, though, the Cowboys outscored Howard by 18 points. A team that cannot work the ball inside or score from the outside is doomed to that sort of fate. Howard was patient against the zone, but too often had to settle for a poor shot anyway.

"We do have some shooters," Williamson insisted. "You just didn't see them tonight . . . And back East the game is called a little tighter." He sighed and smiled ever so slightly, saying of the experience:

"We sure got our feet good and wet."