Two of the nation's traditional college basketball powers are taking downturns of historical proportions. With a 7-12 record, Louisville is having its worst season since 1940-41, when the Cardinals finished 2-14. Oklahoma, at 15-7, isn't in such dire straits, but the Sooners have lost five of their last seven games -- which has not happened since 1980-81, Billy Tubbs's first season at the school.

The Cardinals have lost five straight and 11 of 13. They are looking at the distinct possibility of having their NCAA-record streak of 46 consecutive winning seasons end. Their last losing season was 1941-42, when they were 7-10.

As for their standing in the Metro Conference, they are 1-8 and in last place behind Tulane. Previously, Louisville's worst Metro season was 1984-85, when it went 6-8.

The Cardinals' problem is relatively simple. Four players' eligibility expired after last season, including Felton Spencer, Keith Williams and Tony Kimbro. Jerome Harmon is sitting out the season because of academic problems. In addition, four of the six high school recruits Louisville signed last season failed to meet NCAA freshman eligibility requirements.

This left Louisville with three players who had any meaningful college playing experience -- LaBradford Smith, Everick Sullivan and Cornelius Holden -- and zero players taller than 6 feet 8.

Oklahoma began the season knowing it would not have starting point guard Smokey McCovery or forwards David Patterson and Jackie Jones, all of whom had academic problems (Jones is now playing pro ball in Spain). Recently, the Sooners have had knee injuries to seniors Kermit Holmes, their leading rebounder, and Terrance Mullins. They also seem to lack their usual arrogance. Or as sophomore guard Terry Evans told the Dallas Morning News, "I think we need a couple of jerks on this team." In addition, it is possible Tubbs's practice of rubbing it in everybody's face is coming back to haunt.

In the final minutes of Kansas State's 95-70 victory Tuesday over the visiting Sooners, fans chanted "Run up the score! Run up the score!" After hosting Seton Hall on Saturday, four of Oklahoma's last six games are on the road, including at No. 22 Oklahoma State, No. 15 Nebraska and No. 18 Kansas.

Timeout for Tuition

With the help of a local restaurant, Stanford is running what might be the ultimate college basketball promotion: Timeout for Tuition. During the first timeout of each men's and women's home game, a student is given one attempt at a layup, free throw, three-point shot and half-court shot. A contestant who makes all four shots receives tuition for a year. It's worth about $20,000.

For those who say it can't be done, Jim Brungard, an assistant athletic director, said that a couple of weeks ago a contestant made everything except the free throw. The contestant got a free dinner for four every month for a year -- the prize for making the half-court shot. . . .

Indiana State's victory at Wichita State on Monday was its first Missouri Valley Conference road win since Feb. 16, 1985 -- 43 games. The Sycamores' three-game MVC winning streak ended last night against Creighton, 71-68. They have not won four since 1979, when Larry Bird was a senior. This is the senior season for Eddie Bird, Larry's younger brother. . . . Monday's loss just added to the misery of Wichita State Coach Mike Cohen. He still wears a brace on his left knee and occasionally uses crutches because of an injury sustained at a December game. He got excited, jumped and was bumped from behind. He landed awkwardly, tore the patella tendon and needed surgery.

One Plus Two Equals 137

As of yesterday afternoon, Arkansas had approved 137 of the more than 250 requests for media credentials for Sunday's game against top-ranked Nevada-Las Vegas. Arkansas' Barnhill Arena is equipped with 54 seats for reporters, but the fire marshal has approved a plan to seat the extra media members in the aisles. . . .

UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian, whose club is 18-0 and beating teams by an average of 31.7 points, says the coaches of over half the Runnin' Rebels' opponents this season have afterward thanked him "for not pouring it on too much.

"And," he said, "most of the other half probably should have." . . .

New Mexico's victory Saturday over Utah not only stopped the Utes' Western Athletic Conference-record-tying 17-game winning streak, it again assured no team would have an undefeated WAC season. The WAC, which began in 1962, never has had a team go undefeated. . . . If Oklahoma State defeats Kansas on Saturday in a game for the Big Eight lead, look for Cowboys junior guard Darwyn Alexander to play a leading role. His career scoring average is 9.3 points per game. But in five games against the Jayhawks, he has averaged 18.3. . . . Northwestern, which lost to No. 4 Indiana last night, 105-74, plays No. 3 Ohio State on Saturday and No. 25 Michigan State on Thursday.

Cutting Up

Last week, a reporter at Arizona State Coach Bill Frieder's weekly news conference good-naturedly suggested Frieder needed a haircut. Ever pressed for time, Frieder spent this week's news conference seated on a stool and covered by a barber's cloth, answering questions while his barber, John Martinez, worked.

Asked afterward if he felt he'd gotten a Lou-do, a la Illinois Coach Lou Henson, or a Jud-cut, a la Michigan State's Jud Heathcote, Frieder laughed. "You'd have to have to hit yourself with a shovel to look like Jud," the former Michigan man said. . . .

Yeshiva's Miko Danan returned to school this week after being recalled to the Israeli Defense Forces because of the Persian Gulf War.