Kansas Coach Roy Williams was surprised that freshman forward Drew Gooden was named the most valuable player of the Great Alaska Shootout over Thanksgiving weekend. But Williams was surprised only because he felt junior forward Kenny Gregory had outplayed Gooden.
Still, it was hard to argue with any pick, as long as he wore a Kansas uniform. In a season that does not appear to have a dominant team, the sixth-ranked Jayhawks (4-0) have been as good as anyone so far. Three freshmen, including two from Iowa, and Luke Axtell, who transferred from Texas, have blended nicely into the rotation, and Kansas has yet to be threatened in a game.
"We had some spurts in Alaska where we were a very good basketball team," said Williams, whose team was credited with an assist on 80 of 115 baskets in the three games (nearly 70 percent). "And those spurts were enough to win all three basketball games. But I don't think we are anywhere close to being a consistent team. That is what concerns me the most."
Kansas might be the nation's most balanced team. Entering tonight's home game against Pepperdine, nine players are averaging more than 14 minutes per game and none more than 26. Gregory, beset by injuries his first two seasons, leads the team in scoring at 17.2 points per game, but six players are averaging more than nine points per game. Gooden, a 6-foot-9 recruit from Richmond, Calif., is averaging 12.8 points and 8.8 rebounds while 6-9, 240-pound forward Nick Collison--an Iowa Falls, Iowa, native and the only freshman in the starting lineup--is averaging 7.8 points and seven rebounds.
They will be tested in the next few weeks by No. 8 Michigan State in the Great Eight on Tuesday in Chicago; No. 15 Ohio State in Lawrence, Kan., on Dec. 16; and No. 16 Illinois, also in Chicago.
"The three most impressive teams have been Cincinnati, North Carolina and Arizona, but there are probably 14 to 16 teams that could win the whole thing," Williams said. "I think we have a chance, but I don't know if we are one that I would put up close to the top right now. I'm kind of shocked at how high we are ranked, but we've got some kids who will continue to get better throughout the whole year."
Clemson Starts Afoul
How badly have things gone for Clemson? Bad enough that senior forward Andrius Jurkunas had hoped to play despite a broken thumb on his shooting hand last night against Penn State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in Baltimore.
The Tigers fell to 2-4 record with their third straight loss, 85-75, to the Nittany Lions. That streak includes a 53-35 loss to Oregon State, Clemson's lowest single-game scoring output in 30 years. But at least its offense has improved. Last night Tigers guard Will Solomon scored 37 points.
In addition to Jurkunas's injury, which he suffered on Friday in a victory over Central Florida, point guard Edward Scott is recovering from a broken left foot and starting forward Chucky Gilmore is slowed by a hip injury.
However, guard Pasha Bains, a transfer from Wyoming who averaged 38 points per game in high school, will become eligible to play Dec. 11 against South Carolina State. . . .
Another team off to a rough start is Georgia, where it would be difficult to imagine a worse debut for first-year coach Jim Harrick. The Bulldogs opened with a 67-63 loss at North Carolina State in the first collegiate game at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Then Georgia went to the Great Alaska Shootout, where it lost to Kansas and Louisville to reach 0-3 for the first time since the 1951-52 season.
The Bulldogs finally got in a win by beating Grambling, 113-74, in the Shootout's seventh-place game. . . .
Indiana nearly set an NCAA Division I record with its 81-64 overtime victory over Notre Dame on Tuesday. By outscoring the Fighting Irish 19-2 in the five-minute extra period, the Hoosiers came within two points of breaking the record for largest margin of victory in an overtime game, set when Nebraska beat Iowa State, 85-67, on Dec. 30, 1949.
Wildcats Sharpen Attack
Arizona was ranked ninth in the nation in the Associated Press preseason poll and was the media's pick to win the Pacific-10 Conference. Still, the now-No. 4 Wildcats managed to open more eyes by winning the Preseason NIT. With a back court of freshmen Jason Gardner and Gilbert Arenas and a front court that includes 7-1 center Loren Woods, a transfer from Wake Forest, and 6-7, 238-pound forward Michael Wright, last season's Pac-10 freshman of the year, Arizona had little trouble with its four Preseason NIT opponents, winning by an average of nearly 18 points.
The biggest surprise has been the play of Arenas, 17, a relatively unheralded recruit from North Hollywood, Calif. After beating out incumbent starter Ruben Douglas, who announced he will transfer from Arizona, Arenas has averaged a team-leading 14.8 points per game entering last night's game at Brigham Young. Arenas, who does not turn 18 until Jan. 6, scored 20 points against Kentucky in the Preseason NIT final and was named the tournament's most valuable player.
Gardner, as expected, has been brilliant at point guard. Indiana's Mr. Basketball last season, he is averaging 11 points and five assists.
"They are amazing--you have two freshmen in the back court and they're playing as well as any back court in the nation," Woods said. "Don't get me wrong. Off the court, they act like freshmen, trust me, they act like teenagers. But when they are on the floor, they play with so much confidence and so much poise."
They will need a lot of both for their next three games: Saturday at No. 9 Texas; Tuesday vs. No. 5 Connecticut in the Great Eight in Chicago; and Dec. 11 at home against No. 8 Michigan State. . . .
Three local players played key roles in Dayton's 68-66 upset of Kentucky on Monday night.
Former All-Met guard Tony Stanley, from Washington-Lee High in Arlington, had a game-high 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting and former Pallotti All-Met guard David Morris had seven points, five rebounds and five assists in 29 minutes as a reserve. Former Pallotti center Nate Green added four points and four rebounds in 13 minutes.
Number of Big Matchups
In addition to the Arizona-Texas game, Saturday matches No. 25 Gonzaga against No. 1 Cincinnati in Cleveland; No. 23 Indiana against No. 13 Kentucky in Indianapolis; No. 22 DePaul at No. 17 Duke; and No. 24 Maryland against No. 16 Illinois at MCI Center.
The Great Eight is Tuesday and Wednesday in Chicago. Following Tuesday's Kansas-Michigan State, Arizona-Connecticut doubleheader, the Wednesday night lineup is No. 10 Temple vs. No. 25 Gonzaga, followed by No. 1 Cincinnati vs. No. 2 North Carolina.