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LIMBERING UP FOR THE NCAA BALL
William F. Reed
March 20, 1989
Arkansas, Alabama and Illinois waltzed to wins against conference rivals
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March 20, 1989

Limbering Up For The Ncaa Ball

Arkansas, Alabama and Illinois waltzed to wins against conference rivals

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Arkansas's 100-76 rout of Texas in the Southwest Conference tournament final, coupled with its regular-season title, confirmed Razorback coach Nolan Richardson's assessment that "there's no doubt left in anyone's mind who the best team in this conference is." Regrettably, the league's biggest winner also turned out to be its biggest whiner.

After Arkansas guard-forward Lenzie Howell was named the tournament's outstanding player, Richardson complained about Howell's being left off the all-conference team. And when it was announced late in the finale that the Razorbacks would begin NCAA postseason play in Indianapolis rather than in Dallas, their fans booed lustily. Said Richardson, "I'm terribly disappointed, and disappointed for our great fans."

Richardson ought to have concerned himself more with the behavior of his center, Mario Credit, who was thrown out of two tournament games for flagrant fouls. After Credit's ejection from the final, Richardson protested so vehemently that he was hit with a T and had to be restrained by his assistants.

Meanwhile, in the losing locker room, coach Tom Penders, who turned Texas from a 16-13 team in 1987-88 to a 24-8 club in this, his first, season, said he was "thrilled" because "to be in the NCAA tournament is a heckuva way to start a new era at Texas. Now we're going to go out and have fun."

Good idea, Coach. Here's hoping the Razorbacks adopt the same spirit.

TIDAL GAME

Alabama beat Florida 72-60 in the Southeastern Conference tournament final in Knoxville, but Crimson Tide coach Wimp Sanderson will tell you that the title was really won in Tuscaloosa. That's where a midseason revival of fan support helped Alabama become the only SEC team to go unbeaten at home.

After the 1986-87 season, in which 'Bama went 28-5 and won the SEC in a walk, center Derrick McKey was ruled ineligible for having signed with agent Norby Walters. Without McKey, who became a first-round draft pick of the Seattle SuperSonics, the Tide was only 6-12 in SEC play last season, and fan interest dwindled. When the malaise carried over into this season—'Bama got off to an 0-2 league start—Sanderson went to work. "We have to find out how to turn the crowd on," he said. "Our people are knitting or playing checkers."

His solution was to make basketball fun again. For example, before the Tide's home game against Vanderbilt on Feb. 4, he endorsed a Wimp Sanderson Look-Alike Night in which Sanderson masks were handed out and hideous plaid jackets were de rigueur for all participants. Said Auburn coach Sonny Smith, "To look like Wimp, I think I'd either sit in a refrigerator for a week or go to a cemetery to get real depressed." When police confiscated a beach ball that students were batting around the stands during that same Vanderbilt game, Sanderson brought another ball to the next home game against LSU.

The change in the fans' attitude was amazing. The Crimson Tide averaged more than 14,000 for its nine conference home games in 15,043-seat Coleman Coliseum and sold out its last six home dates. And the team apparently found that response invigorating, especially after Sanderson put guard Alvin Lee in the starting lineup in late January. Lee gives Alabama a three-point threat who can keep defenses from jamming inside against 6'7" Michael Ansley and 6'8" David Benoit. Said an exhausted Sanderson after the SEC final, "Only those of you who have children and have seen them grow in the right direction since infancy can know what I'm feeling."

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