They have deliberate, fast-paced differences...

Phil Jackman

March 15, 1991|By Phil Jackman

COLLEGE PARK -- No way this was the same game. Why it took Oklahoma State and New Mexico 10 minutes of playing time to combine for 20 points while, later, North Carolina State racked up that many points alone in a half-dozen trips down the floor covering about four minutes.

It has been years and years since Everett Case and Hank Iba worked the sidelines in Raleigh, N.C., and Stillwater, Okla., yet the trademarks of these legendary coaches remain indelibly stamped on the ballclubs a generation later.

In boxing, they say conflicting styles make for a good fight. The same figures to hold true in one half of the East Regional doubleheader in Cole Field House tomorrow when Oklahoma State's unyielding defense attempts to ground the Wolfpack's flying circus.

Before an extremely large and appreciative midday audience yesterday, the co-champions of the Big Eight whipped New Mexico, 67-54, before N.C. State left Southern Mississippi disbelieving in a 114-85 rout.

"Our best performance of the year," is the way coach Les Robinson described the Pack's frolic, an admission already under consideration for understatement of the year. And that's with Rodney Monroe having a subpar game.

Oh, the ACC Player of the Year pegged 25, but was only 8-for-22 from the field and a mystifying 1-for-9 from three-point range. Normally, he'd shoot that well using a medicine ball with one 40-watt bulb for lighting.

Poor M.K. Turk, coach of the not-so-Golden Eagles, refused to think about how much worse it might have been. He was almost apologetic the way he described his team's excellent 18-2 start before the sequel to the Dust Bowl hit his team.

"Our overachievers stopped overachieving," he said. "The last eight games [five losses], we lost our zip. Even so, we had to have it all together completely to compete with those guys the way they were playing."

Even playing twice as well might not have helped considering the games Chris Corchiani, Migjen Bakalli and State's front line turned in. Corchiani was a layup away from tossing a perfecto in the game. The blocky 6-foot senior was 6-for-7 from the field, 3-for-3 in treys, 8-for-8 from the foul line and had 11 assists and two steals. Bakalli shot six times from beyond the 12-mile reef and all went splash!

"Our motion offense was so fluid it got us a lot of good shots and made us hard to guard," said smooth forward Tom Gugliotta, whose line included 16 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and a couple of steals.

Fluid and smooth were two characteristics foreign to the game kicking off shortly after noontime.

Late arrivals ran the risk of getting clunked with the ball as errant passes shot up into the stands like foul balls at a baseball game. Once the teams calmed down, the points still didn't come as both played defense as if their lifes depended on it.

New Mexico features 7-foot-2 Australian center Luc Longley, who has Olympic experience, a couple of dead-eyes and other ingredients that just could gel in the face of the Cowboys' defense.

"The early starting time had an effect," said Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton, "but both were playing such good defense it made it look ugly." And how.

It took the Lobos well over two minutes to get off a decent shot. For a while they were scoring at a TV timeout pace which, translated, means about once every four minutes. "Oklahoma State just takes you out of what you want to do," moaned losing coach Dave Bliss.

"What was surprising," said Longley, "is Byron Houston [a tad under 6-6] can come inside, put the body on you and still get the shot off." You can believe it when a player with extensive international experience tells you Houston is some kind of beast under the backboards, as his 21 points and 17 rebounds suggest.

At Arkansas and Kentucky, Sutton teams went for the big numbers, averaging 85-90 points. But in the back of his mind he's always been a guy for defense, having been schooled by Iba at Oklahoma State (class of '58).

"No matter what sport you're talking about, champions always play good defense. In this game, there are nights when you won't shoot well and your defense can keep you in it. I'm not sure how far we can go, but from here on in the tournaments I've had teams in, I've found that anything can happen," he said.

Contrasting styles, the fast and flashy vs. the deliberate and dogged, promises mental as well as physical fireworks. May the best State prevail.

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