Mids relieved with Missouri, West port of call NAVY

March 14, 1994|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun Staff Writer

Anyone except North Carolina.

That was the pervasive feeling at Alumni Hall last evening as the Patriot League champion Navy basketball team watched the telecast of the NCAA tournament selections, hopeful that it could avoid drawing the Tar Heels in the first round.

There was a collective whoop when the Atlantic Coast Conference champ was assigned to the East Regional at USAir Arena opposite Big South tournament winner Liberty, but it still didn't solve the mystery of Navy's destination.

When the 16th-seeded Midshipmen were placed in the West Regional against top-seeded and third-ranked Missouri, the feeling was one of relief.

"I'm happy to have a chance to get out somewhere. That's why we wanted to get away from the East," said Navy plebe point guard Brian Walker. "And we definitely didn't want North Carolina. That's a powerhouse."

"I think North Carolina might win it all," added the top-scoring Midshipman, T. J. Hall. "I'm glad it's not them."

With both their wishes granted, Navy will depart tomorrow for Ogden, Utah, and a Thursday game in its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1987.

Of the four No. 1 seeds the Midshipmen could have drawn, Missouri has the least successful record in the NCAA tournament.

In fact, the lack of postseason success is the one blight on the 26-year record of coach Norm Stewart, whose teams have advanced beyond their first game only once since 1986 despite making every NCAA field but one in that time.

The game will have extra meaning for Navy athletic director Jack Lengyel, who spent two three-year terms at Missouri, first as associate athletic director, then as athletic director before coming to Annapolis.

"It's funny, but just last week I sent a letter to Norm congratulating him on the regular season and wishing him luck in the NCAAs," said Lengyel. "I don't know if I can get that letter back now or not."

Lengyel said he suffered through a number of Missouri's first-round NCAA defeats, but added: "I don't think this is that kind of team [at Missouri]. This is one of their better ones."

It also will be old home week for Navy center Alex Kohnen, a native of St. Louis who as a youth competed often against a number of the Tigers, including starters Jevon Crudup and Kelly Thames.

"Missouri is the team I watched my whole childhood," said Kohnen. "I'm really looking forward to this one."

As a 16th seed, Navy coach Don DeVoe realized the team's mission would be a tough one no matter where it was sent. "It's the ultimate in terms of a challenge to play a No. 1 seed," said DeVoe, mindful that a 16th-seeded team has never won an NCAA game.

"We all have great respect for the program Norm Stewart has established there and to play his best team [Missouri is 25-3] will be very tough.

"But thank goodness we don't have to play them in the Midwest [Regional]. They'll have to go almost as far as we do. We'll just have to find a navy in Utah, the Great Salt Lake navy."

DeVoe said he played Missouri and Stewart in a home-and-home series one season while he was at Tennessee, splitting the games.

He is excited about playing in Utah, which he called "a basketball state. This is the sport that reigns supreme. And the facility at Weber State is a beautiful round arena."

DeVoe knows whereof he speaks. He coached two years in the Western Athletic Conference at Wyoming and said "this will be a high-altitude trip for our players."

Navy (17-12) will take a seven-game winning streak into the NCAA field after scoring two narrow victories (93-91 in overtime over Holy Cross and 78-76 over Colgate) on its home floor to capture an automatic berth as the Patriot winner.

The victory skein is the longest at the school since a 13-game streak in 1987 entering the NCAA tournament. The Midshipmen were beaten in the first round, 97-82, by Michigan despite a college career-high 50 points by David Robinson.

"It's super to be going anywhere," said Hall. "I watched Missouri on television in November. Now we'll get to see them close up."

MISSOURI (25-3)

69 .. .. ...Cent. Missouri .. .. .. .. ..66

68 .. .. .. ..at Arkansas .. .. .. .. ..120

80 .. .. .. ..Jackson St. .. .. .. .. ...76

80 .. .. .. ..Arkansas St... .. .. .. ...58

82 .. .. .. ..SMU .. .. .. .. .. ..... ..77

64 .. .. .. ..Coppin St. ... .. .. .. ...63

108 .. .. ....Illinois, 3OT .. .. .. ...107

78 .. .. .. ..Mercer .. .. .. .. .. .. ..50

85 .. .. .. ..Washington .. .. .. .. .. .71

72 .. .. .. ..at S. Illinois .. .. .. ...56

63 .. .. .. ..Kansas St. .. .. .. .. .. .43

73 .. .. .. ..at Notre Dame .. .. .. .. .77

80 .. .. .. ..at Colorado .. .. .. .. ...72

92 .. .. .. ..Iowa St. .. .. .. .. .. ...69

73 .. .. .. ..at Oklahoma St. .. .. .. ..68

89 .. .. .. ..at Nebraska .. .. .. .. ...73

79 .. .. .. ..Kansas .. .. .. .. .. .. ..67

104 .. .. .. .at Oklahoma .. .. .. .. .. 94

82 .. .. .. ..Colorado .. .. .. .. .. ...70

72 .. .. .. ..Oklahoma St. .. .. .. .. ..70

79 .. .. .. ..at Iowa St., OT .. .. .. ..72

81 .. .. .. ..at Kansas .. .. .. .. .. ..74

83 .. .. .. ..SE Missouri .. .. .. .. ...61

99 .. .. .. ..Oklahoma .. .. .. .. .. ...83

68 .. .. .. ..at Kansas St. .. .. .. .. .57

80 .. .. .. ..Nebraska .. .. .. .. .. ...78

64 .. .. .. ..Colorado-x .. .. .. .. .. .62

91 .. .. .. ..Nebraska-x .. .. .. .. .. .98

x-Big Eight tournament

OPENING TIP

* Opponent: Missouri (25-3)

* When: Thursday

* Where: Ogden, Utah

7+ * Seedings: Missouri No. 1, Navy No. 16

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