A State Secret Ncaa Tournament

March 30, 1995|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

Randy Rutherford shrugged and smiled when asked how it felt to be discovered by a nation.

For three prolific seasons, Rutherford has been known primarily by his heartland rivals in the Big Eight Conference. These days, Oklahoma State's senior sharp-shooting guard is relishing his coming-out party in the glare of network television.

The celebration occurred at the Byrne Meadowlands Arena, where Rutherford hung 23 points and 11 rebounds on top-seeded Wake Forest in an East Regional semifinal victory. That pushed the Cowboys into the regional title game, where, with Rutherford hitting four second-half three-pointers, they dominated No. 2 seed Massachusetts to earn Oklahoma State's first Final Four appearance since 1951.

Rutherford couldn't help but enjoy the symbolism behind his outstanding performance.

"The media attention is over there in places like the ACC. We're over here in our region. We've got Kansas as our big media school," Rutherford said. "In a way, it's kind of a blessing, because people don't have that much time to prepare for us. They don't know our strong points or our weaknesses."

Before the season, fans outside of Stillwater perceived Oklahoma State as a tough defensive team, carried on the enormous shoulders of 7-foot, 292-pound senior center Bryant "Big Country" Reeves.

The Cowboys (27-9), who face UCLA in the national semifinals Saturday, are a secret no more. Oklahoma State has since educated the country on the potency of its roster, which still features a low-post giant in Reeves and a cast of lightly regarded role players who have helped to assemble maybe the best defense to invade Seattle.

Then there is Rutherford, who this weekend joins the company of some superb outside shooters, like North Carolina's Donald Williams and Arkansas' Alex Dillard. Rutherford, 6-3, 188 pounds, might be the best of all.

With the help of one of the game's quickest releases, Rutherford has shot his way into the record books. He already is the best three-point shooter in Big Eight history, having made 275 over his three-year career. This season, Rutherford has converted 142 threes, third on the NCAA single-season list.

"Any time you have a great center inside, it's a plus for anybody on the perimeter. You can ask anybody on the perimeter at any level," Rutherford said. "And it's great when you've got guys who set good screens for you, and a guy like [point guard] Andre [Owens], who does a good job of getting you the ball."

Rutherford has been the perfect complement to Reeves, the team's leading scorer and rebounder. When teams pay too much attention to "Big Country" with double teams or collapsing zone defenses, Rutherford usually has hurt them from the outside.

Rutherford has earned his share of attention as well, particularly in the Big Eight.

"Randy has probably seen every type of defense imaginable. Box-and-ones, triangle-and-twos. We've seen it all, more so this year than any other year I've ever coached," Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton said. "He has looked at tremendous man defenses, and has had to play against very physical defenses in our conference."

That hasn't stopped Rutherford from putting together the best season of a fine three-year run. He averages 19.7 points, second on the team, and averages 3.9 three-pointers a game, fourth-best in the nation, while shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc.

Yet Rutherford is much more than a designated bomber. He is one of the top rebounding guards in the Big Eight, averaging 6.3 per game. In addition to making the all-conference team, he was an all-defensive team pick, partly because he averaged 1.9 steals per game during the regular season.

"He's a great defender, a very good rebounder, and he doesn't make mistakes," Sutton said.

"He's not the type of player who looks to shoot if the good shot is not there. But he helps you win even if he doesn't hit shots. If you're going to list 10 or 12 of the best guards in the country, I would think he'd be on that list."

Not bad for a kid from Broken Bow, a town of 6,000 in southeast Oklahoma that could fit into Gallagher Iba Arena, the Cowboys' home gym.

"Some people get it mixed up with Broken Arrow, but it's Broken Bow," he said. "We've even got an airport."

At Broken Bow High School, Rutherford led the state in scoring as a senior (28.5), and also starred as a tailback on the football and as a pitcher on the baseball ("I could throw the rock, too," he said).

Rutherford remembers his principal trying to persuade him to choose a sport other than basketball during his senior year.

"He told me, 'Why do you want to play basketball? You're just going to end up at Southeastern [Oklahoma State] like all of the others,' " he said.

"I don't think he meant anything bad by it. Now he thinks we're buddies."

Rutherford is unlike all of the others.

He comes into Seattle as a key part of the Final Four's most surprising story, and he is playing the best basketball of his career. In four tournament games, he is averaging 37 minutes, 19 points and 7.3 rebounds, has hit 13 of 30 three-pointers and has scored 49 of his 76 points in the second half. He also is averaging two assists, has committed just three turnovers and is playing splendid defense.

"We're not going to panic, even if things get out of hand for a while," Rutherford said. "We're used to being the underdog. It doesn't bother us. In a one-game scenario, we feel like we can beat anybody."

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