Louisville looks to win games vs. mind, UNC Cardinals give credit to sports psychologist for postseason success

East Regional

March 23, 1997|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- The Louisville Cardinals are playing mind games at the East Regional, and it's not just the uncertain status of injured point guard DeJuan Wheat, either.

The Cardinals ride the crest of what coach Denny Crum calls "neuroscience" into today's regional final against North Carolina.

At stake is a berth in the Final Four and perhaps a boom time for this little-known offshoot of sports psychology.

If the Cardinals somehow find their way to Indianapolis later this week, the man of the hour will be a "neuroscientist" named Steve Haladay. Without him, the Cardinals wouldn't have gotten this far.

It was after counseling sessions with Haladay last week that guard Alvin Sims scored a career-high 25 points and forward Damion Dant- zler a season-high 17 in Friday's 78-63 East semifinal win over Texas.

Those contributions were critical in the wake of the ankle injury that shelved Wheat for the final 16 minutes of the second half. Wheat is listed as doubtful for today's game.

Not surprisingly, Haladay was counseling even more Cardinals yesterday.

"What he does, he puts the mind in a positive frame," said an approving Crum. "The body does what the mind tells it to."

But when Dantzler went scoreless in the first half against Texas, he wasn't so sure.

"After the first half, I was thinking I did all this for nothing," he said. "Then the coach told me to play twice as hard as I did in the first half, and it worked out."

Dantzler not only crammed 17 points into 18 second-half minutes, but he also matched his season total for three-pointers by hitting two. Sims, a 6-foot-4 guard, posted up the Texas guards in his big night, and also took eight rebounds.

"He helped me recognize things that could happen if I put my mind to it," Sims said of the sessions with Haladay.

Haladay was a godsend at a time when Crum sought inspiration. A Louisville resident and basketball fan, Haladay showed up at Crum's office one day offering to help.

"He saw the mental frustration some of our kids were going through," Crum said. "He offered to help. I was at the point where I felt they needed some help and it fell into place.

"I have to think he helped Alvin. He and Damion have a lot more smiles on their faces."

The only thing better for Louisville (26-8) would be to get Wheat back for North Carolina (27-6, 15 wins in a row).

X-rays of Wheat's sprained left ankle were negative. Walking with one crutch, he did not practice yesterday.

"Based on our looks today, I would say it's unlikely he will play," Crum said. "But you never really know with kids what might happen. They worked on him day and night. He wouldn't play today if he were here."

Considering that Wheat has started every game in his four-year Louisville career -- a span of 135 games -- it figures he would attempt to play, if at all possible.

If he can't, the job of running the offense falls to senior B. J. Flynn, who had six points, five assists and three turnovers in 29 minutes against Texas.

"I came off the bench for DeJuan for the past three years and I vTC know what it takes to run the plays and get things going," Flynn said. "I can step it up."

The Tar Heels won't count Wheat out until they see him sitting on the bench.

"Now, I'm considering that he's going to play," Tar Heels point guard Ed Cota said.

While Louisville questioned the availability of its floor leader, North Carolina coach Dean Smith played down an injury that kept Antawn Jamison out of practice yesterday.

Smith said Jamison twisted his back in a Friday shoot-around, and the back tightened after Friday's 63-57 victory over California.

"We certainly expect him to play," Smith said.

Pub Date: 3/23/97

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