Illinois State hurting even before Ariz. Redbirds face champs without top 2 guards

West Regional notebook

March 14, 1998|By Kent Baker and Paul McMullen | Kent Baker and Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Normally -- with its full complement of players and coming off a 40-minute game -- Illinois State would be a potential upsetter today.

But defending national champion Arizona is catching the Redbirds at a most propitious moment.

Illinois State has four starters who played at least 40 minutes in Thursday's overtime victory over Tennessee. Arizona cakewalked past 16th seed Nicholls State.

Not a deep team to begin with, Illinois State is likely to enter the West Regional's second round without the two guards who started most of the season, Skip Schaefbauer (broken leg) and Jamar Smiley (sore back).

So, Arizona is not very susceptible to the wave of shockers that have marked the tournament.

"We're going to need help," said Illinois State coach Kevin Stallings. "They need to have an off day. If we play our best and Arizona plays their best, we're in trouble."

Smiley tried to go in the opening round, but sat down after a minute. The prospect of his appearing today is remote.

On top of all that, Arizona (28-4) appears well focused despite an acknowledgment that the heat is on this time.

"There is more pressure this year," said Wildcats forward Michael Dickerson. "Last year, we were picked to lose in every round. This time, we're picked to go far if not win it."

Olson: Keep it at 64

Arizona coach Lute Olson does not agree with Maryland coach Gary Williams, who advocates lopping a game off the regular season and opening the NCAA tournament to all.

"I like it just like it is," he said. "I'm against expansion because the tournament comes at the same time as mid-terms and you're already taking them away for conference tournaments.

"These are, after all, still student-athletes, not pros. And I'd hate to see the NCAAs watered down."

No place like home

Is there a more homegrown team in the nation than Illinois? The Fighting Illini brought 12 players, and 11 are from the state. The exception is Arias Davis, a junior from Waycross, Ga.

Promised land

Illinois' Lon Kruger shares a distinction with Maryland's Williams, as both have taken three schools to the NCAA tournament. Kruger took Kansas State, his alma mater, to a regional final in 1988. Florida had one NCAA appearance in its history before he arrived in 1990, and pushed the Gators to the Final Four in 1994.


Should two upsets prevail, in-state rivals Illinois and Illinois State would be meeting for the first time since 1983 when Illinois won at Champaign, 67-60. Both Illinois and Maryland beat Clemson on their home floors. And both lost to Missouri. After Arizona dismantled Nicholls State, 99-60, Colonels guard Russell McCutheon said: "What can I say? Those guys are horses and deers. I thought we were out in the woods."

Pub Date: 3/14/98

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