MacCulloch fills lane, bill for Washington 7-foot Canadian becomes Huskies' tower of strength

East Regional

March 19, 1998|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- No one has come to symbolize Washington's rise from the netherworld of college basketball better than the Huskies' 7-foot center, Todd MacCulloch.

Like the Huskies, MacCulloch has labored in anonymity for a seeming lifetime.

Like the Huskies, he's finally come out of the shadows this month.

When No. 11 Washington (20-9) meets No. 2 Connecticut (31-4) in an East Regional semifinal at Greensboro Coliseum tonight, virtually all eyes will be on the battle under the boards.

There, in a matchup that could decide who advances and who departs, MacCulloch will attempt to take his game to a new level against UConn's 6-11 Jake Voskuhl.

It's the chance of a lifetime for a Canadian resident who once TTC gave up hockey because he didn't want to "get beat up all over the ice."

And it's a long way from where MacCulloch stood when coach Bob Bender recruited him out of Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1994.

"You have to have respect for the improvement he's made every single year," Bender said. "A lot of that has to do with his personality. He doesn't get caught up in accolades. He keeps it in perspective. He has addressed areas he needs to improve -- his physical conditioning and strength."

Those are two primary reasons MacCulloch remains a relative unknown in a sport in which the giant is king. He has led the NCAA in field-goal percentage the past two seasons, yet Richmond coach Bob Beilein said during last week's opening round of the NCAA tournament he didn't know MacCulloch's name until he had to face him.

By reputation, MacCulloch has been soft and out of shape for much of his college career. But last week in the East subregional in Washington, he was a virtual terror. He averaged 29 points (on 62.9 percent shooting) and 13 rebounds in victories over Xavier and Richmond.

Still, those performances came against two undersized centers. That's why another strong game -- this time against Voskuhl -- could silence his critics.

"I see an athlete and a big guy who presents some problems for me," MacCulloch said yesterday. "I think it'll be a tough matchup. There'll be a lot of pushing and shoving going on. I think both of us will try to push each other off the block as much as we can."

While UConn coach Jim Calhoun raved about MacCulloch, his precocious guard, Khalid El-Amin, was more to the point in addressing Washington's big man.

"We want to use our quickness to our advantage and try to make them run more," El-Amin said. "If we do that, we'll tire him out a little. He's not used to doing that."

MacCulloch, a redshirt junior, acknowledged the fatigue factor that's hampered his career, but said it's not a concern now.

"Every minute I'm on the floor, I go as hard as I can," he said. "I've played [as much as] 36 minutes this year."

MacCulloch's scoring average has steadily gone up -- from 8.8 to 14.2 to 18.6 this season. He's also learned how to avoid foul trouble (he hasn't fouled out of a game this season) and how to handle the double team.

Asked how he would do if he could face the player he was four years ago, MacCulloch was succinct: "I'd be able to kick his butt. I'm in better shape than four years ago. Back then, I would get tired and get in a lot of foul trouble. But I've matured. I've figured how to take better shots and how to face double teams."

Washington's chance to advance tonight almost certainly will depend on how well MacCulloch can apply those lessons.

Pub Date: 3/19/98

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