Lee draws blank on choke sign Stanford guard says he can't remember reacting to Wheeler's missed FT

Midwest Regional notebook

Ncaa Tournament

March 23, 1998|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

ST. LOUIS -- Stanford guard Arthur Lee could remember tipping the ball out of the hand of Rhode Island guard Cuttino Mobley. He even remembered his post-game celebration, when he offered a scowl to the Stanford faithful after the game was over.

But Lee couldn't recall clasping both hands around his neck -- in what is recognized worldwide as the choke sign -- after Rhode Island guard Tyson Wheeler, with a chance to tie the game with five seconds left, missed the first of three free-throw attempts in Stanford's 79-77 win.

"I really can't remember," Lee said. "The game was an emotional roller coaster, I don't know what really happened. You ask what happened from the end of the game to now, and I can't remember."

That's an indication that Lee suffers from a case of selective memory. Or maybe Lee was just wiping perspiration off his throat. Whatever the case, Lee was at half court when he did (or didn't) make the gesture toward the Stanford crowd, and Wheeler never saw him.

Neither did Mobley nor coach Jim Harrick, although many reporters and some players on the Rhode Island bench did.

"He made the choke sign?" Mobley said with disgust, when told of the gesture after the game. Then, shaking his head, he added, "I didn't see that. I didn't see that."

The gesture was the lone blemish on a spectacular game by Lee. The 6-foot guard scored 18 of his 26 points in the second half.

"If I did, I was just so happy and relieved," Lee said. "If anyone would choke, it wouldn't be him [Wheeler]. I have nothing but respect for him as a player."

Calls get attention

Stanford coach Mike Montgomery appeared a bit disturbed that controversial calls have led many to think the win was tainted.

"I wish we were up 20 the whole game, so there's no question at the end," Montgomery said. "But that didn't happen. These kind of circumstances make it very difficult, but they happen.

"I do feel bad for Jim, that's just my nature," Montgomery added. "We feel very, very good and we will enjoy this."

An NCAA official warned the media, prior to the Stanford post-game press session, that -- since all the players on the podium had eligibility remaining -- they could not comment on the officiating.

Harrick, while livid on the sideline during the final minute, tempered his remarks after the game.

"To lose like that is very, very difficult for a team," Harrick said. "They cut my heart out and my team's heart out, and you saw it. It's a very humbling game. Sometimes at the end of the game as a coach, you don't have control."

Mobley, a senior playing in his final game, was more direct in his comments about the officiating -- specifically a foul called on Luther Clay against Lee that led to a three-point play, and the steal that immediately followed that resulted in Mark Madsen's dunk.

"I though we had control of the game, but toward the end it was inconsistent calls by the refs," Mobley said, clearly upset. "Instead of just letting us play either call it, or don't. Don't have the game determined by what you call."

On winning end

As Rhode Island built an 11-point lead against Stanford in the second half, you could almost imagine Harrick thumbing his nose at UCLA.

In 1995, Harrick led the Bruins to a national title, only to be fired from his job less than two years later. But his amazing attempt to return to the Final Four, with a team that consisted of no players he recruited, fell short.

"I had a game like this [while coaching Pepperdine] in 1983. We were up six with the ball in overtime against North Carolina State," Harrick said. "That's when [N.C. State] made that incredible run to the championship. They got into the second overtime and won. That game and a high school game are the only times I've ever lost like this in my life."

Harrick's been on the winning side of games where the emotional tide has changed as drastically as it did yesterday. As coach of UCLA in 1995, point guard Tyus Edney dribbled the length of the court and scored on a layup at the buzzer to give UCLA a victory over Missouri in Boise, Idaho. The Bruins won the national championship.

While Harrick admits there are "two or three people" he has problems with at UCLA, he has no problems with the institution.

"UCLA is a terrific place," he said. "I had a great run there. There were just a couple of people who didn't want me there, and wanted me out."

Harrick, who has spent most of his adult life in California, said he has a home at Rhode Island.

"Winning was expected there," he said of UCLA. "Here, anything you do is appreciated. They're really not spoiled for basketball."

Pub Date: 3/23/98

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