Kansas is gearing up for fast pace of UAB

Blazers' speed concerns fourth-seeded Jayhawks as Self tries to prepare

St. Louis Regional

March 26, 2004|By Neil Best | Neil Best,NEWSDAY

ST. LOUIS - By the time the teams in the only NCAA tournament regional without a surviving No. 1 or No. 2 seed had been run through the spin cycle here, it was difficult to tell who the underdogs were.

No. 10 seed Nevada (25-8) is widely regarded as a threat to No. 3 Georgia Tech (25-9) tonight, and No. 9 Alabama-Birmingham's frenetic, pressure-oriented style so concerned Bill Self, coach of No. 4 Kansas (23-8), that he had his team practice against eight players this week.

The last time he resorted to such a tactic, he was at Oral Roberts and preparing for Nolan Richardson's Arkansas teams in the 1990s. That is no coincidence. UAB coach Mike Anderson learned as a player and assistant under Richardson and now runs his version of Richardson's famed "40 Minutes of Hell."

The more polite term is "The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball." That was the motto on the T-shirt of assistant coach Matt Zimmerman at practice yesterday as he screamed at profusely perspiring players to keep running.

Whatever you call it, it is a less common strategy now than it was 10 years ago, when Richardson won the national championship with it, and its unfamiliarity has Kansas concerned.

Never mind that Kansas ranks third in all-time victories - Kentucky, which tops the list, lost to UAB (22-9) on Sunday. Never mind that Kansas' fans figure to dominate the Edward Jones Dome and that its institutional memory includes past coaches James Naismith, Phog Allen, Larry Brown and Roy Williams.

None of those guys was around yesterday, but Richardson was, wearing a green UAB jacket and a wide smile. Why do so few teams use his frantic pace on offense and disruptive defense?

"Because you have to have [a lot of] people, and you have to trust them," he said. "Most coaches have six or seven, that's it ... It's a style that takes a lot of people. [Former Arkansas star] Corliss Williamson, as good as he was, averaged 28 minutes."

Richardson is out of coaching for now after a messy divorce from Arkansas, but Anderson is keeping alive his trademark. "You have to be committed to it," Anderson said. "Other than Coach Richardson, I probably know it best . . . When you watch our kids, they're actually having fun."

That's the beauty of it, according to the master. "When you go to practice, can you imagine the harmony you're going to have, everybody thinking they're part of that?" Richardson said. "These boys are happy if they play one minute."

Richardson, a pioneer among black coaches, has much to be proud of when he looks at this regional, in which three of the four coaches are black. And he surely enjoyed hearing about Kansas' extreme measures to get ready.

"We did not look very good playing five-on-eight," Self said glumly.

Said guard Keith Langford: "You have coaches screaming at you telling you to get open, and you're looking at them like, 'I can't.' "

As his players grew frustrated facing eight teammates, Self reduced the defense to seven players, then six, then five.

While Anderson has his Blazers in excellent condition thanks to a notorious conditioning regimen, the Jayhawks are banged up and have been limited in practice for weeks.

Unlike Naismith, Kansas' first coach in 1898, Richardson and Anderson cannot claim to have invented or re-invented the game. But UAB, which played its first game in 1979, is on to something. The key, Anderson said, is finding players he can trust, and players who can run and run.

"If you are really tired and the dog is behind you, you will still find a way to run away if you are afraid of dogs," guard Mo Finley said. "Physically and mentally, you have to be pretty tough."

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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