Men's hoops: Double dribbles

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 26, 2008

Memphis coach John Calipari isn't one to shy away from daunting, nonconference games in the midst of his league schedule. That's why his Tigers play host to Gonzaga at noon today on ESPN.

"We're following the blueprint we used at UMass," he said. "And it all depends on what you're trying to do. If you want to be the champion, you can't fight on the undercard. You've got to take on all comers."

It's a strategy you employ when you're a heavyweight, and the Tigers (18-0) are surely that. They just moved to No. 1 in the Associated Press poll for the first time since Jan. 10, 1983.

Still, unlike his plan at UMass in the 1990s when his team squared off against North Carolina, Arkansas and Kentucky, teams that were No. 1 at the time, those games were at neutral sites.

Gonzaga (15-4), which long ago shed the image of merely a giant killer and is now recognized as an elite program, is a home-and-home series. The Tigers won at home two years ago and survived a thriller in overtime on the road last year, 78-77. They've won 42 straight at home.

"It's a great series that we want to continue to extend," said Calipari, who would prefer a four-year deal over two. "It's great for both schools. It prepares us both (for the NCAA Tournament).""If I knew how 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds thought and would react, I probably would never lose."  

Raising Arizona

For a while, Kevin O'Neill didn't see himself as much more than a caretaker at Arizona. That comes with the "interim" tag he had while coach Lute Olson worked through some personal issues.

"At first, I'll admit, we were under the impression that Lute might be back at any time," O'Neill said. "So I was very hesitant early in the season to change anything at all or do things that I was comfortable with that I knew he wasn't comfortable with."

But once Olson said he wouldn't return this season, O'Neill could put his stamp on the Wildcats, and has. In contrast to his boss, he favors more set plays on offense and, most important, tenacious man-to-man defense that reflects his own intensity.

Well, the Wildcats (13-6, 3-3) enter today's game against Washington off a huge 76-64 win Thursday against No. 6 Washington State. That's the kind of performance that can alter a season, especially with freshman point guard Jerryd Bayless back healthy.

"As it's gone along, I just had to take the approach that I've got to coach the team the best I can and do the best job I can as a head coach and coach the way I know how to coach," O'Neill said. "Lute and I are totally different people. That's not good or bad, but my style is totally different than Lute's. But players adjust and our players have adjusted very well."

No holding the mayo

Illinois-Chicago junior guard Josh Mayo and Southern California heralded freshman guard O.J. Mayo share a common surname (although they're not related) and some uncommon touch. The Flames' Mayo, from Merrillville, Ind., averages a team-best 17.7 points and has hit 58 of 107 3-pointers (.542). Across the country, the Mayo from Huntington, W.Va., leads the Trojans in scoring at 19.7 points.

By the numbers

2 ACC teams in the AP poll (No. 4 Duke, No. 5 North Carolina)

2 Atlantic 10 teams in the AP poll (No. 16 Dayton, No. 23 Xavier)

3.6 Steals per game by Tennessee-Martin's Lester Hudson entering the week, tops in the nation

27.6 Points per game by Hudson entering the week, tops in the nation


"If I knew how 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds thought and would react, I probably would never lose."

North Carolina coach Roy Williams in the aftermath of his team's first loss of the season last weekend to Maryland