A favorable showing this week against New Mexico and UTEP should get the 13-1 University of Utah basketball nationally ranked for the first time in a decade.
The Utes are just one spot out of AP's top 25 this week, and are listed among Other Teams Receiving Votes in the UPI rankings. In the USA Today/CNN poll they are three spots out of the top 25.The last time Utah was ranked was in the 1980-81 season. That team, featuring future NBA players Danny Vranes and Tom Chambers, won 21 of its first 22 games and 14 in a row and was ranked as high as sixth.
This year's Ute team rides a 10-game winning streak into the Thursday/Saturday Huntsman Center games against New Mexico, a team that has been ranked in the top 25 previously this season and is still receiving poll votes, and the UTEP Miners, who rank 24th in the USA Today/CNN poll and 25th in AP.
Historically, the UTEP/UNM tandem is a tough one for the Utes. In 1980-81, they swept the New Mexico-UTEP games, home and away. They haven't swept them since, and overall they are 13-25 against them in the decade.
THE REMATCH: Utah State's basketball team visits the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas Wednesday night. It will be the Aggies' first visit to the arena since last year's game-ending brawl that featured a sucker punch by UNLV's Moses Scurry of Aggie head coach Kohn Smith.
Smith says he has no revenge in mind for the rematch.
"I hope we just don't have any incidents like last year," he says. "We didn't instigate the thing a year ago, and we won't instigate anything this year either."
The fight was triggered in part by comments Smith had said the year before, when he intimated that UNLV wasn't running an honest program, and that coach Jerry Tarkanian used tactics that gave the Rebels an upper hand.
"Now that everything's coming down on Vegas," says Smith. "I'm getting a lot of people saying, `well, you were right. You're the one who said it two years ago, before anybody else did.' But that's for the NCAA to deal with now. I just want to go in there Wednesday and play a ball game and leave."
WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? At least one columnist was perplexed about BYU coach LaVell Edwards having a problem with Texas A&M's run-up-the-score tactics in the recent Holiday Bowl (won by A&M 65-14).
Wrote John Jenkins in this week's Sporting News: "I see no reason for Edwards to be upset. This is all part of football. It would be different if it was an act of frustration by a coach whose team couldn't score more than seven points a game all season. But BYU had concluded the season as the second-higest scoring team in the country. Edwards must know what it's like to continue to run your offense and put the points up there when it becomes painful for the other side."
In case you're trying to place the name, John Jenkins is the same John Jenkins who coaches football at Houston University - the school that last year beat Southern Methodist 95-21 and this year beat Eastern Washington 84-21.
EULOGIZING THE RED-WHITE-AND-BLUE: In a book just published titled "Loose Balls - The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association," former Denver Nuggets coach Doug Moe, who played andcoached in the ABA, has this to say:
"One of the biggest disappointments in my life was going into the NBA after the merger. The NBA was a rinky-dink league - listen, I'm very serious about this. The league was run like garbage. There was no camaraderie; a lot of NBA guys were aloof. The NBA All-Star Games were nothing.
"It wasn't until the 1980s, when David Stern became commissioner, that the NBA figured out what they were doing, and what they did was a lot of stuff we had in the ABA - from the 3-point shot to the All-Star Weekend and the show-biz stuff. Now, the NBA is like the old ABA. Guys play hard, they show their enthusiasm and there is a closeness in the league. The ABA might have lost the battle, but we won the war. The NBA now plays our kind of basketball."
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Bill McCartney, coach of the national champion Colorado Buffaloes football team, on worrying about losing his job five years ago, when the Buffs were struggling: "I could have been on the street. I might have been a writer. There's no telling what depths I would have reached."