With all the national attention surrounding the streaking University of Utah basketball team, you might think Ute coach Rick Majerus was enjoying himself these days.
Not so.Majerus says the publicity is good for Utah and his recruiting efforts, but he also complains that the media attention "is out of control. It goes long into the night. When I go back to my room, I have 22 messages. I've been on call-in shows as far away as Maine . . . It's annoying."
Majerus, the subject of recent features in several major newspapers and national publications, has only himself and his team to blame. As long as the Utes keep winning, the attention will continue.
Imagine Majerus' publicity plight if the Utes win their next two games. In what will be one of their most difficult challenges of the year, the Utes will play the University of Texas-El Paso Thursday night and the University of New Mexico Saturday afternoon, both on the road.
Majerus calls it one of the most difficult road trips in the country.
First things first. UTEP is 13-5 overall, 5-3 in conference play and undoubtedly eager for a rematch with the Utes on its home court. Utah hasn't beaten UTEP in El Paso since 1981.
The game, which will begin at 7:35, will be televised locally.
The Utes, 19-1 and ranked 12th and 13th in the national polls, will be trying for their 17th consecutive victory. That would break a 78-year-old school record they tied last week; it also would tie the Western Athletic Conference record, set by New Mexico in 1967-68 and tied by BYU in 1987-88.
For their part, the Miners will be trying to climb back into the WAC race. Three weeks ago they lost to Utah 67-60 in Salt Lake City, but that was while playing without their best player, 6-8 senior forward Marlon Maxey. A pre-season all-conference pick, Maxey has been sidelined by a knee injury for all but seven games this season. He returned to action last week for the first time since Dec. 17 and led UTEP to two wins, coming off the bench for 12 points and nine rebounds against Hawaii and 22 points and nine rebounds against San Diego State.
The Miners may or may not start him against the Utes - so far, they aren't saying - but either way the Utes will see plenty of him. Maxey is averaging 14.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. He has made all 18 of his field goal attempts in WAC play.
The Miners' starting lineup consists of 6-5 Johnny Melvin (averages: 11 points, 6.2 rebounds per game), 6-8 Von Bennett (9.6, 5.9), 6-9 David Van Dyke (10.4, 6.7), and 6-1 guards Henry Hall (11.8, 1.8, 4.3 assists) and Gym Bice (3.1, 2.9). If Maxey starts, he probably would replace Bennett.
Like Utah, UTEP's strength is its bench. The Miner reserves average 21.7 points per game, led by guard Mark McCall. "It's his choice to come off the bench," say UTEP officials. "He prefers it." McCall, the Most Valuable Player of the Sun Carnival Tournament, averages 12 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
"UTEP has the premier coach in the West, if not in America, in Don Haskins," says Majerus. "They have an outstanding array of talent and are very much a multi-dimensional team."
As for the Utes, they continue to fret over the decline of their offense. They are shooting 41.8 percent in WAC play (see graph). Guard Phil Dixon, who made more than half of his three-point shots in preseason play, has made just five of his last 24 field goal attempts.
"I couldn't be more pleased with our effort," says Majerus. "Our defense has been good. We are tightening up a bit offensively and missing some good percentage shots, but I'm pleased overall with the progress of the team and the direction we've taken."
Josh Grant is averaging 17.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Walter Watts is averaging 9.0 and 6.4, respectively. Nine players continue to average at least 14 minutes and five points per game.
Utah State 43 percent
Hawaii 40 percent
San Diego State 40 percent
New Mexico 46 percent
Texas-El Paso 47 percent
Wyoming 45 percent
Air Force 33 percent
Colorado St. 42 percent
Air Force 39 percent