Ten years ago this week the University of Utah basketball team stood 20-1, the same as it does today, while an undefeated western team stood No. 1.
There are a couple of differences, however.In 1981, the 20-1 mark earned the Utes a No. 6 ranking in the two wire-service polls. This year they are only 12th and 13th in the two polls (although they could conceivably crack the top 10 with a road win this afternoon in Albuquerque).
The disparity in rankings either proves that there are more top teams than a decade ago, or Utah's national reputation has fallen (it's probably a combination of the two).
The other difference . . . that No. 1 team was Oregon State at 19-0.
For the record, the teams ranked ahead of Utah in early February of 1981 besides Oregon State were Virginia, DePaul, LSU and Arizona State. Danny Ainge-led BYU was 15th in AP, while eventual 1981 champion Indiana was 20th with a 14-8 record. MORE MILLER TIME: When New Mexico visited Utah a couple of weeks ago, ex-Ben Lomond star Kurt Miller was buried deep on the Lobo bench. Against Utah, he got in briefly, but didn't score. Two nights later at BYU, Miller received more minutes and sparked a Lobo comeback that fell short, as he scored 10 points.
It looked like a sorry end to a promising career for Miller, who last year had started 29 games as a 6-4 power forward and ended as the Lobos' third leading scorer (11.6) and second leading rebounder (5.8). He was especially productive down the stretch when he led the team in scoring in three straight NIT games.
But this year as a senior, he was relegated to bench status when Coach Dave Bliss decided his team needed to be bigger and brought in some JC transfers at forwards. Miller didn't even play in a couple of early games
Then suddenly Bliss inserted Miller back in the starting lineup after the Utah trip. Since then the Lobos are 4-1 and back in contention in the WAC.
Miller still isn't scoring like last year or playing as many minutes as last year, averaging about five points a game and less than 20 minutes.
But it's a start anyway.STRANGE SKED: Nothing's perfect, particularly not the WAC basketball schedule.
This week for the first time ever, Utah and BYU didn't go on their southwest trip at the same time for games with New Mexico and UTEP. The Utes had their usual schedule, but BYU's trip was split with one game against UTEP tonight and a single game against New Mexico on Feb. 14.
"What happened was that the WAC coaches and athletic directors wanted to have a Thursday-Saturday (only) schedule," explained Jeff Hurd, the WAC Associate Commissioner for Conference Relations. "In order to get a true Thursday-Saturday schedule some of the natural trips had to be broken up."
In the past, several WAC games had to be played on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday because of the odd number of teams and to keep natural trips intact.
For BYU it might be easier playing two single games down in the southwest. But on the negative side, it costs more money and the Cougars have to come back and play Utah in Salt Lake two days after playing in Albuquerque.SWEET REVENGE: Two years ago in Lincoln, Neb., Missouri was on its way to a 17-point pasting of Nebraska when Tigers coach Norm Stewart called a needless timeout with 23 seconds left.
Irate Cornhusker fans greeted the move with resounding boos, which prompted Stewart to ignore his players and turn toward the stands. "When your bush-league coach gets his act together," he shouted, "then we'll stop pounding on you."
Danny Nee, the object of Stewart's criticism, seems to have his act together this year. His 11th-ranked Cornhuskers proved that the other night by pounding the Tigers 89-75 in Lincoln to improve to 18-2.
It wasn't a fun night for Stewart, who was greeted with a "Sit down, Norm," chant as soon as he appeared and signs such as "Norm, Welcome to the Bush League."NOT THE GREATEST: Folks in Logan must agree with those who are saying that UNLV might be the best college basketball team ever after they watched the Rebels thoroughly dismantle the Aggies Monday night by 43 points.
But a lot of people are warning that "greatest ever" label might be a bit premature.
"Undefeated or not," former UCLA coach John Wooden said this week, "if I met them with my Lew Alcindor or Bill Walton teams, I wouldn't be too worried."
CBS analyst Billy Packer added, "I don't think they're capable of being the best team in history. I can't see ranking them ahead of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's (UCLA) teams, and it's hard to rate them ahead of Bill Russell's USF (San Francisco) teams."
One of the main reasons folks don't believe the Rebels are the best ever is their lack of a dominating center like the other great teams. The Rebels have George Ackles and Elmore Spencer sharing time in the middle.
As for the Rebels competing against some of the NBA's poor teams, that's absurd, says none other than UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian.
"People talk about us playing like a pro team, but there isn't a team in the NBA we could play against," Tarkanian said. "We couldn't win a game. We're a really good college team, as good as anybody else today."