Welcome to BYU, home of the big-time controversy. As if the fade of BYU's football team wasn't enough, there's more trouble in Utah County. Now the basketball Cougars are embroiled in their own controversy, muttering among themselves that something is wrong.
Following a 70-69 loss to St. Mary's, which dropped the Cougars to 2-4, they took on the look of a team trying to patch the cracks in the dam. But as fast as they try to patch a leak, another one springs.Saturday night it was a gusher.
St. Mary's guard Al Lewis banked in a six-foot jumper with five seconds remaining to provide the winning margin and give the Gaels the Cougar Classic championship. But most of this weekend's story involved star BYU forward Michael Smith and the coaching staff, in what is beginning to look like material for soap operas and tabloids.
The superstar player is mad and the team is unsettled and the coach says he isn't talking about it.
"There's some serious stuff going on with this ballclub," said junior guard Marty Haws. "There's a lot of in-house things we have to deal with and we've gotta deal with it pretty quick or we're going to be hurting."
Indeed, the Cougars are hurting already. Six games into the season they are still struggling to straighten out their lineup. Steve Schreiner, who cracked the starting lineup on Friday, turned in his best performance of the year - 19 points and five rebounds. But on the same night Smith had his worst game of the season, totaling just 12 points on 4-of-12 shoot-ing.
"One of the toughest things we have to do is try to win ballgames and experiment at the same time," said Cougar Coach Ladell Andersen.
The worst problems may not be finding the best lineup. As the Cougars were on their way to a defeat, Smith, an all-America candidate, spent some serious time on the bench. And it was Smith who was in the center of the controversy.
The teams played closely through the first half, when, with 10:49 to go and BYU trailing 21-15, Andersen abruptly took Smith out of the ballgame. Smith didn't return for eight minutes. Meanwhile, BYU stayed close enough to be trailing just 30-28 when Smith returned.
The question begged: Why did Smith spend so much time on the bench?
Andersen refused to comment on his decision. "The reasons we take people out, I don't comment on," said Andersen. "Whatever we do to take people in or out, we do for a lot of reasons, and it's not for the public."
However, Smith had more to say on the matter. After St. Mary's center Dan Curry got loose for a basket that put the Gaels up 21-15, Smith shouted, "Shut up!" toward the BYU bench. Asked after the game if that was what he said, Smith replied, "You probably heard correctly. I got upset and he (Andersen) pulled me out."
Smith went on to say this was the culmination a "frustrating" week. When Curry got loose, Smith said something was yelled at him from the BYU bench. "It's frustrating to be working hard to keep my man off the boards and he gets past me and puts it back in. Then to hear something derogatory coming from the BYU bench . . .
"I don't blame him (Andersen) for taking me out," continued Smith. "It has been a frustrating week. A lot of things have been frustrating. I wish I could tell you everything."
Problems involving Smith have been going on for most of the season, and the coaching staff has clashed with him on various occasions. Though Smith was scoring almost 30 points a game going into this weekend's Cougar Classic, the coaches have been critical of Smith's defense and rebounding.
But this time Smith's had his own criticisms to level. After playing outside for most of the night - he was 0-for-4 on3-point tries - Smith said cryptically, "It was the decision of the coaches to put their only 6-10 man out 30 feet from the basket."
He also criticized Andersen's decision to play defense and try to stop St. Mary's in the waning moments, rather than give up a one-and-one foul.
After making two free throws with 46 seconds left, the Cougars were nursing a 69-68 lead. St. Mary's took a time out with 45 seconds left. As BYU set up to stop a final shot, St. Mary's worked the clock down until Lewis took his close-in jumper with five seconds left.
BYU got the ball back with four seconds remaining and called time out. Smith passed the ball in to Haws, who drove to within 25 feet of the hoop and threw up a shot that missed the rim. Schreiner tried to tip in the shot at the buzzer, but missed.
"Maybe I should have taken the ball in closer, but we learn from our mistakes," said Haws. "Four seconds is a long time. I can run the whole court easily in four seconds."
After considering BYU's problems, Smith apologized for the incident. "I apologize. I should never let criticism get to me and bark back at the coaches. I don't blame them for taking me out."
Asked if BYU can overcome its problems, Smith replied, "I hope so."
Penn State 67, Texas-Arlington 63
The Nittany Lions shot 53 percent and three players scored in double figures as they stopped Texas-Arlington in Saturday night's consolation game.
Bruce Blake led the way with 17 points while teammates Dave Degitz and Brian Allen netted 12 and 11, respectively.