WITH A 13-10 RECORD, the University of Utah may not be No. 1 on anybody's current NCAA tournament qualifying list, but Coach Lynn Archibald says the Utes have a secret weapon that could still usher them into the national championship tournament without a hitch.
Namely, their home floor.It is not lost on the coach that the Utes still have a potential seven games remaining on the Huntsman Center floor - four to finish out the regular season and a maximum of three during the WAC postseason NCAA-qualifier tournament, scheduled to be played on the Huntsman Center home boards Mar. 8-11.
"Look at it like this," says Archibald. "We have seven home games left. If we win all seven, we're in the NCAAs. No question. That's a real positive thing for us to talk about. We don't have to worry about what New Mexico does, or anybody else, or about the road. We just have to take care of our home games."
So how often does the coach mention this to his players?
"Pretty much constantly," he says.
Utah's success at home, by the way, is impressive over the years. Since the Huntsman Center opened in 1969-79 (as the Special Events Center), the Utes are 231-68 there. This year they're 10-2.
***** BUT THERE'S A DARK OMEN: Then again, the Utes will have to see about changing a WAC tradition that doesn't do any favors for the postseason tournament host.
For the past four straight tournaments, the host school has not been the winner. Wyoming won last year, at BYU; Wyoming won the year before that, at New Mexico; UTEP won in 1986, at Wyoming; and San Diego State won in 1985, at UTEP. The only host team to win was UTEP in the inaugural postseason tournament in 1984
***** P.R. MOVE: Due to internal affairs at the Utah Jazz, Bill Kreifeldt is no longer the franchise's public relations director. He was released last month.
After five seasons, Kreifeldt had become a Jazz fixture. He leaves behind quite a track record.
A two-time Western Conference Public Relations Director of the Year award winner, he was the first Jazz publicist to effectively introduce the team into the national NBA mainstream. A veteran of P.R. in Detroit before coming to Utah, Kreifeldt tapped his contacts in the eastern media extensively.
Kreifeldt was always on the run, literally. He turned into one of Salt Lake City's most avid runners, with an ironman-like record of 1,009 - and counting - consecutive days of running to his credit. He lost count of the 5K and 10K races he entered, and the t-shirts he acquired, when they both approached 200.
A non-runner before coming to Utah, Kreifeldt was inspired to start jogging, and racing, by none other than Jazz Coach Frank Layden, who ran extensively while an assistant coach in Atlanta, and recorded 10K times in the very respectable 36- to 40-minute range - times Kreifeldt now records with regularity.
If Kreifeldt is offered a job by the new Orlando Magic, who are seeking to fill a P.R. position, both the Salt Lake media and local race directors stand to feel the loss.
***** HOT AND COLD: Detroit's Isiah Thomas - who, it will soon be obvious, hasn't spent the past week in Utah - says the difference between the finesse-like playing style in the NBA's Western Conference and the rough style in the Eastern Conference is because of the weather.
"When you play in the East, it's always cold. Everybody's freezing all the time," he says. "So everybody's mad at the world, and they take it out on each other. `I'm cold, man. Take this!' "
"But out West, everybody's nice and warm. They just go up to each other and say, `Hey, hi, how you doin'? What's happenin'? Let's play a little basketball.' The West teams have a better time than the East teams. The East teams like to kill one another before the season's over."
***** POTENTIAL REALIZED: Stu Starner, the basketball coach at Montana State who has to get his team ready for the surprisingly good Weber State Wildcats this week, says the mood around the Big Sky Conference isn't so much shock that the Wildcats have rounded into such a good team this season, as wondering why it took them so long.
"Last year, they had great personnel. Anytime you start with a Rico Washington, you're starting strong," says Starner. "The feeling is, they're finally achieving what they were supposed to achieve a year ago. Obviously, the new coach (Denny Huston) has done a fine job getting them into a system. He's got to get a lot of credit."
***** QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Mickey Mantle, on all the attention Oakland's Jose Canseco is getting for becoming the first player in major league history to steal 40 bases and hit 40 home runs in the same season: "If I'd known they were going to make such a big deal out of 40-40, I'd have done it two or three times myself."