Coach's illness sparks comeback victory in Houston
Posted: Friday January 11, 2008 5:52PM; Updated: Friday January 11, 2008 5:52PM
Joe Curl knew he didn't feel well. While on a recruiting trip to New Mexico in late October, Houston's head coach began feeling ill. Passing the pain in his chest off as heartburn, he attempted to go on with his business. That became too difficult, however. Curl spent an entire evening and a good part of the next day in bed. Each time he tried to get up, he fell down.
Somehow, he mustered the strength to make it home. Curl isn't quite sure how he managed to make it from his hotel room to the rental car and airport. He recalls taking a seat on the plane. The next thing Curl knew, he was home, his wife planning to rush him to the hospital.
"When my wife called my two daughters, I figured I must look pretty bad," Curl said. "I didn't realize the magnitude of the problem. If it had been a couple more hours, I would have been dead."
Curl's heartburn turned out to be a heart attack. Days later, he underwent double bypass surgery and had a pacemaker inserted. His team was shocked to hear the news.
"We thought he was fine," Houston guard Tye Jackson said. "We thought, he had been walking around, doing exercises like usual. It shocked us and scared us, and there were a lot of tears around the room when we heard. It was really hard. We just wanted him to come through."
Curl decided to step down as head coach this season, handing the job to assistant coach Danny Hughes. "I told Danny, I will not be on the sideline or coaching over [his] shoulder," he said. "I think they've really appreciated that. I feel like not going to the games is good for the players and good for the staff. I just really appreciate the administrative support, of them knowing what I went through and not forcing me to rush back to work and encouraging me to stay home and get well."
In Curl's absence, the Cougars (7-9) struggled to a tough start to the season. In a two-week span in November and December, they fell to No. 8 LSU, Xavier, and No. 13 Duke. But the Cougars season took a turn for the better last week. On Jan. 2, the team fought back from a 26-point deficit to beat Lamar in overtime 82-75 -- it was the second biggest comeback in women's Div. I history. And last Sunday, they upset Tulane, the defending C-USA champions, 74-64.
A larger part of Houston's success comes from senior guard Twiggy McIntyre, playing in her first season since transferring from Kansas State. McIntyre just earned conference player of the week honors after averaging 20.7 points during that three-game stretch. She put up 25 in Sunday's upset over Tulane, the defending Conference USA champ.
McIntyre's arrival has provided much needed support for Jackson, who carried the team last year -- she averaged a team high 22.5 points (the fifth highest average in the nation) and took more than twice as many shots as anyone else on the roster. This season, she is playing with a tear in her ACL and to prevent pain and swelling in her knee, a doctor drains her knee every week.
Jackson may not be the same scoring threat she was last season (she's second on the team with 12.9 per game), but she has been a source of strength for the Cougars in coping with Curl's illness. "Knowing [coach Curl] is OK really helps us. Knowing he's getting stronger makes us happy, and we're all focused," she says. "I think winning the Tulane game got our confidence up. We came back fired up. Now we've got to win 15 games in a row. Our goal is to win the conference and the conference championship."
Blue Devils to honor Harding
Lindsey Harding may be gone from Duke, but the Blue Devils haven't forgotten her accomplishments. The Blue Devils plan to raise Harding's No. 10 jersey to the rafters on Jan. 20. Harding, last season's Naismith Player of the Year, closed out her career as Duke's all-time assist leader. Her 579 assists are also seventh best in the ACC. Harding is the second women's player to be honored in such a way by the school. Alana Beard's No. 20 was retired in 2004.
"Knowing I am the second female to have her jersey retired is an amazing accomplishment," Harding said in a statement released by Duke. "When I first got to Duke there were no female jerseys hanging in the rafters, so the thought of ever having my jersey retired wasn't even something I thought about. It was like a dream. I know seeing Alana's jersey hanging in Cameron inspired me and made me want to have my No. 10 beside her. Maybe now, with mine up there as well, it will be inspiring to others."
With six teams in the top 25, the Big 12 conference race is going to be one to watch. Half of the conference openers were decided by five points or less. And teams had better start protecting their home courts. In a conference where road wins are usually hard to come by, it was the visitors that reigned Tuesday. The home team won just one of the six games... California is doing its best to get the word out on its trio of stars. The media relations department recently launched a new site to promote Devanei Hampton, Alexis Gray-Lawson and Ashley Walker. So Berkley includes video highlights, photos and interviews of the three All-America candidates. ... Xavier has a chance to pull off a second straight upset this weekend. Coming off a win over No. 7 Georgia, the Musketeers are headed for George Washington on Sunday for the Atlantic 10 opener. The Colonials are 17th in the country. But, the Musketeers boast one of the top frontcourts around. Sophomore Amber Harris and freshman Ta'Shia Phillips have a combined 29.3 points and 20 rebounds a game. Phillips has a shot to break her teammate's record for conference rookie of the week honors. The newcomer has already won it seven times. Harris holds the record with 12.