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College Basketball
William F. Reed
February 21, 1994
The Cards Are Back
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February 21, 1994

College Basketball

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"No, you sit down, you sit down," Bozeman shouted back. The two ended up cursing each other as the game came to a stormy finish.

But maybe the most disturbing behavior of the week was that of first-year Northwestern coach Ricky Byrdsong. On Feb. 5, as the Wildcats tipped off against Minnesota in Minneapolis, the 37-year-old Byrdsong for some reason sat on a stool at the end of the bench and handed the coaching reins to assistant Paul Swanson. In the second half Byrdsong got a technical foul after he ran onto the court to argue a referee's call, and that seemed to really set him off. He walked through the stands, slapping high fives with stunned fans and even with the Minnesota mascot, Goldy Gopher. At one point he sat in an aisle until a building official told him he had to move.

Byrdsong's postgame antics were no less eccentric. Minnesota won 79-65, but after the buzzer he sent guard Patrick Baldwin to the scorer's table to ask that the score be changed to Northwestern 35, Minnesota 34. Baldwin later returned with assistant Tim Carter, who made at least three requests for the change.

Byrdsong was granted a leave of absence two days later—at his own request, said Northwestern athletic director Rick Taylor. "Ricky feels the need to take time for the appropriate action and think about himself and his job," Taylor said. Byrdsong did not make any public statement until last Saturday, when he told a Chicago Tribune reporter that he "feels fine" and hopes "to be back very soon" coaching at Northwestern.

Inevitably, some wondered last week whether Byrdsong was suffering from the stress of coaching at what is historically one of the losingest schools in Division I. (After a 9-0 start in nonconference play this season, Northwestern lost its first seven league games. The Minnesota loss made it eight.) Swanson, now at the helm, offered another explanation. "Coach Byrdsong felt basically we lacked courage," he said following the Minnesota game "The bottom line was he felt he had to show the ultimate demonstration of courage, and he did that."

Byrdsong may have demonstrated the ultimate in something, but courage hardly seems the name for it.

Missouri Breaks

Surprising Missouri, 18-2 overall and undefeated in the Big Eight at week's end, has received a big lift from guard Paul O'Liney, who, after being named MVP of the juco national-championship tournament while playing for Pensacola ( Fla.) Junior College last year, joined the Tigers in December—despite the fact that Missouri had already used up all of its 13 scholarships. Playing as a walk-on, he averaged 13.6 points in the Tigers' last five games through Sunday.

How did Missouri get so lucky? Well, O'Liney had intended to go to Clemson, but when it became clear that he wouldn't graduate from Pensacola by the fall, Clemson withdrew its scholarship offer. O'Liney moved on to Connors State, a community college in Oklahoma, where he earned the credits he needed to get into a four-year college without having to take an exit exam, a requirement at Pensacola and other Florida junior colleges. After he saw Missouri's televised 120-68 drubbing by Arkansas on Dec. 2, O'Liney called his legal guardian, Joyce Hobson, an August enrollee in Missouri's business school. According to O'Liney, Hobson called Missouri assistant coach Rich Daly, and, voil�, Missouri had a rather handy 14th man. Said Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs after O'Liney contributed 20 points to Missouri's 104-94 win over the Sooners on Feb. 5, "Isn't that a nice walk-on they have there? It's pretty hard for us to get a most valuable player from the junior college tournament. Rarely do we have one of those guys walk on to our program."

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