Minnesota finally won its first Big Ten game of the season last Saturday—against sad-sack Ohio State, now 0-6 in league play—but the Gophers are still on pace for one of the biggest season-after-making-the-Final-Four swoons ever (chart, right). How to explain Minnesota's drop from 16-2 to 1-6 in the conference? Coach Clem Haskins knew he wouldn't have last year's stars, guard Bobby Jackson and center John Thomas, both of whom moved on to the NBA, but he wasn't prepared for the mass defection that followed March Madness.
Charles Thomas, a 6'4" junior guard who figured to be a featured performer this season, transferred to Eastern Kentucky in July.
Two months later 6'8", 270-pound power forward Courtney James was suspended for the season after he had been found guilty of one count of misdemeanor domestic assault for an incident involving a girlfriend. (He then accepted an offer from a pro team in Greece.) Kevin Loge, a 6'10" redshirt freshman center and former top 100 recruit from Morris, Minn., transferred to North Dakota State to get out of the big city. Also, point guard Khalid El-Amin, a two-time Minnesota Mr. Basketball who had given Haskins a verbal commitment as a high school sophomore, changed his mind as a senior and is now having a Big East rookie-of-the-year season at Connecticut.
The remaining players are limited in talent and have been plagued by maladies, which has made finding a go-to Gopher a challenge. Senior swingman Sam Jacobson began the season in a horrid shooting slump, making only 17 of 58 shots (29.3%) in the first three games before righting himself with a 24.2-point average over a five-game stretch. But then he sprained his back while getting out of a chair two days after a loss to Purdue on Jan. 2 and missed three games. Small forward Quincy Lewis sprained his left thumb on Dec. 28 and has been shooting tentatively ever since. Guard Kevin Clark, a junior college transfer who Haskins had hoped would replace some of Jackson's scoring, is taking medication to prevent seizures caused by a heart condition and has struggled at times to adjust to Division I play. Also on medication is starting center Kyle Sanden, who has been plagued by fainting spells. That has left the paint to 6'8" power forward Miles Tarver, who has at least made up for his offensive shortcomings—he was 0 for 4 from close range in an eight-point loss to Michigan on Jan. 20—with candid observations. Said Tarver, after he was razzed mercilessly by Wolverines fans, "I don't know who is sinking faster, us or the Titanic."
Price Is Right
Senior guard Katrina Price is usually the big attraction at Stephen F. Austin women's games, but lately she has had competition. Fans at Johnson Coliseum have started watching a huge purple-and-white board that sits in the stands at one end of the arena. On the board, which is festooned with balloons and streamers and decorated with action photos of Price, a manager constantly updates her career scoring total. After her 23-point performance in last Saturday's 76-69 win at Southeastern Louisiana, Price is just 33 points from breaking the Ladyjacks' career scoring record of 2,062 points.
No. 25 Stephen F. Austin is to host McNeese State on Thursday and Sam Houston on Saturday, and during one of those games the Price index should hit 2,063.
"We're all looking forward to it," Lady-jacks coach Royce Chadwick says. "It's kind of an inevitability, but it's still one of those moments you'll remember when you're 75 and sitting on the back porch dipping snuff."
Price is scoring 23.4 points a game, sixth best in the country, but that isn't her most impressive average. Her grade point average is 3.6, and last semester Price, a kinesiology major, pulled down a 4.0. When it comes to her schoolwork, Price is nearly always right. "She gets a 92 and she's not happy," Chadwick says.
She has high standards on the court too. An honorable mention All-America last season, the 5'10" Price spent part of last summer playing with the USA Basketball Jones Cup team in Taiwan. Back at school she has surpassed 20 points 11 times this season for the Ladyjacks, who are 15-2 and aiming for an NCAA tournament berth for the 11th straight year.