The No. 1-ranked Wildcats were floored by their own overscheduling
After Purdue's shocking 72-69 upset of No. 1 Arizona at the inaugural John Wooden Tradition in Indianapolis, it seemed fair to ask: How did the Wildcats, who had already compared themselves to the best college teams of all time, fall to the Boilermakers, who had just lost on their home court to Central Michigan? Well, the plain truth—rather, the plane truth-was that Arizona played like a team that had flown 7,200 miles to play four games in six days.
Granted, the Wildcats were missing center Loren Woods, who was suspended for the season's first six games for accepting improper benefits from a family friend, but that hadn't kept Arizona from beating No. 8 Illinois 79-76 to win the Maui Invitational on Nov. 22. That night the Wildcats flew from Maui to Los Angeles to Denver to Indianapolis, arriving at 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. "Yesterday in practice it felt like we were still somewhere over Colorado," Arizona coach Lute Olson said after last Saturday's loss to Purdue, and in the game forward Richard Jefferson, a Wooden Award candidate, looked exhausted, scoring zero points in 23 minutes before fouling out. Several of his teammates were a step slow as well, failing to deny the baseline or corral loose balls. The Boilermakers raced out to a 15-3 advantage, and even Purdue coach Gene Keady appeared stunned.
"There will be some very strong lessons learned from this," a chagrined Olson said, and though he was referring to lessons learned by his players, here's hoping that he, too, learned something in his role as schedule maker. Arizona's party line was that it had accepted an invitation to play in Saturday's game to honor Wooden (a check for six figures from the organizers probably didn't hurt), but as the 90-year-old Wizard of West-wood, a Purdue alumnus, walked around the court wearing a Boilermakers hat after the game, it was enough to make you wonder if the Wildcats had honored him a bit too much.
Dayton Hits the Top 25
A Bittersweet Triumph
On the Tuesday night before Thahksgiving, Dayton coach Oliver Purnell summoned senior guard Tony Stanley to a room in the Flyers' hotel in Lahaina, Hawaii, where Dayton was competing in the Maui Invitational, and handed him a telephone. Tony's grandmother, Lucille, was on the line with the news that Tony's 37-year-old mother, Karen, had died of pneumonia in Philadelphia earlier that day. The illness had come on so suddenly that Tony wasn't even aware the she'd been sick. The news caused him to collapse into Purnell's arms, and the two cried together. "It was amazing," Purnell says. "You're in the excitement of this tournament, and all of a sudden something like this happens and none of the basketball matters anymore."
After the phone call, Purnell and Stanley went for a long walk, during which Stanley said he still wanted to play the next day against sixth-ranked Maryland in the consolation game. Play he did, scoring a game-high 21 points and holding the Terps' star guard, Juan Dixon, to two points on l-of-8 shooting in a 77-71 Flyers win. The victory was Dayton's second upset of a ranked team in three days—the Flyers opened the tournament with an 80-66 drubbing of No. 12 Connecticut—and it catapulted Dayton into the AP Top 25 (at No. 24) for the first time in 26 years.
Perhaps more important, Dayton left Maui a closer team. "Because of what went down with my mom, I bonded tighter with my teammates than I ever had in my four years here," Stanley says.
Following a stellar career at Washington-Lee High in Arlington, Va., Stanley took his time getting his game under control. He did little but shoot during his first two seasons at Dayton, but last year, while leading the Flyers in scoring (14.7 points a game) and steals (1.7) as Dayton made its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1990, he had more assists than turnovers for the first time. "Tony came in with a lot of talent, but he had to learn to let the game come to him," Purnell says. "He has also learned the importance of bringing guys together with his leadership."
The need to lead was what drove Stanley to play against Maryland despite his grief. "I owed it not just to my mom but also to my teammates," he says. "I'm the captain. If I'm down, they're down." Which is not to say he didn't keep his mother in mind. Each of the six times he stepped to the free throw line, he looked up and pointed toward the sky to honor her memory.