BACK IN THE SADDLE
In January, after a 54-49 loss at Colorado State dropped struggling Wyoming's record to 13-4, first-year coach Benny Dees's house was egged. "I'm going to build a new one so far off the road, only a major league arm can reach it," said Dees. "Either that or Teflon-coat it."
Indeed, it has been a sticky season for Dees, whose Cowboys were supposed to lead the way in the resurgent Western Athletic Conference but waited until well into the schedule before getting around to doing so. That way Wyoming was able to save the best for last. On Saturday night in Provo, Utah, it beat UTEP 79-75 in the final of the league tournament for its 14th win in 15 games. Afterward, Dees must have been feeling darn good about his chances in the upcoming NCAAs, right? "Hell no, I'm not confident," he said, having learned to defuse the expectations of rabid fans. But then, even Dees had to admit, "We are playing pretty well."
In particular, senior forward Fennis Dembo is playing pretty well. He led the tournament in scoring, with 60 points, and in rebounds, with 22. In Wyoming's opener, an 83-76 victory over San Diego State, the demonstrative Dembo gave a sampling of his trademark power pantomime, an act that included a free throw routine more drawn out than a Jeffrey Leonard home run trot. After the game, Deseret News sports editor Lee Benson wrote a column in which he called Dembo's act "beyond hot dog." Angered, Dembo went out against Colorado State on Friday with his jaw set and his face nearly expressionless, and he played one of his best games of the season. "This game was personally for him," said Dembo, referring to Benson. Dees has done little to curb Dembo's antics. "I'm way too late [to change him]," said Dees. "But I do want to borrow some money from him next year."
Even with Dembo's 24 points, the Cowboys needed 11th-hour heroics to defeat the Rams. With the game tied at 58 and two seconds left to play. Dees sent in former high school quarterback Clauzell Williams to inbound the ball from behind the Colorado State basket. Williams fired a 75-foot strike to double-teamed center Eric Leckner, who caught the ball at the top of the key, whirled and swished an 18-footer.
Top-seeded BYU couldn't recover its early season excellence, even with the added incentive of playing at home. After taking a 17-0 start into early February, the Cougars ended the regular Season with four losses in their final 11 games. In their tournament semifinal, BYU's chief weakness—slowness afoot—was exposed when they were out-quicked by scrappy UTEP 66-63. 'There has been some slippage," said BYU coach Ladell Andersen. But opposing coaches say the Cougars, 25-5 entering the NCAAs, still deserve respect, particularly by teams that have not "aced BYU's sterling passing offense.
In the championship game against the Miners, Wyoming got three straight ump shots in the second half from guard Robyn Davis—"He thinks a good shot is anything indoors," says Dees—and Wyoming entered the NCAAs on the upswing. "I can't wait to play some teams outside the WAC," said Dees. "Nobody in the country plays better defense [than the WAC]. It's no fun."
But it was fun again for the 3,500-plus Wyoming fans who made the trip to Provo; one of them waved a sign reading BENNY DEES FOR PRESIDENT. Said Dees, "That's the same guy who threw those eggs."
WHITHER THE P-WORD?
That sound you heard on Sunday was a national yawn as the Big East. Big Eight, ACC and Pac-10 tournaments concluded. The results: victories by Syracuse, Oklahoma, Duke and Arizona, respectively. Has the ubiquitous P-word (that's parity for all you cave dwellers beyond the reach of ESPN) become pass�? We'll leave that for the NCAA tournament to decide, but the weekend did offer a few foreshadowings: