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BUSTIN' LOOSE
Curry Kirkpatrick
November 20, 1989
The college game is on a rootin'-tootin' shootin' spree
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November 20, 1989

Bustin' Loose

The college game is on a rootin'-tootin' shootin' spree

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After the installation of the almighty ticker in 1985, scoring in the NCAA tournament jumped to 143 points a game for both teams, a 15.6-point increase over the previous season, and it climbed steadily to 158.5 last March. Meanwhile, in the final season of the '80s, total scoring in all Division I games rose to an average of 151.4, the highest level since 1975. Much of this came as a result of the increased use of the three-pointer. Last season nearly one of every five shots attempted was a trey, and almost nine baskets per game were made from behind the 19'9" arc.

Do all these numbers make college ball irresponsible? Or irresistible? Does such speed kill—or save—the game? And is this passionate affair with rapid-fire shooting and scoring all that new, or simply déjà vu?

In 1976-77, UNLV averaged 107.1 points a game on the way to the Final Four. Of course, Runnin' Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian was a proponent of the helter-skelter, no-system, no-defense style of play, which couldn't win consistently and would never last. At least, that was the rap.

"In 1976, when I took Rutgers to the Final Four, we averaged 93 points," says Tom Young, now the coach, at Old Dominion. "But when I told Abe Lemons [another practitioner of the running game, who was then at Pan American] how much people were enjoying that style, he said, 'Yeah, but nobody thinks you :an coach when you play that way.' "

However, as Young points out, "it might be the most difficult way to coach—keeping things in control when everything looks like it's going bananas. I know it goes against all the basic concepts: Get the ball in the paint. Balance the floor. Be patient. Take good shots. But is it good or bad? I think we're in the entertainment business. Defense isn't bad; it's just that offense is more exciting."

But more exciting than winning? "Two years ago we beat Southern Mississippi in double overtime, 141-133," says Virginia Tech coach Frankie Allen. "I didn't have as many people tell me they were glad we won as said, "I really enjoyed that game.' "

On the other hand, score in the 50's enough times and, win or lose....

In March 1988, Bob Weltlich of Texas was dismissed as coach after some of his players, fed up with the slow pace of Weltlich's game, went to Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds and just...said...no.

Into Austin rode Tom Penders, late of rootin'-tootin' Rhode Island, who guided the Longhorns to 25 victories while averaging 94.3 points, an increase of almost 24 red-hot ones a game. Suddenly, home attendance climbed from an average of 4,028 (less than the Texas women's team drew) to 10,011. "To me, with the clock and the three-point are, there are few benefits to playing any other way," says Penders.

The Longhorns' success only mirrored that of the Southwest Conference as a whole; last year its teams cracked the 100-point mark 26 times, the most memorable game being a 120-101 victory by Arkansas over (who would have guessed?) Loyola Marymount.

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