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When Arizona coach Lute Olson said last week "I don't think there's any question that they are the best team in the conference," he wasn't talking about his Wildcats, the team that was everybody's preseason conference favorites, or even about UCLA, which was the consensus runner-up. He was referring to Oregon State, which broke out of the gate with convincing home court wins over Pac-10 rivals Arizona State and Arizona.
Olson also said the Beavers' Gary Payton "may be the best point guard in the country." In last week's two victories, Payton, a 6'4" senior, had a total of 46 points and 22 assists, including a school-record 15 assists in the 87-64 win over Arizona State. At week's end he had 734 career assists, and later this season he should surpass the NCAA career record of 960 set by Sherman Douglas at Syracuse. If Payton plays well this week and the Beavers beat Memphis State and Tennessee on the road, Olson will not be the only one giving Payton some long-overdue recognition.
Arizona, meanwhile, will try to regain the form it showed in an 82-75 season-opening win over Michigan. Before the 84-61 loss to Oregon State last Saturday, the Wildcats were upset 68-63 at Oregon. So far the Wildcats' sophomore center, Brian Williams, the ballyhooed transfer from Maryland, hasn't filled the void left by Sean Elliott's departure, but of greater concern to Arizona may be the guard position. The two starters, Matt Muehlebach and Matt Othick, converted only six of 20 shots all told in the two defeats.
UCLA, 3-0 at week's end, was only slightly better than Arizona, almost blowing an 11-point lead in the last two minutes before holding on for a 58-56 win at Washington. The Bruins then overcame a 13-point deficit to beat Washington State 68-64 in Pullman. Against the Cougars, UCLA was 0 for 12 on three-point attempts until Gerald Madkins made a trey with 45 seconds to go. Said relieved Bruin coach Jim Harrick, "I just want to get out of Dodge."
TWO SURPRISING DEBUTS
Veteran SEC coaches Wimp Sanderson and Don DeVoe were unusually emotional last week after a couple of victories. In Tuscaloosa, Sanderson's 10th Crimson Tide team upended North Carolina 101-93 for its 18th consecutive win at home. The game attracted a full house of 15,043, a sign that basketball finally has developed a serious following in the land of the Bear.
If so, give a lot of credit to Sanderson, who began as a Crimson Tide assistant in 1960 and didn't get the top job until 1980. At week's end Alabama was 4-0, giving Sanderson a 196-91 career record, but the North Carolina win was so special to him that he said, after wiping away what looked suspiciously like tears, "It was a great victory over a great, traditionally ranked basketball program. It's something I'm sure the players will never forget." The Tide was led by forward Melvin Cheatum, who had 23 points; point guard Gary Waites, who had nine assists; and guard Bryant Lancaster, who made nine of 11 foul shots after shooting only 17% from the line last season.
As for DeVoe, he was excited about beating Florida State 82-69 in his debut as Florida's interim coach. He resigned from Tennessee after the Vols lost in the first round of last season's NCAA tournament and looked as if he might be out of work this season until Florida hired him to replace Norm Sloan on a six-month contract two weeks before the season started. "This is an incredible moment for me," said DeVoe. "I still have to pinch myself to believe I'm here. I'm running around saying hello to people I don't even know."
Somebody he does know is Dwayne Schintzius, the Gators' 7'2" senior center, who has a reputation for moodiness. Earlier in the week, Schintzius' bad-boy behavior got him kicked out of practice by DeVoe, whose emphasis on conditioning hasn't gone over well with some players accustomed to Sloan's more relaxed style. Against the Seminoles, however, Schintzius was at his best, scoring 25 points to go with seven rebounds and three blocked shots. "From the first five minutes," said Schintzius, "I knew we had this game won. I wish we had beaten them by more, though." Is he a sweetheart or what?