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Basketball has been so bad at Rice since the Owls last won the Southwest Conference in 1954 that Don Knodel was asked by a friend when he decided to take the head coaching position four years ago, "Is this the only job in the country you can get?" Right now it is just about the only job Knodel would want. With victories of 85-78 over Arkansas and 75-67 over Texas last week, Rice stands two games ahead in the SWC with three games to play. In their important win over the Longhorns, the Owls trailed at half-time as they have in eight of their 11 league games this year. Then their busy guards, Tom Myer and Gary Reist, two out-of-state imports from Indiana and Ohio, shot down Texas' zone defense with 47 points between them.
Also a double winner, Kansas State knocked off Missouri 63-60 and Nebraska 69-62 to insure itself at least a tie for the Big Eight title. The Wildcats can thank the long memory and longer arms of defensive substitute David Lawrence for their victory over second-place Mizzou. Last year K-State lost to the Tigers when Pete Helmbock snuck behind the State defense for an easy layup late in the game. With the Wildcats ahead by one point and 1:16 to play last week, Helmbock attempted the same maneuver and looked headed for a sure basket when Lawrence stepped in his way and blocked the shot. The State sub retrieved the loose ball and added an insurance layup.
Unpleasant memories for Guard Don Ogletree figured in red-hot Cincinnati's 53-52 win over Louisville. Earlier the Cardinals had defeated the Bearcats by one point when Ogletree missed a free throw in the final 10 seconds of play. In the latest game, Ogletree retrieved his reputation by dropping in two foul shots with 17 seconds left to seal the Cincinnati victory, its 10th straight. Louisville's loss gave Drake, which defeated Wichita 90-83 in overtime and Tulsa 80-74, the lead in the Missouri Valley Conference. Two weak Louisiana teams, Loyola of New Orleans and Centenary, fell to Houston 99-80 and 97-72.
1. HOUSTON (20-3)
During a time-out with two minutes to play and Oregon leading UCLA by 15 points, Bruin Coach John Wooden strolled over to the Ducks' bench, shook Coach Steve Belko's hand and said, "It's going to be a little wild at the end, Steve. So I thought I'd say congratulations now. You beat us every way you could." In handing UCLA its first defeat of the season and breaking the Bruins' winning streak at 25 games, the Webfoots out-shot the Bruins (43%-34%), outrebounded them (56-52) and, most important, outscored them (78-65). Center Stan Love and Forward Rusty Blair led four Oregon scorers in double figures with 19 points apiece, and Blair broke the tide of a UCLA rally early in the second half by firing in five consecutive field goals. The Ducks' win, coupled with their victory earlier in the week over Southern Cal 92-83, moved them into second place ahead of the Trojans in the Pacific Eight, and it letf the country without an undefeated major college team.
Neither Utah nor UTEP, the Western Athletic Conference's two best teams, seemed to want the league lead. First conference leader Utah was upset 83-69 by a Colorado State team that used a tenacious man-for-man defense to prevent the Utes from shooting from their favorite spots. The Redskins converted only 36% of their field-goal attempts. Their loss was UTEP's gain, but only temporarily. The Miners, suffering through a dismal 50-31 first half, dropped the WAC lead after a trouncing by Arizona 86-72. Coach Don Haskins turned to shock treatment at the intermission to rally his team. He stayed out of the locker room in hopes that his players would come up with the right answers. They were only slightly better in the second half.
Utah State, which had beaten Denver by 27 points earlier, and Santa Clara were also upset victims. The Aggies' offense was clogged up by the Pioneers' sagging zone defense, and they lost 78-73. Santa Clara again dropped into a tie with Pacific for the West Coast Athletic Conference lead when it was blackjacked by Nevada at Las Vegas 72-70.
New Mexico State trailed West Texas State with 10 minutes remaining to play, but rallied to win 87-73.