Defense. As usual, that is what UTEP Coach Don Haskins is stressing to his Miners, who are second in the nation, allowing the opposition an average of 55 points. But two nights in a row Haskins found there was something for which he could find no defense—an aching stomach. He spent much of the second half of games against Arizona and Arizona State in the locker room, while his assistant, Gene Iba, did the coaching. UTEP's rivals must be hoping that Iba gets sick, too. Against Arizona the Miners played their stingiest defense of the season, holding the Wildcats to 18 points in the second half as UTEP wrapped up a 61-42 WAC win. Front-liners Gary Brewster, John Saffle and Calvin Hale limited Arizona's Bob Elliott and Al Fleming, who had been combining for nearly 40 points a game, to only seven shots and no field goals. Arizona shot .261 from the field, State .382 as UTEP won 69-64. That left the Miners tied for first place in the WAC with New Mexico and Arizona. The Lobos defeated Arizona State 65-63 when George Berry sank two free throws after time had expired, and lost to Arizona 80-79.
Defense is also Oregon Coach Dick Harter's favorite subject, and he felt that not all his starters were guarding with the abandon that had earned the Ducks the nickname Kamikaze Kids. So when Oregon took on Pacific Eight leader Oregon State, Harter had three new starters. One of them, freshman Forward Danny Mack, was primarily responsible for destroying State's pass-and-cut offense. His performance, plus 55 points from Greg Ballard and Ron Lee, enabled Oregon to pull off an 83-68 upset. Washington downed Hawaii 87-77 and 73-68.
The first 20-game winner of the season is Nevada-Las Vegas, which sprinted past Nevada-Reno 120-98 and 125-91. Reno trailed just 94-93 in the opener, then Sudden Sam Smith of the Rebels lived up to his nickname by flicking in seven points in 15 seconds.
1. NEV.-LV (20-0)
2. WASHINGTON (16-1)
They weren't whistling Dixie in the Southeastern Conference; all those shrill sounds were referees signaling fouls. When Mississippi State played at Alabama, 58 personals and three technicals were called. The Crimson Tide broke a 71-all tie on a play in which the Bulldogs were slapped with a personal and two technicals. Alabama (6-1 in the SEC) turned those fouls into three points, got a school-record 14 assists from Anthony Murray and won 92-81. Earlier, Alabama had knocked off stalling Mississippi 64-41. Tennessee also won despite fouls and slowdown tactics. The Vols nipped Mississippi 56-53 and, in a game marred by 47 personals and four technicals, beat Auburn 83-78.
It was from one court to another for Minnesota Center Mike Thompson, who obtained a restraining order that temporarily kept the NCAA from banning him because he scalped tickets last year. On the basketball court, Thompson scored 29 points in a 96-84 win over Wisconsin. Minnesota then led Indiana 45-40 at halftime, but the Hoosiers hit 12 of their first 14 shots in the second half and won 85-76. Thompson, who finished with 17 points, had just six in the final period as the Hoosiers sagged in to keep the ball from him. The Gophers' Ray Williams, who had 22 first-half points, got only 12 more after Bob Wilkerson was assigned to cover him.
On the way to Indiana, Purdue's bus was in an accident from which the Boilermakers escaped unscathed. They were not so fortunate against the Hoosiers, who blew an 11-point lead but prevailed 71-67 as Scott May tossed in 32 points. Purdue also lost 84-80 to Michigan.
Notre Dame pressured UCLA into errors. UCLA pressured Notre Dame into errors. Notre Dame got 30 points from junior Adrian Dantley. UCLA got 30 points from junior Richard Washington. What gave the Irish the advantage was Don Williams' outside sniping. His 18 points were crucial in finishing off the Bruins 95-85.