In This Corner....
The anticipation has been building for weeks. It's the defending champ against the No. 1 contender, and each has been tuning up against mostly inferior competition. If this Sunday's UNLV-Arkansas game had a nickname—like the Big Thrill in Fayetteville—you would swear it was a heavyweight championship fight instead of a regular-season basketball game.
Two teams, Alabama-Birmingham and Florida State, have had the misfortune of getting thumped by both the Rebels (17-0 at week's end) and the Hogs (22-1). Here's how some of the Blazers and Seminoles see the game.
"Both teams play great defense, but UNLV is more disciplined," says Florida State swingman Aubry Boyd, whose team lost 101-69 to the Rebs on Dec. 22 and 109-92 to the Hogs on Jan. 21. " Arkansas is more explosive getting turnovers, but it gambles a lot and gives up some easy baskets. I'd have to pick UNLV to win—barely."
"[ Arkansas center] Oliver Miller will need to get [ UNLV forward] Larry Johnson in foul trouble because Johnson is the key to UNLV," says Alabama-Birmingham guard Jack Kramer, whose Blazers lost 109-68 to the Runnin' Rebs on Dec. 1 and 104-72 to the Razorbacks last Wednesday. "But I think [playing at home] gives Arkansas the advantage."
"On sheer talent the advantage goes to Vegas," says Blazer coach Gene Bartow. "But playing at Barnhill Arena gives Arkansas a psychological advantage."
The guess here is that Arkansas will keep the game close most of the way, because the Razorbacks are one of the few teams whose backcourt can stand up to the Rebels' defensive pressure and exert some of its own. But the Hogs' inability to match Vegas's depth up front should enable the Rebels to pull away late. The final score: 102-91.
Happy New Year
If the season ended today, Providence's 6'2" senior guard, Eric Murdock, would get our vote as a first-team All-America. No guard in the country—not Georgia Tech's Kenny Anderson, not Michigan State's Steve Smith, not anyone else—has enjoyed a better season than Murdock. On Jan. 29, Murdock broke the NCAA record for career steals by snatching number 342 in a 65-62 win over Seton Hall, but that was no surprise, because Murdock has long been a top defender. What has shocked college hoops observers is Murdock's scoring. At week's end he was averaging 28.9 for the 13-7 Friars.
Murdock has saved most of his best performances for top opponents. He had 45 points and eight rebounds in a 99-87 loss at Arizona, and 48 points (a Big East record), seven rebounds and six steals in a 92-79 loss to Pitt. "Eric Murdock has caught the entire professional basketball establishment off guard," says former Friars athletic director Dave Gavitt, who is now senior executive vice-president of the Boston Celtics. "I tried to think who he reminded me of, and the name that kept coming to mind is Lenny Wilkens."