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Lou Carnesecca of St. John's arrived in Salt Lake City, natty in a new sweater, a pointillist's bad dream of blacks and browns and bizarre splotches that were either stitching flaws or snowflakes. "They're snowflakes," Looie said. "It's apropos. When in Rome, you know. The other sweater was 16-2 so it got traded."
Although St. John's triheaded Mull-Berry bush—Chris Mullin, Walter Berry and the 7-foot, bearded Bill Wennington—rounded up the usual prisoners in the Redmen's 68-65 rock 'em, sock 'em affair with Arkansas, it required some outrageous faux pas by the infant Hogs (Piglets?) and some strange judgments by Arkansas coach Eddie Sutton before Wennington, a Canadian sometimes known as the Great White North, could block a William Mills jumper in the lane and send Arkansas back south. If Sutton is coaching's newest genius, why was 6'2" Allie Freeman guarding the 6'6" Mullin (26 points whenever he wanted them), not the 6'7" Mills? And why was Sutton constantly walking away from the bench to bellyache to NCAA officials? Once he sat down beside a huge trash can in a terrific impersonation of Oscar the Grouch. Oh, well. Anybody would be out of sorts if he had to sit helpless while the immaculate Mullin tore his loved ones apart. "The more you play the game, the slower the game becomes," Sutton said. "You learn shortcuts. Chris is as smart as I've seen."
As good an individual year as Mullin has had, Kentucky's Kenny (Sky) Walker's has been better. After carrying a mediocre 16-12 team into the tournament on his bony back, Walker scored 52 points in twin upsets of Washington and Nevada-Las Vegas. Yet two amazing blocked shots were the plays that will help Walker endure in Kentucky basketball lore. The first was against Washington's Reggie Rogers, Walker swatting the ball four rows into the end-zone seats. "I got carried away," said Walker. "Next time I was careful." Next time merely saved the 'Cats from extinction as Sky accompanied Vegas's Richie Adams into the rafters and smashed away a jumper that would have given the Rebels the lead with less than 30 seconds left in the game. Somehow freshman Richard (Master Blaster) Madison saved the rejected ball from going out of bounds, and somehow Walker recovered to race down the court, receive a fast break pass and convert the clinching layup in Kentucky's 64-61 victory.
When the Wildcats last faced St. John's, Carnesecca's team was demolished 102-72 by Kentucky's 1978 national championship crew—in Lexington. Though these 'Cats are riding a wave of passionate commitment following Walker's lead, it is folly to believe that they have enough lives left in them to get home still breathing. Kentucky's road to Lexington dead-ends at the Mull-Berry bush.
But what of N.C. State? Lorenzo (Lo) Charles celebrated his return to the scene of his dramatic championship-clinching dunk with 52 points in two games, including 30 on 12-of-15 fielders, and 5'1" Anthony (Spud) Webb was a very big man with 29 as the Wolfpack shot a blistering 73.2% while beating UTEP 86-73. Cozell (Co) McQueen is the most underrated defensive center on earth. And the legal crises of suspended freshman Chris (Uh-Oh) Washburn are all behind the Pack. State should make short work of Alabama, which used good defense to expel VCR or VCU or whomever was the imposter that Sun Belt commissioner and NCAA tournament selection committee chairman Vic Bubas seeded so high (second) in the West.
But, Valvano says, "As our backcourt goes, so we go." And that backcourt—Webb, Terry Gannon, et al.—shot a pitiful 5 of 32 in the Wolfpack's 66-56 loss to St. John's over the Christmas holidays. Then again, that defeat came at a time when the team had to endure such barbs as Q: What do you say to an N.C. State athlete in a three-piece suit? A: Will the defendant please rise?
"I just don't feel this club has that time bomb in it like it did two years ago," confessed Valvano. "That team was a real survival group. This is not a high-five squad."
If Valvano or Carnesecca can find some legitimate pasta in Denver, they may high-five everybody in sight. But St. John's should win their matchup again, though not so easily this time. Since East meets West in the national semis at Lexington, the Redmen would then face that familiar adversary with the silver silks, red welts and dark scowls. Buona fortuna, Looie.