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It was shortly after LSU leveled Arkansas. Or it was shortly after LSU leveled Wichita State. It doesn't matter. The levelings and the levity tended to run together last weekend in New Orleans, as a million caterwauling Cajuns celebrated their Louisiana State Tiiii-guhs.
While LSU Coach Dale Brown and Center Greg Cook struggled past the throngs and into the bowels of the rocking and rolling Superdome, they were life imitating art: Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor as the white and black partners in the prison scene in Stir Crazy. "Cook, you bad, man. You real bad." roared several hundred fans. The fearsome Cookie-man usually appears annoyed at life in general, not to mention anything that detracts from his image as the baddest man on campus. This time, though, Cookie crumbled. "Definitely," he called out as he gathered in the waving, slapping hands. "We definitely bad."
Glancing over at this scene, Brown gave just the hint of a shuck 'n jive step of his own and was engulfed by the crowd along with Cook.
LSU's not-that-close 96-85 defeat of Wichita State in the final of the Midwest Regional on Sunday was keyed by MVP Rudy Macklin (21 points, 10 rebounds), Cook (19 and seven) and a relentless pressure defense that forced 17 turnovers. But the team's 31st win against three losses owed much to a sequence of motivational switch-ups that Brown plotted like a war-games strategist.
Last season the Tigers roared in the stretch, but in the NCAAs, Brown said, "We got blown to Pluto." This March he cooled it: cut practices in half, quit the chalk talks, omitted the pop-psychology T shirts. "We were climbing the Matterhorn," Brown said. "I told them to enjoy the plant life on the way up."
When Georgia upset LSU in the SEC tournament, Brown un-cooled it. He dreamed up a new slogan, "attack together," and everybody got pumped up about "getting silly in Philly."
As if he needed additional support—32,747 showed up at the Dome on Sunday and not many had Kansas twangs—Macklin received a pregame call from the Utah Stars' Darrell Griffith, his buddy since the eighth grade in Louisville. Griffith advised Macklin to do "something crazy."
But Macklin—the best offensive rebounder in college—did something sane. He went out and began making tap-back buckets the way he flashes smiles, fast and easy. Macklin, Cook and freshman Leonard Mitchell knocked Wichita State's glass-eating bookend forwards, Antoine Carr and Cliff Levingston, off the shelf as LSU scored 14 straight points early in the game, while the Shockers couldn't scratch on 10 straight possessions. And soon LSU's Ethan Martin (four steals, 10 assists) was infiltrating enemy lines, leading his team on another streak of 17-7, which boosted the Tigers' margin from 25-14 to 42-21 late in the first half and effectively removed all suspense from the rest of the game.
The Wheatshockers' own moment of glory had come on Friday night when the Midwest Regional became the Kansas Sectional, that being the class struggle between the establishment Kansas Jayhawks and their neglected enemy within, Wichita State, which KU hadn't scheduled for 25 years.
After one NCAA official called the school " Wichita," Shocker Athletic Director Ted Bredehoft snapped, "We are Wichita State University." Whatever they were, the Shockers weren't prepared for Kansas' gargantuan Victor Mitchell. The 6'10", 240-pound (before dinner) "Chocolate Moose" personally turned the 2-1-2 Jayhawk zone into a 2-7-2 and prevented Levingston and Carr from finding the seams inside.