Pitino right to draw line on who's at it


Sometimes, you have to look a great distance to find heroes among college basketball coaches, but this week's search ends early with Kentucky men's coach Rick Pitino.

Pitino suspended guard Travis Ford, center Gimel Martinez and forward Jared Prickett for Wednesday's game with Tennessee after they admitted deceiving officials in the Wildcats' 77-69 win over Vanderbilt last Saturday. Twice they moved free-throw shooters to the line who had higher percentages than the players who had actually been fouled.

"There are a lot of kids in this state who, maybe, look up to our players too much, but if that's the way it's going to be, then they've got to be solid role models," Pitino said yesterday.

With 2:44 left in the Vanderbilt game, Martinez, an 80.5 percent foul shooter this season, took two free throws, despite the fact that Prickett (54.9 percent) was fouled.

Martinez hit one shot to give Kentucky a 63-55 lead. After the game, Ford told a television reporter that he had waved teammate Walter McCarty (51.2 percent) to the line to shoot for ** Andre Riddick (31.8). McCarty hit two to put the Wildcats ahead 59-47 with 6:26 remaining.

Pitino exonerated McCarty and Riddick in the matter, saying neither seemed to know who actually had been fouled.

Pitino, who apologized to Vanderbilt coach Jan van Breda Kolff, was furious about the deception, and also was angry at the players and the media for taking it so lightly.

"I didn't think it was any laughing matter at all," Pitino said. "I made a decision right away. We had a team meeting and I announced what I was going to do. I wanted them to sleep on it and think about what had happened. Some of the players didn't agree with my decision, but there was only one way to go, especially [with them] making light of it."

The Southeastern Conference called the matter an "inadvertent error," but criticized the officiating crew, calling their handling of the foul shots "unacceptable."

Van Breda Kolff said he has now placed one of his assistant coaches in charge of monitoring who is supposed to be shooting free throws.

"If you're going to do that, are you going to assign someone to watch the clock or are you going to assign someone to watch the shot clock to make sure that it gets recycled?" said Auburn coach Tommy Joe Eagles. "I think the three guys that call the game are the three guys that are supposed to do that job."

More pressure on Coppin

The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference is one of seven conferences where the men's team in first place is 50 spots higher on the RPI than the second-place team. The RPI, or ratings power index, is used by the NCAA tournament selection committee to weigh the relative strength of teams by measuring their performance by their strength of schedule.

The MEAC's disparity may hurt Coppin State, which is primed to go through the league schedule undefeated for a second straight year, but may need to win the MEAC tournament to get into the NCAA field of 64, because the rest of the league is so poor, RPI-wise.

The Eagles aren't the only ones in that boat. New Mexico State (Big West), Murray State (Ohio Valley), Drexel (North Atlantic), Weber State (Big Sky) and the College of Charleston (Trans America) also are poised atop leagues with huge RPI disparities between first and second.

Texas hearts breaking

Big East presidents, who are meeting today in Boston to discuss adding four football schools to the league to assuage the concerns of the four current football members,would do well to note what is happening to the Southwest Conference.

Baylor and Texas A&M; announced this week that they will leave the eight-team SWC for the Big Eight. Texas and Texas Tech are expected to follow suit, effectively bringing down the curtain on the SWC, which has existed since 1914, and has, since 1982, produced four teams that reached the men's Final Four (Houston 1982-83-84, Arkansas 1990) and two women's teams (Texas 1986, Texas Tech 1993) that won the national championship.

Mantle of leadership

Virginia women's coach Debbie Ryan has won five Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year awards in the past 10 seasons, but she has done her best coaching job this year, taking a team with just one senior and only two bona fide stars -- sophomore Wendy Palmer and freshman Tora Suber -- to the league championship, the Cavaliers' fourth straight.

By the way, wouldn't the folks at Clemson be well-advised to consider hiring their women's coach, Jim Davis, for the men's opening when Cliff Ellis resigns at the end of the season? Davis has won 20 games for all but one of his six previous seasons there, and this year's 17-6 squad should gain his seventh NCAA bid.

Most importantly, Davis' players go to class and graduate, which is something that some candidates for Ellis' job can't say.

Upset pick of the week

An uncharacteristic midseason slump has sent the Upset Pick record reeling to 4-3. Now's the time for a good defense, and few teams play it better than Temple, so while coach John Chaney is likely due for a hostile reception Sunday at Cameron Indoor Stadium, his Owls should escape with a win over Duke.

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