No one exactly knows what a Billiken is, save for the fact that the nickname is derived from a cartoon character developed by a commercial artist in 1908.
But no one was laughing at the Saint Louis Billikens at the Baltimore Arena yesterday after they survived a late rally to beat Minnesota in overtime, 64-61. In fact, Gophers coach Clem Haskins gave the Billikens a chance of upsetting top-seeded Wake Forest in the East Regional semifinal tomorrow afternoon.
"The way they can shoot the three, it gives them an opportunity to win, and I give them an excellent chance to beat Wake Forest," said Haskins, who watched Saint Louis convert 11 of 23 shots from three-point range.
The three-pointer has been the trump card all season for the Billikens (23-7), whose biggest starter, forward David Robinson, stands 6 feet 6. Their listed center, sophomore Jeff Harris, is 6-5.
"We're overmatched physically no matter who we play," said senior guard Scott Highmark. "And we have no one who comes close in size to [Wake Forest center] Tim Duncan.
"But we're not intimidated. We have some great perimeter shooters, and you don't see guys block too many threes," said Highmark.
Highmark made only one of four of his three-point attempts in the first half. But the St. Louis native found his touch and hit three three-pointers in the second half to finish with a team-high 18 points.
"Coach [Charlie Spoonhour] always tells me that when I'm open to take the shot," he said. "It's not like I'm doing a lot of other great things out there. Fortunately, I got some good looks in the second half because they were concentrating on stopping [Erwin] Claggett."
Three for all
The Billikens shooters come in threes. Stop Highmark and Claggett, the team's leading three-point shooter with 97, and you're likely to be burned by senior guard H Waldman, who made three of his seven threes yesterday and 70 for the season.
Playing in the NCAA tourney is nothing new for Waldman, who was a freshman on Nevada-Las Vegas' Final Four team in 1991, playing backup to Greg Anthony.
And if you're already confused by the Billikens' name, you'll be just as confused by Waldman's first name.
But "H" is it. Both his father and grandfather were named Herb, and Waldman's mother said enough was enough.
Spoonhour on the last seconds of the game, when Minnesota got off four three-point attempts: "Doggone, I thought the clock had quit on me." . . . How even was the game? Each team took the same number of shots and had the same number of field goals -- 21 of 61. Each also had 14 assists and was called for 20 fouls.