There is a lot of reminiscing these days in Columbia, S.C., talking about "The Coach" and the glory years of South Carolina basketball. But of all the great seasons Frank McGuire had in building the Gamecocks into an Atlantic Coast Conference power, none were quite like the one Eddie Fogler's team is having now.
An ignominious 5-5 start that included home losses to North Carolina-Asheville and Charleston Southern seems as distant a memory as the 1969-70 season, when the Gamecocks ran the table by winning all 14 of their ACC games. This year's team has won 11 in a row and all 10 of its Southeastern Conference games.
The most recent victory came Tuesday night at the raucous Carolina Coliseum, on the court of the Frank McGuire Arena, when South Carolina overcame a seven-point first-half deficit and then blew an 11-point second-half lead before putting away third-ranked Kentucky in overtime, 84-79.
Though it wasn't the same Kentucky team that Fogler recently called "the cream of the crop" in the SEC -- the once-deep Wildcats are down to nine players because of injuries and have lost All-American Derek Anderson for the season with a knee injury -- the 19th-ranked Gamecocks are a lock to make the school's first NCAA tournament since 1988-89 and only the second since 1972-73.
"I think we're just reaching a level of consistency," senior guard Larry Davis said. "We want to keep our composure and not get overconfident. We're looking for respect."
That has been a long time coming for South Carolina. After the legendary McGuire retired in 1980, the Gamecocks had brief periods of success with Bill Foster and George Felton.
But the program started downhill at the end of the 1990-91 season, when an 18-5 start turned into a 20-13 finish. Felton was forced out and Steve Newton came in for the first two of what would be four straight losing seasons.
Enter Fogler, a former point guard and assistant coach at North Carolina who had turned around Wichita State and Vanderbilt. After South Carolina alum Bobby Cremins accepted the job and then did an about-face and stayed at Georgia Tech three years ago, Fogler took the job.
Being familiar with the territory helped.
"The background I had helped me," he said. "It's not like something I had never been to or seen. I knew we could win here."
His connections to Chapel Hill helped get an unhappy Davis. He had set South Carolina high school scoring records by averaging 44 points a game as a senior in Denmark, S.C., but he was playing behind Donald Williams on North Carolina's national championship team in 1993. Now nine of the 12 players are from the state.
Many of the team's fans go back to the days of the late McGuire.
"I would say most of our Tip-Off Club members are in the 60s or 70s," Fogler said. "And Coach McGuire still lives in many ways."
Riding a winning wave
South Carolina is the only major conference team to remain unbeaten in league play -- Tulane's perfect run in Conference USA ended last night with a loss to Cincinnati -- but a number of lower-profile teams also are undefeated in their respective leagues.
One is Boston University, under third-year coach Dennis Wolff. A former assistant at Virginia where he was on the same staff as Loyola coach Brian Ellerbe, Wolff has benefited by having two of the best players in America East. Tunji Awojobi, a 6-foot-7, 230-pound senior from Nigeria, is considered a legitimate NBA prospect.
The other is a player with whom ACC fans are quite familiar -- former McDonald's All-American Joey Beard. A disappointment in his one year at Duke, Beard came to BU a bit shell-shocked from his time in Durham. "His confidence was shot," said Wolff, who had tried to recruit Beard to Virginia. "It helped him to have a player like Tunji already in the program."
The results have been sensational and, considering that America East is not the ACC, not totally surprising.
Beard, a 6-10, 235-pound forward, hasn't dominated. He averages a little more than 13 points and eight rebounds and shoots around 60 percent from the field. But the Terriers have won 29 of 34 games since he became eligible.
Give Wolff and BU some credit for the team's record: 16-3 overall and 12-0 in the league going into today's game at Hofstra.
Of 305 Division I teams, the Terriers were one of only four that didn't play a home game until January. They have only nine at little Case Gym this season.
"It was my fault," said Wolff, 41. "When I got the job, scheduling was something I was naive about. I got a million phone calls and everyone thought we stunk.
"We had a home-and-home series with Providence, but after we played them close, they dropped the return game. The same thing happened with a couple of other schools."
Regardless, BU is off to its best start since 1979-80, when Kentucky's Rick Pitino was coach, and might make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1989-90, when George Washington's Mike Jarvis was coach.
Asked why he benched Greg Newton until the second half of Wednesday's upset of second-ranked Wake Forest, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said it was merely a matter of going to a smaller lineup.
The Blue Devils didn't start a player taller than 6-8 -- Newton is 6-11 -- against the Demon Deacons' front line, which is 6-10, 6-10 and 7-0.
Krzyzewski got a bit rankled at the suggestion that Newton, the team's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, was in the doghouse.
"It wasn't for any disciplinary reasons," Krzyzewski said. "It was for strategy. I had two dogs at home. I don't have any doghouses. If I wanted another dog, I'd go out and buy one."
Good point, bad analogy.
Pub Date: 2/07/97