But this season, with six weeks left and no runaway candidate, several players are making strong cases for the award.
Rick Pitino, a coach of unwavering philosophies, demands many things
from his star players, including unselfishness, defense and making
supporting players better.
During his time with Kentucky, Pitino demanded as much from Jamal
Mashburn and Antoine Walker, who have carried their success to the NBA. Now,
with Louisville, Pitino expects the same from Reece Gaines.
"(He) makes other people better," Pitino said, "which wasn't the case
Gaines, who shifted from shooting to point guard, has seen his assists
per game jump from 3.6 last year to 4.8 this season. Though Gaines'
scoring average has dipped from 21 to 18.5, his focus has shifted to more
"I haven't won very much (in the past)," Gaines said. "My focus is
winning, and that's going to be the team's mindset."
With the heart of the conference season beginning, Gaines headlines a
score of NCAA players who are in the running for the Naismith Award.
"Last year … I said it's Reece Gaines and 11 (other guys)," Pitino
said. "(This year), he distributes the ball so well, and defenses can't
concentrate on him. That's why we're shooting 50 percent as a team."
It's also why No. 9 Louisville remains undefeated (4-0) in Conference
USA with an overall mark of 12-1.
Though his statistics are less impressive than Gaines', Jason Gardner
remains a big reason why No. 1 Arizona lingers in the elite despite Luke
Gardner leads Arizona in scoring with 13.4 points per game and adds 5.1
assists. He also continues to be the Wildcats' go-to-guy. On Dec. 15,
when then-No. 7 Texas strolled into Tucson, Gardner scored six of his 13
in the final two minutes of the Wildcats' 73-70 win.
What's more remarkable is Gardner's conditioning. The senior averages
32.2 minutes, almost 10 more than his closest teammate, Salim Stoudamire
"Even when you pull him out of the game," Arizona coach Lute Olsen
said, "you expect him to at least be breathing hard. He's not."
Illinois' Brian Cook has logged similar minutes to Gardner and found
much of the same success. Cook's 31.6 minutes rank second on his team.
But more importantly, Cook has established himself as a nightly 20-point
scorer and has the Illini (12-3) prepared for a deep postseason run.
"He's playing to succeed rather than not to fail," Illinois coach Bill
Self said. "Bad plays don't affect him like in year's past."
And then there's ...
Kentucky's Keith Bogans, Texas' T.J. Ford, Pitt's Brandin Knight and
Syracuse's Carmelo Anthony all can make cases to be college basketball's
No. 1 player.
Pitino has already put in his vote for Gaines.
"Reece is just playing a different type of game," Pitino said. "He's
just an outstanding point guard."
Gary Williams couldn't keep silent anymore.
Following the Terrapins' 81-72 loss to Wake Forest, Williams sounded
off on official Doug Shows. This came after Shows whistled Williams and
guard Steve Blake for technicals in the second half.
"We had a referee tell us he'd see us next week in a threatening
manner," Williams told the Associated Press. "I'm a little tired of the rule
the ACC has about (not) commenting on officiating, and this is the
first time I've commented."
Williams later apologized for his comments, and the ACC suspended Shows
for one conference game.
He might not be resigning, but perhaps UCLA coach Steve Lavin took
another step toward being fired.
Not even Arizona, a fierce rival, could stir the Bruins out of the
doldrums, as the Wildcats dumped UCLA, 87-52, Saturday night. The loss
marked UCLA's worst defeat at Pauley Pavilion, which opened in 1965.
"We lack spirit right now," forward Jason Kapono told the AP. "There's
14 games (left). We just got to take each one at a time and not worry
about our standing, not worry about what others are saying about us."
Up and coming
Rhode Island. Somehow, the Rams are 11-4 with wins over Providence and
USC. Coach Jim Baron deserves plenty of credit. The Rams have a strong
case for the NIT, and if things continue to go well, the NCAA
He said what?
"I don't know. Look in your archives. Whatever my best stuff is, pull
— Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson on Hollis Price. The guard netted five
points in the final 22 seconds of regulation against Texas Tech,
including a buzzer-beater to force overtime. He scored five more in the extra
frame, as the Sooners topped Texas Tech, 69-64, Monday.
This and that
Arizona, winners of eight straight, took advantage of Duke's loss to
the Terps on Saturday to reclaim the top spot in Monday's ESPN/USA Today
poll. … Washington State guard Marcus Moore is out for the season after
undergoing surgery to remove bone chips and bone spurs from his right
ankle. … Texas A&M reserve Andy Slocum was arrested Sunday and charged
for felony possession of steroids, which were found in his truck.
This season's Naismith candidates
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