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BACK IN '89, RICE'S RECORD RUN COOKED.

Byline: KAREN CROUSE

It was a singular stretch of time in the life of a basketball player whose most exceptional days, he hopes, are still ahead of him.

Long before Glen Rice joined Jerry Buss' flock, the latest convert in the Lakers' start-and-stop pilgrimage to the NBA's Mecca, Rice was the shepherd who guided Michigan to college basketball's most hallowed shrine.

The 1989 NCAA Division I Tournament was Rice's oracle. From the Kingdome in Seattle he evoked on high the name of a certain Princeton god. No one had scored more points in a single tournament than Bill Bradley's 177 in 1965 until a resplendent Rice recorded 184 to lead the Wolverines to an improbable overtime win over Seton Hall in the title game.

This year's tournament, like the one in 1989, features Duke, two Big Ten teams and a Big East entry. Whomever commands the spotlight this weekend - Connecticut's Richard Hamilton, maybe, or Duke's Chris Carrawell; Ohio State's Michael Redd, perhaps, or Michigan State's Antonio Smith - he'll be hard-pressed to make people forget Rice.

And 15-minute Rice, he was not. Ten years later the newest Lakers forward remains very much in fame's groove, continuing to confound defenders with the quickest release this side of Phoenix's Rex Chapman. It's enough to make you wonder; is that an arm under his sweatsuit sleeve or a slingshot?

``He doesn't have a regular stroke, it's mostly just wrist and elbow,'' said Lakers teammate Robert Horry, who was a freshman at Alabama in 1989. ``The way he shoots it, you don't know if he's passing it or shooting it.''

The Tide that year was in the same tournament bracket as Michigan and Horry remembers relishing the prospect of playing against Rice and Co. Apparently he wasn't the only one looking ahead; Alabama was unceremoniously upended in the first round by South Alabama.

``What I remember most about them was that whole team was good,'' Horry said of the 1989 Wolverines. They did indeed have a starting lineup with teeth - ``A pro team,'' is how Rice described it after the Lakers' 106-101 loss to Phoenix Wednesday at the Forum.

Joining Rice was Sean Higgins, Rumeal Robinson, Loy Vaught and Terry Mills. They blew through their bracket like a tornado, with Rice as its eye.

In Cleveland, a 13-year-old Ruben Patterson watched in wide-eyed wonder. ``Back then I wasn't really into college basketball,'' said the Lakers rookie. ``But I watched that game and I remember Glen lighting it up.''

The unenviable job of guarding Rice in the final fell to the Seton Hall forward Andrew Gaze. The Australian import might as well have been trying to stop a hungry koala from chewing on eucalyptus leaves.

``Every time Glen released, I thought (the shot) was down,'' Gaze would say at the time.

The Wolverines were trailing by two points with a little over one minute remaining in the second half when Rice knocked down a 3-pointer. He had a window to win it for the Wolverines in the final second of regulation but his 20-footer - which Rice took with Gaze in his face like a freckle - bounced off the rim, setting the stage for the first overtime period in an NCAA final since 1963.

The missed shot was an aberration, like a steamy March day in the Pacific Northwest. Truth to tell, Rice was seamless in Seattle, shooting as if the Space Needle was well within his range.

He delivered the Wolverines to destiny's door, then watched as Robinson ushered them through, sinking two free throws with three seconds remaining in the first overtime period to turn back the Pirates 80-79.

Rice's feathery jumpers transported him as if on wings to an ethereal place. His 75 field goals, 27 3-pointers and 184 points were all single-tournament records, the latter breaking a record Bradley had held for 24 years. Told that no one since has surpassed his marks, Rice raised an eyebrow.

``No one's caught fire, huh?'' he said, allowing himself a small smile.

All modesty aside, he isn't surprised. ``Ain't many tornadoes going to blow through,'' he explained.

Rice's pro career has been a quiet storm. He scored more points than any other player in his first two stops, Miami and Charlotte, and is gunning for an NBA championship ring in his third, in L.A. He is a three-time All-Star reserve who can remember his NCAA Tournament starring role as though it were yesterday.

``It's hard to forget it,'' Rice said. ``Especially when March Madness comes around. It was an unbelievable run by me and my team.''
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 25, 1999
Words:761
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