Monday, March 08, 1999

Miami bound for Bourbon Street


Huskies' height may force RedHawks to change lineup

BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[miami]
All-American Wally Szczerbiak, right, and teammates react to Miami's selection to the NCAA Tournament.
(Saed Hindash photo)
| ZOOM |
        OXFORD — Wally's World has some new landmarks, including Bourbon Street, Seattle and the Midwest.

        Wally Szczerbiak and the Miami University RedHawks can thank the NCAA mapmakers for next weekend's tour, when 10th-seeded Miami plays the seventh-seeded University of Washington Friday at the Superdome in New Orleans in the NCAA Tournament.

        “That's the far corner,” said Miami coach Charlie Coles when asked if he had any Washington connections. “That's Alaska.”

        But for the RedHawks, it's nirvana. Despite losing last week's Mid-American Conference championship game to Kent, they received their third NCAA bid in five years. Coles remembers the MAC of an ear lier time, when his 22-6 Central Michigan team had to win the tournament to get a bid.

        “I'm happy to be in and I'm happy to be playing Washington,” Coles said.

        But there are two concerns as big as 7-foot, 280-pound Washington center Todd MacCulloch. One is MacCulloch, who has four inches on Miami's tallest starter, the 6-8 Szczerbiak. The other is the state of Szczerbiak's dislocated knee cap, which contributed to his 9-for-32 shooting effort in the final two games of the MAC tourney.

        After watching his team get the bid Sunday night, Szczerbiak gingerly but confidently walked out of the “M Room” here on campus after going all out in the last two practices. He hopes he won't have to wear the knee sleeve he's worn since injuring the knee 10 days ago in practice. He admits the pain didn't help the shooting touch that made him a cover boy and MAC Player of the Year.

        “It's just about 100 percent,” Szczerbiak said. “There's a little pain on top of the knee cap which is uncomfortable, but with a couple of more days of rest. ... It's not a thing that inhibits me, but it's just going to take a couple more days to get it all healed up.

        “I was about 85 to 90 percent,” Szczerbiak said of the tourney. “I didn't have explosion. I wasn't able to cut hard off it. I wasn't able to jump stop and (get) balance on my shots. It's been getting better. It's been fine so far in practice.”

        Szczerbiak hinted he would be well enough to guard MacCulloch, and Coles hinted that if he wanted to emphasize Miami's speed against the bigger Huskies, it could very well be MacCulloch against the World.

        But Coles wasn't going that far Sunday. He said Washington's height would cause him to make at least one change in the starting lineup, which means 6-1 guard Anthony Taylor could be headed to the bench in favor of 6-5 Jason Stewart, 6-8 Refi loe Lethunya, or 6-6 Mike Ensminger, an Oak Hills product.

        Coles also invoked the name of two little-used sophomores who may have to play big off the bench — 6-10 Rich Allendorf, a St. Xavier grad, and 6-11 Jay Locklier.

        But they've only combined for about an hour and a half of playing time the entire season. Plus, Stewart, Lethunya and Ensminger have combined for just 30 starts this season.

        “In our league, big guys are a no-no because we're playing against so much quickness,” Coles said. “Now we go from a lot of quickness to a lot of height. We'll play our normal guys and if we get in trouble, we've got Allendorf, maybe Locklier. ... Size is what we're looking for.”

        Coles didn't want to talk matchups Sunday because he thinks all this blackboard chatter adversely affected his team in the MAC tourney.

        Szczerbiak said he was finally glad to get out of the MAC, where foes were calling the RedHawks' plays even as Miami ran them.

        “We were playing so much against other teams and against their strategies that we didn't play good basketball,” Coles said. “We have to go out and do what we do well.”

        Miami should get a lift with the return of Moeller High School's Jason Grunkemeyer.

        Grunkemeyer, averaging 14 minutes per game, is Miami's best three-point shooter, but he missed the MAC tourney with back spasms.

       



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