HANSEN

Greg Hansen: Belmont may stir up painful memories

2013-03-21T00:00:00Z 2013-03-21T09:28:29Z Greg Hansen: Belmont may stir up painful memoriesGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 21, 2013 12:00 am  • 

SALT LAKE CITY

I am typing this into my laptop, directly from the Belmont Bruins NCAA tournament guide, hunting-and-pecking to avoid spelling errors:

"Ian Clark has emerged as one of the top all-around shooting guards in the nation."

I would not know Ian Clark if he sat between Dick Vitale and Digger Phelps and was wearing a florescent orange name tag.

The Belmont report continues: "Ian leads the nation in three-point field goal percentage. … He became the Bruins' NCAA era career scoring leader."

I did not know the Bruins had an NCAA era. But on page three of the school's NCAA tournament guide, it lists the following:

2006, lost UCLA 78-44

2007, lost Georgetown 80-55

2008, lost Duke 71-70

2011, lost Wisconsin 72-58

2012, lost Georgetown 74-59

No other college basketball team has gone 0-5 in the NCAA tournament in that period. Some would say it is a sign of weakness. I say it is a sign of strength.

Belmont is due.

No group of basketball fans in this country has come to fear, respect and worry about its team's NCAA tournament opponent more than those at Arizona. We know that there is no such thing as a "breather" or a "lock."

We may not know Ian Clark from Ian Fleming, but it doesn't take James Bond to sniff out trouble in the middle of March.

You can smell the Belmont Bruins coming from as far away as Tennessee, especially if you're an oft-disappointed Arizona fan.

On March 20, 1992, no one at Arizona had heard much about East Tennessee State's Rodney English, a transfer from Anderson (S.C.) Junior College who would go on to a modest post-ETSU career with the Harlem Globetrotters and Tampa Bay Sunblasters.

English scored 21 points against Arizona on that rainy night in Atlanta, and the 14th-seeded Buccaneers pulled away to win 87-80.

It was the most uncomplicated of all NCAA tournament upsets: Arizona shot poorly (.368), and ETSU couldn't miss, making 13 of 25 three-point shots.

Today, Rodney English is an assistant women's basketball coach at Coastal Carolina University. His career day came against Arizona in the first round of the 1992 NCAA tournament.

If someone does that, you usually go home.

On March 18, 1993, no one at Arizona had heard much about Santa Clara forward Pete Eisenrich, a modestly talented and prematurely bald 6-foot-7-inch forward who would leave college to play professionally in Switzerland and ultimately become a financial analyst in Denver.

Eisenrich scored a team-high 19 points, grabbed eight rebounds It was his career day. Plus as it had a year earlier against ETSU, Arizona chose the worst possible time to have its most ineffective shooting night of the season (.309).

Santa Clara won 64-61, chopping down the No. 2 seed Wildcats, a night that future lottery picks Khalid Reeves and Damon Stoudamire shot a cumulative 2 for 16.

Eisenrich became a spoiler of such note that almost 10 years later, while planning a vacation to Hawaii, he was randomly connected to a travel agent from Tucson. Here's the dialogue as repeated from year to year on local message boards:

Eisenrich: I'm calling about that trip to Hawaii.

Travel agent: Did you play basketball at Santa Clara?

Eisenrich: How did you know?

Travel agent: I graduated from Arizona.

Eisenrich: I'm not going to Hawaii, am I?

On March 16, 1995, no one at Arizona had read much more than a few sentences about Miami of Ohio swingman Devin Davis, leading scorer for the 12th-seeded RedHawks.

Davis was known as much or more for his flowing dreadlocks and gold teeth than for being a basketball star; after leaving Miami, he played professionally all over the map: Russia, Mexico, Spain, Argentina and even for a CBA team in Idaho.

But on that afternoon in Dayton, Ohio, Davis scored 24 points, collared 15 rebounds and shot down the fifth-seeded Wildcats 71-62. It was his career moment.

Said UA center Joseph Blair: "That boy with the hair, he can play."

The common thread of all three UA upsets: The Wildcats again shot poorly, .375 this time. It was probably the last time any Arizona fan failed to fully appreciate the striking power of a first-round NCAA opponent.

Rodney English, Pete Eisenrich and Devin Davis never spent a second in the NBA. But one by one, they outplayed a brigade of Arizona's future NBA standouts from Stoudamire and Reeves to Chris Mills and Sean Rooks.

Today, a generation later, playing for another double-figure seed, Clark and Belmont step into a role performed so well by those long-ago unknowns from East Tennessee State, Santa Clara and Miami of Ohio.

I feel at liberty to borrow from Maryland's "Fear the Turtle" mantra because the Terrapins did not make the field this year. I will apply it to Belmont and its coach Rick Byrd.

Fear the Byrds.

Belmont is due.

Contact columnist Greg Hansen at ghansen@azstarnet.com or 573-4145. On Twitter @GHansen711

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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