Knight back in Sweet 16 as Texas Tech faces WVU

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - There's still plenty of bite left in Bob Knight, even without the bullwhip.

Knight, in the regional semifinals for the first time since 1994 and trying to get Texas Tech to the round of eight for the first time, wasted no time putting the censors to work Wednesday.

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As Knight took to the podium for a news conference, he took a few good-natured verbal jabs at an NCAA moderator. The coach called the moderator a tough guy with a lot of rules, sprinkling a couple of expletives in along the way.

Sixth-seeded Texas Tech (22-10) plays seventh-seeded West Virginia (23-10) on Thursday night, featuring two teams that started the NCAA tournament with modest expectations and now are a two wins away from the Final Four.

The winner will play either Washington or Louisville on Saturday, and there is the tantalizing possibility of a matchup between slick and stylish Rick Pitino and Knight, a coaching icon of a whole different sort.

Wearing a purple sweater and taking a swipe at the NCAA for making him drink out of one of its specially sponsored paper cups, Knight was his usual contentious self during his 15 minutes on the podium. He took his customary pokes at the media and questioned why anyone would think his best years were behind him.

Of course, this was powder-puff stuff compared to the show he put on here 13 years ago.

Knight brought Indiana to The Pit in 1992 for an NCAA tournament game against Florida State and stirred instant turmoil by ''jokingly'' raking a bullwhip - which he described as the best motivational tool ever invented - across the butt of Hoosiers guard Calbert Chaney during a practice session.

During an earlier press conference, Knight had asked for a glass of water so he could dip the tip of the whip. Hurts more when it's wet and cold, he said.

Chaney, who is black, said at the time that he and some of the other Hoosiers bought the whip for Knight as a joke, but the escapade produced more than 100 telephoned complaints to the local NAACP chapter.

This time, there were no visual aids. At practice, he sat calmly, legs folded, and barely said a word. At the news conference, he had his moments, but nothing out of control. He mostly talked about how tough it is to make the NCAA tournament field and how the Red Raiders, like the Mountaineers, have overachieved in getting this far.

''Nobody picked this team higher than seventh in the Big 12 and no one picked them to go to the NCAA tournament,'' Knight said. ''Getting into this tournament is the culmination of a lot of work. Anything you can do from that point on just adds to it.''

Texas Tech beat UCLA 78-66 and Gonzaga 71-69 to reach the round of 16. Guard Ronald Ross, a former walk-on, has emerged as the Red Raiders' leader. He scored 24 points, including a 3-pointer with 1:06 left that put Tech in front for good in the win over Gonzaga.

Ross said the Red Raiders are a collection of role players who find a way to win.

''Everybody on our team is good at certain kinds of things,'' Ross said.

Ross has become one of Knight's favorite players, but in this case, he differed with his guard on the idea that Knight is a master at turning role players into winners.

''That may be, but I'd rather recruit five Michael Jordans - see if I could get five Michael Jordans and let them define their own roles,'' said Knight.

West Virginia is in the round of 16 for the first time since 1998 and a win over the Red Raiders would give the Mountaineers their deepest run into the tournament since Jerry West led the school to a runner-up finish behind California in 1959.

Unlike Knight, who is making his 27th appearance in the tournament, West Virginia coach John Beilein is not a regular. This is just his third trip. Nor is Beilein anywhere near the celebrity as the guy he'll face Thursday. The West Virginia coach's news conference was about half as full as Knight's.

''We are fortunate to be here,'' said Beilein, whose team beat Creighton by two in the first round, then needed double overtime to defeat Wake Forest in the second. ''A bounce of a ball or an official's call could have changed the outcome of the game.''

The Mountaineers opened the season with 10 straight wins, then hit a slump in the Big East season. It got so bad, Beilein considered going with younger players and looking to next season.

''Nobody believed in each other, but all we needed was a win,'' Beilein said.

That win came at Providence (82-78) in late January and since then the Mountaineers are 11-4.