Fresno State looking for revenge

Michael Dougherty

A little scuffle like the one the Gophers had with the Philippines on Nov. 16 caused some minor public relations problems for Minnesota coach Clem Haskins and his team.
But it’s nothing compared to the mine fields of troubles Jerry Tarkanian guided his Fresno State squad through during last season’s disappointing 22-11 finish.
The Bulldogs were ranked 12th in the nation last year after a 3-0 start, but were rocked when they had seven of their 10 scholarship players miss games due to either suspensions, ineligibility, drug rehabilitation or quitting.
The Fresno State program was even the subject of a segment on “60 Minutes,” which painted a highly unflattering picture of Tarkanian’s short time at the helm of his alma mater.
And last April, Tarkanian, who is in his third year at Fresno, finally settled a lawsuit he had with the NCAA regarding what Tarkanian claimed, “goes all the way back to when I started coaching at UNLV (in 1973).”
Tarkanian’s winning settlement was worth $2.5 million, and the towel-munching coach said he was thrilled to have the matter behind him.
With last season and all of the off-the-court mayhem of what he called his most trying season behind him, Tarkanian can now concentrate on his 4-3 team, which plays the Gophers Friday night in Fresno, Calif.
Amidst the struggles last year, the Gophers bit the Bulldogs with two stinging wins.
The first came on Dec. 20, when Gophers guard Kevin Clark came off the bench to score a then-career high 21 points in Minnesota’s 92-72 rout.
Bulldogs senior guard Chris Herren, who is currently third on the team in scoring (14.3), scored only six points on 2-of-14 shooting. It was Herren’s first game back after missing five games while spending time in drug rehab.
The rematch came in the semi-finals of the NIT Championship at Madison Square Garden on Mar. 24. This game was a little closer, but the Gophers drove the final nail in the Bulldogs coffin, thanks to Clark’s 30 points and Quincy Lewis’ desperation overtime-forcing three-pointer in the 91-89 win.
Lewis said he’s sure the Bulldogs will have revenge on their minds for Friday’s game.
“Yeah, they’ll be gunning for us,” Lewis said. “Nobody likes to lose to a team three times in a row.”
Lewis is pacing the 4-0 Gophers with a team-leading 23.7 points per game, with Clark second at 19.
Fresno State, meanwhile, is led by junior guard Courtney Alexander (22.3 ppg) and 6-foot-11 sophomore center Melvin Ely (16.9 ppg, nine rpg).
The Bulldogs played in the Alaska Shootout last weekend, and hung around with then-top ranked Duke only to lose 93-82 last Friday.
That set up a game with Iowa State on Saturday, but that’s the day Alexander’s actions rocked Tarkanian’s boat.
Alexander was benched for the 79-70 loss to the Cyclones for showing a lack of desire and being late for the team bus by three minutes.
“I don’t know what happened,” Alexander told the Fresno Bee. “I was late for the bus, but that stuff happens. I guess I wasn’t working as hard, either.”
The report said Tarkanian was standing nearby when Alexander made his comments and replied: “You weren’t. You were going through the layup lines lazy.”
Ely, who literally threw up on the team’s bench, played despite the flu and questioned Alexander’s heart.
“I was sick and I played, Courtney should have,” Ely said.
But things got better for the Bulldogs, thanks to a 110-73 thumping of Sacramento State on Tuesday night.
Alexander returned to action in that game and scored a season-high 32 points, apparently steadying Tarkanian’s rocking boat a little.
Despite the turmoil that seems to constantly surround the team — something that’s become a trademark of Tarkanian-coached squads — they do have some tremendous talent.
Gophers coach Clem Haskins said the Bulldogs starting five “are as good as any five in the country.
“We can’t get away with only playing half a ball game against a team with the talent like Fresno State has,” Haskins said. “This is a big test for our guys.”
Clark, meanwhile, said the two teams are entirely different teams than those that met last season. But he agreed with Lewis when he said Fresno State is looking for a little payback, adding that the site of the game is in the Bulldogs’ favor.
“It’s going to be tough going to their court and playing,” Clark said. “When you’re going into someone else’s home, it’s always an extra challenge.”