SAN JOSE, Calif. — The members of the Marquette men’s basketball team came to the NCAA tournament sporting new haircuts.
And that might be a good thing for the Washington Huskies.
The last time the Golden Eagles made a vow to grow their hair out, it resulted in a five-game winning streak. A Jan. 23 loss at Syracuse forced Marquette’s players to look for something that would bring them together, and the Samson-like haircut embargo won out.
“As soon as we agreed to do it,” senior guard Maurice Acker said, “we started having a successful year.”
Even head coach Buzz Williams, who shaved his head 81/2 years ago and has since gotten a trim every Friday at noon, let his hair go.
But after a Feb. 18 loss to Pitt, the players and coaches went to the barber. The latest haircuts include patterns and players’ uniform numbers carved into their hairline.
“It’s just another thing for us to be unified,” senior Lazar Hayward said. “Everybody in the same boat.
“… Last year, we were bald, so I’m happy we didn’t do that this year.”
Williams, who called his players’ latest haircuts “silly,” seems like the most relieved to get back to the business of shaving his head.
Said Hayward: “He was probably on board with the bald again.”
Where’s the beef?
In a rare NCAA tournament that’s without North Carolina, UCLA, Arizona and Connecticut, the group of teams in San Jose are particularly devoid of big-name programs.
The highest seed, West Region No. 3 New Mexico, hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in five years. And only three of the eight teams in town are from so-called power conferences: UW of the Pac-10, Marquette of the Big East and Vanderbilt of Southeastern Conference.
New Mexico, which is ranked eighth in the final Top 25 poll, seems particularly miffed about the lack of national buzz about their program. After hearing players from first-round opponent Montana were miffed they didn’t get to face a team from a bigger conference like the Big East, the Lobos took note.
“To me, that’s like a slap in the face,” junior Dairese Gary said Wednesday. “The Big East has a lot of good teams, but we’ve had a good year too.”
Teammate Darington Hobson, the Mountain West Conference’s player of the year, went one step further when he told reporters earlier this week that the Lobos were going to the Elite Eight.
“I have a lot of confidence in this team,” Hobson said Wednesday. “If we’re playing the way we’re capable of playing, it’s going to be tough for teams to beat us.”
If New Mexico (29-4) wins tonight, it will face the winner of the UW-Marquette game on Saturday.
A big fan
Marquette’s Williams was impressed by what he saw of the Huskies on tape this week.
When asked to compare them to one of the teams from the Golden Eagles’ Big East Conference, the coach said: “They drive it like Villanova, they play fast like Syracuse, they rebound like West Virginia and they play with energy and passion like St. John’s.”
He added that Marquette’s main goal is to play the game at its own pace.
“If we try to turn it into a scoring contest and play the way they play,” Williams said, “they’ll manhandle us.”
The last cut is the kindest
Talk about an injury the UW players wouldn’t mind suffering later this month.
Murray State junior B.J. Jenkins has several staples put in the index finger of his right hand after slicing himself while cutting down the nets following the Racers’ win in the finals of the Ohio Valley Conference championship game.
“I think he was embarrassed,” Racers head coach Billy Kennedy said, adding that Jenkins will play in today’s game against Vanderbilt. “He hid it until the next day. It was a pretty good gash.”
The team carrying the heaviest heart this week is Murray State. The day after the Racers found out where they were headed for the tournament, the mother of junior Picasso Simmons was killed in a car accident. Simmons is in San Jose with the team, but he did not want to talk to the media. … UW’s Isaiah Thomas practiced with an altered glove on his shooting hand Wednesday. The glove has less padding than the one Thomas wore in the Pac-10 tournament.