Dick Jerardi: Spectrum hosted glorious college games

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Christian Laettner's buzzer-beating shot for Duke against Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA Tournament at the Spectrum is one of the most famous moments in college basketball history. (Inquirer file photo)

WHEN MOST PEOPLE think of the Spectrum, they think Sixers and Flyers. However, it was the site of the last game for the last college basketball team that won every game. There was also the final shot of the last NCAA Tournament game played there, a shot that would win just about any contest to name the most memorable shot in college basketball history.

Tonight's Pittsburgh-Villanova game is the final college basketball game at the Spectrum. The building will come down sometime in the next year. The memories of Bob Knight's unbeaten 1975-76 Indiana team and Christian Laettner's shot to send Duke to the 1992 Final Four will remain.

So too will Indiana's 1981 national championship, which came just a few hours after President Reagan had been shot in Washington; the Lamar Odom near-halfcourt heave to give Rhode Island the 1999 Atlantic 10 championship over Temple; the 1997 A-10 championship won by Saint Joseph's on the way to the Sweet 16; Lynn Greer's late-game heroics to get Temple home in the A-10 semis in 2001 on the way to John Chaney's final A-10 title and last Elite Eight appearance.

You think college hoops in this town, you think Palestra. But the Spectrum absolutely hosted the best game. People remember the Laettner shot, but Duke's 104-103 overtime win against Kentucky was so good for so long that it really needed a perfect ending. And it got one from a player who did not miss a shot or a free throw all game.

The Spectrum hosted its first Big 5 game in 1977 after all City Series games were played at the Palestra for 22 years. Remember the regrettable half-round robin. For 4 of those 8 years in the 1990s, all the City Series games were played at the Spectrum, as a compromise. It was underwhelming. College basketball and the Spectrum were not. It had moments, games, players, coaches and teams that nobody will ever forget.

Only in Philly

John Gallagher (father of the former St. Joe's player and current Penn assistant) arrived at the Palestra last Wednesday for the Penn-La Salle game. He was about 10 minutes late. When he went to will call, he was told there was no ticket for him. He said he'd buy one, but the understanding people at the ticket booth gave him one.

He went to his very nice seat and noticed St. Joe's was playing Duquesne. He figured it was the first game of a doubleheader. He called his wife Joan to see where she was sitting.

She was sitting in the stands at Gola Arena, where Penn was playing La Salle.

So what did John Gallagher do? The only intelligent thing. He sat back and watched St. Joe's play Duquesne. Two hours later, he was probably exhausted with everybody else as the Hawks beat the Dukes, 99-98, in overtime on Idris Hilliard's follow shot at the buzzer.

Big 5 guards

In my dissertation about Big 5 guards now starting in the NBA, I cited four and missed two.

Rasual Butler (La Salle) is averaging 9.7 points for the Hornets, shooting 43 percent from the arc. Playing with Chris Paul, Butler is open a lot. And when he is open, he does not miss much.

Mardy Collins (Temple) had been starting for the Clippers until a calf injury kept him out for a few games. Collins is averaging 11.1 points in January since he starting getting some real run.

Going Green

The first time I saw Rodney Green play for Prep Charter, I liked his game. He just had a certain way about him, a pace to his game that allowed him to impact the outcome in different ways.

Now, closing on the finish line to his junior season at La Salle, Green has more than lived up to the promise. He is the most versatile player in the city. Nobody fills up more parts of the stat sheet than Green.

Consider that with maybe 45 games left in his college career, he already has 1,103 points, 392 rebounds, 216 assists and 114 steals. Project those numbers out over those 45 games and you can see what they will look like at the end.

Unbeaten in conference

Now that we have no unbeaten teams, I am checking to see which are still unbeaten in their leagues. Discounting the Ivy, which just started, I count 15 - Xavier, Saint Joseph's (Atlantic 10); Duke (ACC); Oklahoma, Kansas (Big 12); Marquette, Louisville (Big East); Memphis (Conference USA); Butler (Horizon); Siena (MAAC); Davidson (Southern); Texas A&M Corpus Christi (Southland); Saint Mary's, Gonzaga (West Coast); and Utah State (WAC).

Honoring Hennessy

Villanova legend Larry Hennessy, who died last August at 78, will be honored on Saturday, Feb. 7 at Neptune (N.J.) High.

"A Tribute to Coach Hennessy" will take place at halftime of the 1 p.m. game. Hennessy won at least 35 titles in 24 seasons as the Neptune head coach.

This and that

* Now that February is at hand, it is time to take a look at the city's NCAA prospects. If the selections were held today, only Villanova would get in. The Wildcats (RPI 27) just have to keep winning all the games they are supposed to win. And if they won a few they don't figure to win (like tonight against a terrific Pittsburgh team), that just moves them up in the eyes of the selection committee.

Villanova can play at the Wachovia Center (where first- and second- round games will be held) but, to get site preference, the 'Cats would have to be a top five seed, the equivalent of one of the country's top 20 teams. That is possible, but they would have to win a few of those games I just talked about.

* Temple (RPI 49) is not far away. If the Owls can get into the top three of the final A-10 standings, I think they will be in play for an at-large. There is one way to get there. Win games, lots of games.

* St. Joe's (RPI 66) is playing much better, but all those close nonconference losses figure to come back to haunt the Hawks. Winning the A-10 Tournament solves all problems.

* La Salle (RPI 104) has a chance at a decent record, but the Explorers just don't have any big wins to hang their NCAA hats on. See above about A-10 Tourney.

* Drexel (RPI 94) has been great lately, but 2 years after the Dragons deserved an at-large bid they did not receive, they won't get one because of what happened then. They will have to win the CAA Tournament.

* Penn (RPI 226) has not played an Ivy game. Defending champ Cornell, however, is already 2-0 in the Ivy and won't be easily dislodged. In fact, the top of the Ivy (also Harvard and Yale) looks more difficult than it has been in some time.