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Wednesday, December 2, 1987

Sagehens survive thrashing, enjoy Fieldhouse experience

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A cynic could call them the Pomona-Pitzer Pollyannas.

But who could fault a small college basketball team for putting its best face on a 56-point loss to a major college power?

Sure, Pomona-Pitzer lost to Kansas, 94-38, Tuesday night in Allen Fieldhouse, but what did you expect?

"It could have been 110-4 if we had let that happen," Sagehens' sophomore James Johnson said. "But I think the guys played hard. We were determined to show we were good athletes, too."

The game was played because Pomona-Pitzer coach Gregg Popovich spent his sabatical last season observing the Kansas program, and KU coach Larry Brown agreed to let the Sagehens come to town.

"I don't think there are too many coaches who would allow a small school to come in here," Popovich said. "He was just being a good guy."

The KU players presented Popovich a basketball prior to the game, and Popovich walked to the KU bench to shake Brown's hand.

"I was flabbergasted, and really touched," Popovich said. "I didn't have so much as a clue that was going to happen.

"I spent the afternoon with coach Brown, and we talked X's and O's," Popovich noted. "We'll probably go out now and have a Coke or some tea. When they came out and scouted us, the scouts stayed with me. So we're really close."

Pomona-Pitzer, 1-4, is a Div. III school with an enrollment of about 2,000. So, why would the Sagehens want to come to Kansas for a certain thrashing? Simple, said Popovich.

"It's the greatest thrill these kids will have in four seasons of college basketball," he said.

Rick Duque, a 6-6 junior who led all scorers with 18 points, agreed with his coach and went one step further.

"It's a great thrill for our team and all the teams in the league," said Duque, whose team bleongs to the Southern Calofornia Intercollegiate Conference. "We can go back and tell them how good these guys are. We just came out and did our best. This is the biggest thrill of our lifetimes."

Duque was something of a crowd favorite. Attendance was announced as 15,100, and in the second half, some spectators started yelling "Duke" whenever Duque made a basket.

"I heard that. It was quite amazing," Duque said. "They're a good crowd."

And Duque said he'd never played in front of a crowd of more than 1,000 to 1,500.

"Crowds at home are usually about 200 , no more," he said.

The crwod wasn't as kind to sophomore guard Ethan Caldwell, who had the misfortune of drawing nothing but air on a missed shot early in the game.

After that, the fans chanted "Air ball" whenever Caldwell touched the ball...until Brown told the public address announcer to request the chant be stopped.

"At first, I listened to it," Caldwell said about the jeering, "and coach pulled me out and said not to pay any attention to that."

Caldwell kept his composure, but admitted, "At first, it was kind of shocking."

"Maybe he'll learn something from it," Popovich said. "That's part of the game. Fans are fans. He turned to the fans at one point and kind of smiled. Maybe it was an important lesson."

Johnson, who led Pomona-Pitzer with five rebounds, said the game was indeed a learning experience.

"I'd like to thank coach Brown for the chance to play," Johnson said. "We played to execute and to learn. Being here was a chance to experience big-time basketball at its finest. After we got on the court, it was like any other game...except their players were about eight feet taller and a lot quicker."

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