More than anything else, Saturday's NCAA tournament games in the Boise State Pavilion showed the danger of being a one-man team. Even if the one man is going to one day - very soon, as it turned out - make enough money to buy Barbados.
Shaquille O'Neal of Louisiana State and Alonzo Mourning of Georgetown, 13-feet-11 inches and 539 pounds between them, exited the national tournament on the same afternoon in the City of Trees. In the end, they were just two of them.Florida State beat Georgetown and Mourning 78-68 and Indiana beat LSU and O'Neal 89-79 even though neither the Seminoles nor the Hoosiers had a marquee name the calibre of the Big Guys. O'Neal and Mourning came into the tournament ranked one-two in the nation in blocked shots (at 5.2 and 5.0 per game respectively). O'Neal's 14.1 rebounds per game ranked second in the country and Mourning's 11.0 ranked 14th.
They were Terminators III and IV. At the end of the regular season both were named first-team All-Americans. O'Neal was named the Player of the Year in the Southeast Conference, Mourning the Player of the Year in the Big East Conference. NBA scouts trailed after them like lawyers after an ambulance. Providing O'Neal opts to forego his senior season, they're considered a cinch to go 1-2 in this summer's NBA draft.
But Saturday in Boise was not their most memorable day. Saturday in Boise they got too much attention.
Florida State devoted the majority of its game plan to stopping Mourning. The irony is that it worked so well in the beginning that the Seminoles had to back off. At halftime, when coach Pat Kennedy looked at the scoresheet and saw Mourning with a mere one point and one rebound, he was pleased. But when he saw that his Seminoles were behind by nine on the scoreboard, 32-23, he was not so pleased.
"We had to change things," he said, "in consideration of scoring. No matter how good of a job you're doing on defense you still have to score enough points to win."
A first half diamond-and-one defense that assigned Florida State guard Bob Sura to pretend he was handcuffed to Mourning was scrapped in favor of a sagging "Mourning trap" defense in the second half - when the Seminoles went to a three-guard lineup and stepped on the accelerator.
Their big break came with 2:05 to play when Mourning, hounded all half by the sagging press, fouled out. FSU led just 65-64 at the time but nonetheless celebrated as if it had just won the lottery.
The celebrating proved to not be premature as the Seminoles then ran off a 12-1 finish.
All year long, Georgetown, a sophomore-oriented team, lived and didn't live according to Mourning's dominance. "We answered people's momentum with Alonzo," said coach John Thompson. "That's how we played."
It was hard to answer Florida State's momentum with Alonzo on the bench.
Against Indiana, O'Neal didn't foul out. And he didn't fade away, either. he scored 36 points, had 12 rebounds and five blocked shots - all in a dominating night's work. Personally, he lived up to the rap phrase on the front of the baseball cap he wore during the week: "All the Jealous Punks Can't Stop the Dunks."
But O'Neal all by himself couldn't stop Indiana's five-man offensive barrage, either.
"They just have more tools than we do," LSU Coach Dale Brown said of Indiana. "It's funny, but in a way, not having a good big postman almost helped them - they could throw so many people at you."
Like Mourning before him, O'Neal looked dazed as the prospect of the offseason settled in.
"I thought we'd come back," he said, "but that No. 44 (Indiana's Alan Henderson), I still don't know his name, his shots were falling."
Indiana now faces Florida State in the third round of the tournament next Thursday in Albuquerque, setting up a showdown of five-man teams and scrapping whatever game-plans Indiana coach Bob Knight and FSU's Kennedy had in mind in case they had to meet either Mourning or O'Neal.
"I'd defend O'Neal the same as Mourning," said Kennedy moments after Florida State defeated Georgetown and moments before the Indiana-LSU game. As it turned out, that was just wishful thinking.