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KNIGHT HOPES TO `WHIP' HIS HOOSIERS INTO SHAPE

Bob Knight brandished a bullwhip, flicked it with his wrist and declared that in his hand he wielded the key to coaching success - the best motivational tool ever invented.

Taking devilish delight in his prank, Knight asked for a glass of water so he could dip the tip of the whip. Hurts more when it's wet and cold, he said, and he had to prepare for practice Wednesday.A few moments later, he squeezed out the excess water from the tip.

"You can't let it get too wet," he said. "Boy, this is good. See the blood drip out of it. When there's dry blood on the tip of your whip, you've got to work it out a little. That helps."

Sure enough, he brought the whip down with him to the court, laid it gently on the seat beside him for a moment, then picked it up to stroll the court with the whip in hand while his Indiana Hoosiers went through drills.

Just before the practice ended, Knight jokingly ran the whip across the butt of forward Calbert Cheaney, Indiana's leading scorer in the tournament.

"Probably no motivational device I've ever come across is as good as this," he said, admiring the weapon and flicking it again.

Indiana meets Florida State in the first game of the NCAA West Regional semifinals Thursday night, and Knight is in no mood to let his team slack off in anticipation of the regional final against UCLA Saturday.

Knight recalled his team getting outplayed by Florida State in the first half of the second round of the tournament last year, before turning the game around in the second half to win 82-60.

For the Bruins, who play New Mexico State in the other semifinal, the pendulum is swinging in The Pit.

Same sunken court. Same NCAA West Regional semifinal round. Same schools.

Twenty-four years have passed since Lew Alcindor-led UCLA edged stubborn New Mexico State here on the road to the championship - the second of the Bruins' seven straight titles.

The dynasty has long since ended, and a generation of players not yet born at the time will be wearing the uniforms when the Bruins and Aggies meet again.

But there will be more than memories in the rarefied air at The Pit, a mile high and 37 feet below ground, where the roars of more than 18,000 fans cascade thunderously down onto the court.

Again, UCLA comes in as the top seed in the West, and New Mexico State, No. 12 in the bracket and unranked nationally, is expected by some to just roll over. If history is any guide, the Aggies don't roll over easily.

They may be smaller, but the Aggies boast the same kind of sticky defense that gave UCLA fits years ago.

In 1968, when perhaps the greatest of John Wooden's UCLA teams came here - the one with Alcindor before he changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lucius Allen, Mike Lynn, Mike Warren and Lynn Shackelford - they barely escaped an ambush in the desert.

New Mexico State had a couple of future NBA stars of its own - Sam Lacey and Charlie Criss - and one speedy, deadly shooting guard, Jimmy Collins, who is now assistant coach at Illinois to then-Aggies head coach Lou Henson. But the Aggies had a big hole in their lineup with Criss, a junior college transfer, sitting out because he was ineligible for the tournament.

"It was the same scenario as now - UCLA coming in as No. 1 in the West and everybody thinking they'd win easy," Criss said Wednesday from his home in Atlanta. "This brings back memories of how many times we had to play UCLA back then in the NCAAs. They were always No. 1 and it was very difficult. I don't know that it was fear so much as reputation. You think about their teams with the great names and great coach. But that goes away fast when the game starts."

They played to a 28-28 tie in the first half, and The Pit was filled with the pungent smell of a possible upset. Fans who were there still recall with a thrill the feeling that their little Aggies nearly slew the big, bad Bruins.

"I loved The Pit," Criss said. "It was a tough place to play, but when the fans are pulling for you, everybody right on top of you, the noise unbelievable, it makes a big difference. We had to play UCLA the same way this year's team will. You've just got to play hard, play tough defense, stay with your game plan, rebound and try not to let UCLA run."

It worked for a while, but reality and Alcindor asserted themselves in the second half as UCLA pulled away gradually to a 58-49 victory, and no one else the rest of that tournament came nearly as close.

UCLA and New Mexico State wound up meeting again in the West Regional semifinals in 1969, and the outcome wasn't much different - 53-38 for the Bruins in Alcindor's final season.