SALT LAKE CITY — Statues of NBA greats John Stockton and Karl Malone stand outside EnergySolutions Arena.
To Wichita State fans, however, the home of the Utah Jazz also means Antoine Carr. The Shocker great played four seasons for the Jazz (1994-98), including the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals.
Carr texted WSU coach Gregg Marshall to let the Shockers know he expected them to represent in his old arena, a place he wore the nickname “Big Dog.”
“He says ,‘You’re now in the home of the Dog Pound, so I hope the guys play angry,’ ” Marshall said.
“Play angry” was Carr’s message when he and other former Shockers talked to the team before a February game against Missouri State in Koch Arena.
“We were coming off a three-game losing streak and he and (Xavier McDaniel) came in and fired the guys up,” Marshall said. “Local kid, Heights High School, chooses Wichita State and has an unbelievable career. And he ends up playing here. To have… guys that come back and invest in our young players now and care about what we’re doing speaks volumes for the history and, hopefully, the future of our program.”
Back in the Valley mood — Wichita State saved Missouri Valley Conference commissioner Doug Elgin from the awkward option of heading to Philadelphia to watch outgoing conference member Creighton play Cincinnati on Friday.
Elgin is rooting for the Bluejays, who will leave NCAA money earned with the MVC. Safe to say he is much happier to stay in Utah, wear his Shocker lapel pin, and watch Saturday’s game against top-seeded Gonzaga. Creighton announced Wednesday it will leave the MVC for the Big East this summer.
“Whenever you have a team advance in the NCAA Tournament, especially against a Big East team, it’s sweet, very sweet,” Elgin said.
Wednesday’s decision did provide some relief from the months of speculation regarding Creighton’s future. With the Omaha school gone, the MVC can concentrate on finding a replacement to keep membership at 10 schools.
“I said to myself that when I landed in Salt Lake City that I turned the page,” Elgin said. “(Creighton) accomplished a lot in our league. They set the example for teams to be excellent, And, yet, when you really stop to think about it, they only won two outright titles in the last 13 years. I know we have programs that are going to step up and step into their shoes as contenders. It’s an opportunity for schools in our league to understand there’s more room at the top.”
Creighton won the MVC title in 2001 and by one game over WSU this season. It shared the title in 2009 and 2002.
Add up the numbers — Marshall’s paycheck grows with each NCAA game, thanks to incentive bonuses in his 2012 contract.
He has already earned $72,000 for reaching two games into the tournament. A third-round win and Sweet 16 berth will earn an additional $96,000.
Double ouch — WSU grabbed some momentum in the first half with Ron Baker sacrificing his body, or more precisely, his head.
Pittsburgh’s Lamar Patterson unintentionally elbowed Baker in the head while driving past him. Baker took another step, then ran into teammate Cleanthony Early’s hand.
He told Marshall about the elbow and Marshall asked the referees to check the video. They hit Patterson with a flagrant foul with 1:20 remaining in the half and WSU leading 23-21. Baker made one of two free throws and then WSU turned the ball over. While the Shockers didn’t take full advantage, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said the play hurt his team.
“I think our guys were bothered by the flagrant foul call,” he said. “It was obviously inadvertent, but it was a call and it changed something and it seemed like that play bothered us more than it should have. I think it seemed like we didn’t respond to that as well as we could have.”
Early in the season, Marshall told his players to let him know if they take an elbow so he can tell the officials and take advantage of the rule that penalizes a player with a flagrant foul.
“This is the first time they’ve said anything,” he said.
Early in the second half, WSU forward Carl Hall complained about an elbow. A review turned up nothing, costing WSU a timeout.
“I said, ‘I don’t use them that judiciously anyway, so we’ll take the risk,’ ” Marshall said.
Southern going North — Two years ago, Southern was among the nation’s worst teams, finishing with four wins and an average attendance at their home court in Baton Rouge, La. of fewer than 600.
Roman Banks became the Jaguars coach in 2011, his first Division I coaching position, and began the turnaround. Last season, Southern finished 17-14 and second place in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
This year, Southern was second in the conference again, behind Texas Southern, but won the SWAC Tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.
The immediacy of the turnaround didn’t make the journey any less rewarding for Banks, who wants to take the Jaguars on many more postseason trips. They nearly extended this one by almost upsetting top-seeded Gonzaga before losing 64-58.
"We want to make this an annual invitation," Banks said after the loss, fighting back tears. "Hopefully we can learn some lessons from this and get better. These guys, I think, will have some great success in their endeavors from here because this is what I’ve been getting from them all year long."