Somebody always seems to upstage Wichita State senior Gabe Blair.
Tuesday, teammate Garrett Stutz scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Blair led WSU with 16 points and eight rebounds in a quarterfinal win, but College of Charleston guard Andrew Goudelock scored 31 points.
For a consistent and efficient effort, however, it's hard to beat Blair, a 6-foot-8 forward. He is averaging 8.5 points and 7.8 rebounds in the NIT, making 14 of 18 shots and all six of his free throws. Against Nebraska, he blocked shots early in the game to discourage the Huskers in the lane. Against Virginia Tech, he grabbed seven rebounds in the second half and overtime. He battered Washington State for 10 points and nine rebounds.
"He's playing so aggressively and tough," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. "He gives us a lot of leadership, as well, out there. He's really been focused and talking and looking good."
Perfect is better
Wichita State guard David Kyles dunked on Tuesday against Washington State and the highlight editors at ESPN approved.
The network ranked it No. 2 on its list of the day's top-10 highlights. No. 1 was a perfect game thrown by Virginia pitcher Will Roberts against George Washington.
"No. 2 was pretty fair," Shocker guard Joe Ragland said. "If it was in the championship game, it would have been more significant. We were pretty happy with DK's dunk being No. 2."
Kyles said he watched the highlight three times. He received about 45 text messages on Tuesday night from friends. The play started with Graham Hatch lobbing a pass over the defense and ended with Kyles jamming the ball through the hoop with Washington State center DeAngelo Casto posterized.
"That's a little set play that we have," Kyles said. "It works a lot, but Graham really doesn't like to throw that pass. I said I would go get it."
Time to study
Unless president Don Beggs cancels classes to celebrate the NIT, Wichita State is in session this week.
The basketball team is trying to keep up in a conference room on the fourth floor of the Marriott Marquis. Each day _ except on game day _ the Shockers meet for mandatory study hall for an hour to 90 minutes. Academic adviser Gretchen Torline is on the trip to supervise.
WSU athletes work with mentors, who prepare a plan for Torline to follow. She knows, for example, that a player needs to read 50 pages, or start on a paper, or complete 10 journal entries.
"I have a list on Monday that says they have to do this, and on Tuesday they have to do this," Torline said. "They're not just sitting in study hall."
Some of the Shockers make Torline's job easier. Graham Hatch and Garrett Stutz are math whizzes, so Torline gladly lets them help teammates. Blair, a fifth-year senior who is working on a second degree, provides counsel.
"He is a definite leader who tells them, 'Hey, this is what you have to do. Take care of business,' " she said. "They hear me ranting and raving on them all the time."
Computers, of course, are standard equipment. WSU is using athletic director Eric Sexton's Internet router in order to save money. The Marriott charges $750 a day for wireless Internet for a conference room.
Crimson Tide freshman Trevor Releford is generously listed at 6-foot-1. There was some thought his size would keep him out of the clutches of high-profile schools.
Wichita State assistant coach Chris Jans recruited him hard out of Bishop Miege in Mission. Releford, brother of Kansas player Travis Releford, ended up at Alabama.
"We saw him, in the summer before his senior year, blow up," Marshall said. "Now he's got UCLA and Alabama and whoever else ended up offering him and he's no longer flying under the radar. We try to get players who fly under the radar."
Releford blew up for good reason. He is an All-SEC freshman who averages 11.1 points and leads the Tide with 124 assists. He made the winning shot on Tuesday against Colorado. Against Miami in the quarterfinals, he scored 22 points.
Toure Murry leads WSU in scoring during the NIT with an 11.8 average. He is shooting 18 of 33 (54.5 percent) from the field with a team-leading 16 assists.... The Shockers are outrebounding NIT opponents 38.5-28.5.... WSU is 7-11 in NIT games in 12 appearances and 1-4 in Madison Square Garden.... Alabama is in the NIT championship for the second time in 11 appearances. Tulsa defeated the Crimson Tide in the 2001 NIT. The Tide also made the semifinals in 1973, 1977, 1979 and 1996.... Alabama and WSU have never met in basketball.
_ Paul Suellentrop