Keeping Score

By Cindy Luis

Monday, December 30, 1996

Finch would have
loved to take the shot

IF only he could have turned back the clock 25 years.

Memphis coach Larry Finch would have given anything to have taken the last shot against Georgia last night. The former Tiger scoring great would have had no qualms calling his own number - 21 - if there were 1.5 seconds remaining and his team was down, 70-68.

Finch very nearly did it against the Bulldogs in their Rainbow Classic semifinal last night. There was a play designed for No. 21, the uniform now worn by Finch's son, Larry Jr.

"I'm disappointed in myself," said Finch, in his 11th season. "I set it up for him then didn't put him in the position to take it. There's no doubt in my mind, he would have made it."

Larry Finch Jr., a seldom-used guard, made the only shot he took - a 3-pointer - to end the first half. There would be no deja vu at the end of the second; the Tigers' fortunes, and four-game winning streak, faded along with Harry Allen's unsuccessful jumper.

The luck that had held up in Saturday's upset of Michigan ran out, just as it seemingly does whenever Finch brings a team to Hawaii. Over Thanksgiving week of 1988, the Tigers lost to eventual national champion Michigan in the semis of the Maui Classic; they finished fourth after dropping a 90-86 overtime decision to UNLV, the 1990 national champ.

At the 1992 Maui Invitational, Finch celebrated his 500th game with the Memphis program (player, assistant and head coach) with a win over Chaminade. A day later, the Tigers lost to BYU in overtime and Finch learned he had lost his sister, the mother of former star forward David Vaughn.

Six months later, the Tigers' Anfernee Hardaway would declare early for the NBA draft. It was a bittersweet moment for Finch, who had his single-season scoring record of 721 surpassed by Hardaway's 729 that year.

"I told you back then he would be special, didn't I," Finch reminded me last night with the usual twinkle in his eye.

Finch was a pretty special player himself for what was then called Memphis State. He still holds four school records, including career scoring (22.3 points per game) during the 1970-73 seasons.

"He was a great player," said Hawaii coach Riley Wallace, who faces Finch in tonight's third-place game. "I was at that game in St. Louis when he was playing against UCLA and Bill Walton hit 21 of 22 field goals."

Walton finished with 44 points in that 1972 NCAA final; Finch had 29. It was the only time the Tigers played for the national title.

"I definitely wish there was the 3 when I was playing," Finch said.

Now he has the chance to watch his son hit from behind the line. The school un-retired Finch's number to allow Larry Junior to follow in his father's hightops.

"It's not difficult at all to play for him," said the younger Finch. "I was happy when the school agreed to let me wear his number. I try not to think about it when people ask about playing in his shadow. I just try to take care of my own business."

As for that last shot . . . "It was designed for anyone who had the open shot to take it," Junior said.

You know his dad would have.

ALIKA Smith would have liked to have shot more last night but the clinging Maryland defense got in the way of the Hawaii guard's plans. Smith, the Rainbows' leading scorer (18.3 ppg), was held to 14 last night.

Smith had just three points in the first half, all coming on a 3-pointer with 9:28 left. His explanation?

"I didn't shoot well," said the 6-2 Rainbow junior, who had 6-6 Laron Profit as one of his bodyguards. "I got frustrated, changed my shot a bit, but I still should have hit most of those shots."

The Rainbows need Smith to score. And they need this win tonight to launch themselves into the challenging WAC season.

Cindy Luis is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter.
Her column appears weekly.

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