DAYTON — Sunday's East Regional second-round game between Oklahoma State and Pittsburgh will feature two of the country's stockiest point guards in Byron Eaton and Levance Fields. Eaton is listed at 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds, while Fields goes 5-10, 190.
Eaton is nowhere near as thick as he was when Travis Ford first arrived in Stillwater. Ford said Eaton then tipped the scales at a whopping 249 pounds, leading Ford to give Eaton the same ultimatum that Rick Pitino gave him after transferring to Kentucky from Missouri back in 1990.
"The first meeting I had with him, I said, 'I look forward to coaching you, I think you fit our style of play,'" Ford said. "But you're either going to lose weight or you're not going to play, plain and simple. I don't have to play you. I've got a seven-year contact, and the first couple of years I'm supposed to be rebuilding, anyway. So I've got a little point guard coming in and I'll just let him play 40 minutes."
Eaton met Ford's challenge, dropping 43 pounds over the summer. As a result, his senior year has been his most productive as a Cowboy. He's averaging 14.1 points, 5.6 assists and more than two steals per game in leading OSU to its first NCAA bid since 2005, and he had the game-winning three-point play in State's 77-75 first-round win over Tennessee.
"Now I think we've got one of the best point guards in the country as far as putting the ball in somebody's hands and saying make a play for you," Ford said.
Eaton admits that it's been a roller-coaster ride for him with Ford, who's his third coach in four seasons. But the payoff has made it worthwhile.
"Coach Ford and I have definitely bumped heads a few times in practice," Eaton said. "It was hard for me to bite my tongue a lot of times, but I just have to realize that he's telling me something that's going to better myself. I'm very happy that I was able to accept everything that he told me in a good and bad way and I was able to lead my team where we're at today."
Fields got the better of Eaton last year in Pitt's 85-68 win over Oklahoma State, finishing with 17 points and six assists while Eaton scored just nine on 3-of-14 shooting with four assists.
Siena's double-overtime win over Ohio State on Friday night saved top seed Louisville from having to play in front of what would have been a pro-Buckeye crowd at the University of Dayton Arena. Instead the arena figures to be filled with mostly Cardinals fans, and the 'Ville is looking forward to the home-court advantage.
"I think it matters a lot," U of L junior guard Jerry Smith said. "We definitely would have been in a hostile environment full of Ohio State fans. Seeing that Siena was able to pull it off, hopefully a lot of them will sell their tickets to Card fans."
Not so bad in retrospect
Louisville fans gasped early in the season when the Cardinals were thumped 68-54 on Nov. 30 by a Western Kentucky team breaking in a new coach and three new starters. But that loss doesn't look nearly as bad now after the Hilltoppers went on to win 25 games and went into Saturday one win away from the Sweet 16.
"We felt like losers," said U of L junior forward Earl Clark. "Everybody was text ing and calling like, 'You lost to Western?' Even females were doing it."
But Cardinals guard Preston Knowles said that even back in November he knew that the Toppers were legit.
"I knew they had good guards," Knowles said. "I saw A.J. Slaughter play in high school and thought he should have won Mr. Basketball. I knew Pettigrew was good, and that other guard (Orlando Mendez-Valdez) could play, too. I'm not surprised to see them doing so well."