Houston's rim-rattlers rank at top

University of Houston basketball coach Guy V. Lewis should call the movie about this season, ''How I Forgot Elvin Hayes And Learned to Love Clyde the Glide.''

The Cougars, at 27-2 with 22 consecutive wins, sit atop the national polls for the first time since 1968, when Hayes and Don Chaney played there. As the top-seeded team in the NCAA Tournament's Midwest Regional, their next game will be Saturday against either Maryland or Tennessee-Chattanooga.

During the course of the season, Lewis picked up career victories 500 through 525. The team won its first Southwest Conference regular-season title, going 16 -0 in the process. And it won its third SWC tournament by beating Texas Christian University, 62-59, last Saturday. (Houston had no conference affiliation during the Hayes era.)

A major factor in Houston's success was the play of 6 ft. 6 in. junior forward Clyde Drexler, a local product who believes in the team first, individual second. His leadership, however, is indisputable.

At the start of this season, Lewis gave his charges two bits of advice. ''If you want to be a good team, pass the ball inside to the big men,'' he said. ''If you want to be a great team, the big men will pass it to one another.''

The Cougars heeded Lewis's sage advice. Sophomore guard Reid Gettys, a 6-7 reserve who averaged 22 minutes a game, tossed it inside with such regularity that he compiled 172 assists coming off the bench. That helped make Houston a good team.

Greatness came with the next step. The big men tossed it to one another. Forward Michael Young, a 6-6 junior who is the team's leading scorer with 17.8 points per game, had 68 assists. And Drexler, the second best scorer with a 17. 3 average, was even better at feeding teammates the ball, accumulating 100 assists. In the process, Drexler made All-American and both players were named first team All-Southwest Conference.

Joining them on the all-conference team was the Cougars' sophomore center, Akeem Abdul Olajuwon, a rapidly improving seven-footer from Lagos, Nigeria.

As a group, the Cougars are so fond of stuff shots that people have taken to calling this brotherhood of power players Phi Slamma Jamma. By the end of the regular season Houston had 142 dunks, with Olajuwon and Drexler accounting for 93 of those.

This made Lewis happy, since the dunk is such a high percentage shot. It also made people think of Houston as rather one-dimensional, emphasizing offense in lieu of defense.

That's a mistake. After all, the team's average margin of victory in the conference was 21.6 points, which means the Cougars weren't playing a game of matching baskets. Lewis has always emphasized defense, but a coach needs somone to carry the message to the team. Drexler, again, is that messenger.

Along with his scoring and assist leadership, he managed to lead the team with 92 steals. The others followed suit. The Cougars stole the ball 327 times, or almost twice as often as their opponents. That takes savvy and a willingness to play both ends of the floor.

The only defensive area where it's difficult to find Drexler's imprint is the blocked shots department. The Lewis theory says touch everything you can and let the referees worry about goaltending.

Olajuwon, better known as Akeem the Dream, loves this part of the game. A former soccer goalie who only took up the game in 1979, he stands in the middle of the lane and dares opponents to bring the ball to him. They always try, and 138 times this season he fed them pebble-grained leather.

Now, back to Drexler. The team follows his lead in one other area, the belief that five men win ball games. There are no stars. If it's your turn to be a hero , do it, then forget it.

Guard Benny Anders, a 6-5 sophomore, is a case in point. He is a talented, high-scoring player, who tends to bound around the court like Tigger in Winnie the Pooh's 100-acre wood. But under the influence of Drexler, Young, and senior center Larry Micheaux, a second team all-conference selection, Anders has calmed down. He now is much more in tune with his teammates.

In a crucial late-season victory over Arkansas, he had 18 points, four rebounds, and one assist in 20 minutes of court time. In the next game against Baylor, however, he played only 14 minutes and scored six points as Houston romped to a 93-64 win.

Anders may have grimaced at the seeming injustice, but there was certainly no public outcry about lack of playing time. It would have been unseemly, and Clyde the Glide would have certainly disapproved.

Of course, the second season starts this week with the NCAA Tournament. The last time Houston was No. 1 at the end of the regular season it confronted Lew Alcindor-led UCLA in the semifinals. The Cougars had narrowly won their ''Game of the Century'' during the regular season, but the Bruins won the rematch by 32 points and went on to become national champions.

It's unlikely Houston will sneak up on many teams as they did last season on the way to the Final Four. Still, Lewis is more than willing to take his chances with Clyde and Akeem and the other members of Phi Slamma Jamma. They're hungry, and as Clyde says, ''It's no fun being second.''

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