SPORTS NOTEBOOK

At the Top: New England's College Basketball

WHAT a year it's been for New England college basketball. First, there's the University of Massachusetts, which is top-ranked, undefeated after 25 games, and positioned to make a run at the first perfect season since Indiana University went 32-0 in 1976. If the Minutemen eventually play in the April 1 national-championship game in East Rutherford, N.J., it would be their 38th game.

The University of Connecticut (24-1) also has been on a roll. At press time, the Huskies were third-ranked and bidding to become the first team in Big East Conference history to finish with a spotless league record. Georgetown and Villanova, however, planned to have something to say about that during games last night and next Sunday. (UConn and Atlantic-10 member UMass play in different conferences and don't seem eager to schedule one another.)

Not to be overlooked is Connecticut's women's team, which could defend its national championship if the team's 24-3 record and No. 3 national ranking is any yardstick.

Even New Hampshire-based Dartmouth, which seldom makes sports headlines, has added its voice to New England's basketball chorus. Earlier this month, Dartmouth's men's team snapped the University of Pennsylvania's 48-game Ivy League winning streak.

NBA players seek qualified leader

IN picking a new executive director, the National Basketball Players Association is clearly more interested in qualifications than in hiring one of their own.

The union recently interviewed six candidates for the job, including three former players - Paul Silas, Alex English, and Len Elmore, all former union members and leaders during their NBA playing days. They were the first eliminated in the search, although English has been named the interim replacement for Simon Gourdine, who was dismissed in January. Still under consideration are Charles Bennett, a former financial adviser to the union, sports lawyer Bill Strickland, and William Hunter, former US Attorney for the Northern District of California.

Touching other bases

* Pop quiz: Forward Charles Barkley of the Phoenix Suns is in rare company now that he has amassed 20,000 points and 10,000 rebounds during his 11-year National Basketball Association career. Only two other active players, both centers, join him. Can you name either one? (See answer below.)

* The Feb. 22 Empire State Building Run-Up begins at ground level and proceeds to the 86th-floor observation deck of the famed New York skyscraper. This will mark the 19th year the New York Road Runners Club has put on this taxing ascent, which attracts about 125 runners divided into three heats. The fastest anybody has ever covered the 1,576 steps is 10 minutes, 18 seconds. There can be some jostling at the start, but race organizers underline the importance of courtesy in such tight quarters.

* Quiz answer: Hakeem Olajuwon and Robert Parish.

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