Glancing at the stat sheet from Baylor's convincing 76-57 win over Oklahoma State, sophomore point guard A.J. Walton looks right past the seven points, seven assists, four rebounds and three steals. His eyes are fixated on the number "9" in the turnover column.
"It makes me sick, just to have a turnover in a game," said the 6-foot-1 sophomore from Little Rock, Ark. "In that category, I want to be perfect. Even though we're going to have mistakes in the game, I don't want that to be under my stats. Being the point guard, you want to have the best assist-to-turnover ratio, getting the ball to people on time and on target. I know as a team, we've cut down on our turnovers a lot. But for me, it's just a personal thing."
Like the quarterback in football, the point guard in basketball is critiqued and criticized more than any other position on the floor. Especially when you're following the guy that just led your program to an Elite Eight appearance.
Tweety Carter set the standard last season, when he averaged 15 points and 5.9 assists, ranked among the national leaders with a 2.35-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and most importantly led the Bears to a 28-8 record and the region finals against eventual national champion Duke.
Those are the shoes that Walton, who didn't turn 20 until December 28, have been asked to fill.
"It gets hard sometimes. It's always on my mind," said Walton, who's averaging 8.5 points and 5.1 assists going into Saturday's 3 p.m. nationally televised game (ESPN) at No. 3 Texas. "I think people forget that Tweety was a senior last year, and I'm just a sophomore, not to make any excuses. I talk to Tweety every week, and he just tells me to keep playing, don't think about it. He just tells me, `You've got it, just learn faster and continue to learn and get better as the season progresses.'''
What makes Walton "sick" is that he's already had more turnovers (82) in 22 games than his predecessor had all last year (80). While he's first in the Big 12 in steals (2.2 per game) and second in assists, Walton has also turned it over more than any other player in the league and ranks near the bottom of the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.34-1.0).
"The big thing with A.J., with whatever play we're running, don't force things that aren't there," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "It's like in football: If we say we're going to throw it deep and (the receiver) is double-covered, you don't throw it deep."
The one that Walton still kicks himself about came in the second half against then-No. 1 Kansas. Baylor had trimmed a 21-point halftime deficit down to a more manageable 12 and had a chance to pull even closer, but Walton turned it over on an errant alley-oop pass to LaceDarius Dunn.
"That was a big one," Walton said. "I had just got fouled and went to the free-throw line. I should have just gone ahead and laid it up. It's just a mistake that I had to learn from. We grew from it, and I don't think I've tried to have a home-run pass since then. . . . At the beginning of the season, I was just trying to go for home runs instead of singles and doubles. But I think I've been improving on that a lot. I just want to continue to try to make the easy play and do whatever I can to help the team."
Since turning it over a combined 16 times in the games against Kansas and Oklahoma State, he's only turned it over 16 times in the last five games, including one in Wednesday's 74-70 win over Nebraska.
"I think experience is the key word," Drew said. "He's getting used to not only playing with our players, but getting used to running the show out there against elite talent and against different schemes. Last year, he was primarily on the court with Tweety. And now he's getting used to being out there and doing it on his own. Again, I think it's being more familiar with the players you're playing with. Our team's starting to figure out more about (freshman forward Perry Jones III) and what he brings to the team. And that's obviously helping take pressure off people."
On Saturday, Walton returns to the site of one of his greatest moments as a freshman. Playing a Texas team that was ranked sixth in the nation at the time, he scored 14 points and had a career-high six steals, knocking down three free throws in the last 17 seconds in overtime as the Bears pulled off an 80-77 stunner at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin.
"I gained a whole bunch from that game," said Walton, who averaged 3.8 points and 2.0 assists last year as Carter's back-up. "I just got more confidence in myself, confidence from my teammates, their loyalty. They were behind me 100 percent. To be a freshman, playing in that type of atmosphere and having a chance to win the game, it was amazing. People say I grew up in that game. I loved every minute of it. Even when we were down in overtime, we never quit. It just showed how much heart we have."
Sic 'em, Bears!!!!
Pittsburgh Steelers punter and former Baylor All-American Daniel Sepulveda lost count of the times he fielded the question last week: "You must feel like the most unlucky guy in the world?"
Undoubtedly, a lesser man might agree. Shoot, it's the natural human reaction. For the second time in three years, Sepulveda had to stand on the sidelines as his Steelers played in the Super Bowl.
But if he's the least bit bitter, Sepulveda is certainly not showing it.
"It's easy to say, `Praise God! God is good!' when things are going well," said Sepulveda, who suffered his latest injury on Dec. 5, when he tried to make a tackle during the Steelers' game against the Baltimore Ravens.
"But the testimony is so much more powerful when it doesn't make sense to the world. . . . It's not something where you ignore the frustration that comes from a troubling circumstance like the one I find myself in. But it's running to reality and allowing my relationship with Jesus Christ to be my foundation. You realize that God can work for good in the midst of any circumstance, and that includes not being able to play in the biggest sporting event in the world for the second time in three years."
Two years ago, Sepulveda suffered the same ACL injury during training camp and missed the entire 2008 season, when the Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals, 27-23, in Super Bowl XXXXIII in Tampa, Fla.
The difference this time is the Super Bowl was played in his own back yard. Pittsburgh lost to Green Bay, 31-25, in Sunday's Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Sepulveda is a Dallas area native who played high school football at Highland Park High School.
"Oh, man, it's crazy," Sepulveda said. "I had a lot of fun in Tampa, but I had no idea where I was going. This time around, that's not the case. It's been fun. My worlds are kind of colliding. It was fun to take some of the guys to the (Dallas Mavericks) game on Monday night back in Dallas. We went to my house first and then went to the Mavericks game. It was just weird, being in my neighborhood with a bunch of guys in my car who are on my team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was like, `What's going on right now?' I never would have thought something like this would happen."
Eight weeks after surgery, Sepulveda said his repaired right knee "feels great." He plans to be full speed and punting again with the Steelers by the summer.
"I hate to say it, but it keeps getting easier every time," Sepulveda said of the knee surgeries. "I'm eight weeks post-op, and it feels awesome. You're not supposed to run until three months, so I've still got another four or five weeks to go before I can do that. But I could have been running four weeks ago. (I couldn't believe) the strength came back to my quad so quickly, just because the swelling in my knee was so much less than previous surgeries. And I think that's because they didn't have to drill in my bones nearly as much, or because the tunnels were already there. They just went in and pulled the old one out, put a new one in, and then they just shaped everything up in there."
So how does Sepulveda answer the endless question about being the world's most unlucky man?
"That's when you need to turn around and say, `Absolutely not!''' he said. "I have one Super Bowl ring already, I've been incredibly blessed to grow up in the family that I grew up with, to be where I am, to have the opportunities I've had. Maybe it doesn't happen right away. But just through prayer and allowing time for God to heal your heart through the situation, I have a real pace about it. I'm going to enjoy the week and encourage the guys in any way that I can."
If you would like to hear Daniel's personal testimony, go to the Web site www.IAmSecond.com and click on the link to his story.
Sepulveda said he enjoyed watching the Baylor football team this year end its 16-year bowl drought and finish 7-6 under coach Art Briles.
"I'd like to think that me and some of my contemporaries had a little bit to do with laying the foundation for that," said Sepulveda (2003-06), who won the Ray Guy Award as the nation's best punter in 2004 and again in '06. "I'm just happy that they have Art Briles as head of that program and certainly headed in the right direction. I'm proud of these guys."
With four former Texas Longhorns on the Steelers' roster, including defensive tackle Casey Hampton, Sepulveda said the Bears' 30-22 win over Texas on Oct. 30 was especially sweet.
"Oh, man, that win over Texas was so much fun," Sepulveda said. "It's going to take more than one win over Texas in a row for me to be satisfied. But that one certainly felt good."
Sic 'em, Bears!!!!
Vinnie Johnson earned the nickname, "The Microwave," as a Detroit Piston reserve because he could come off the bench and heat up in a hurry.
Jordan Madden fills a similar role for the top-ranked Baylor Lady Bears. But it's more on the defensive end, where the 6-foot sophomore guard from Lepanto, Ark., ranks among the team leaders with 10 blocks and 11 steals and countless other deflections.
"I think Jordan Madden is playing her best basketball right now," said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, whose Lady Bears (20-1, 7-0) play Oklahoma State (13-7, 1-6) at 1 p.m. Sunday in Stillwater, Okla., in a game that will be nationally televised by ESPN, "and it doesn't even involve scoring. She's so long defensively that she alters shots."
Madden's "mad" defensive skills were on display at the end of a 63-60 win over then-No. 5 Texas A&M last Sunday. She deflected the ball away from Syndey Colson as the A&M point guard started to drive in for a tying basket and then partially blocked a potential game-tying 3-pointer by Tyra White on the final play of the game.
"When I go in, I don't really look to score. I look to go in and play defense, because I know my scoring will come," said Madden, who's averaging 4.0 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game while filling the Lady Bears' sixth-man role as the first perimeter player off the bench. "I just do what coach Mulkey asks me to do - play defense, rebound the ball and pass it inside to Brittney (Griner) and the other post players."
To the folks back home in Lepanto, Ark., the idea of Jordan Madden being a defensive sparkplug might seem a bit far-fetched.
This is the same girl that scored over 2,000 career points at East Poinsett County High School, averaged 25.7 points and 10.6 rebounds as a senior, earned all-state honors her last three years and scored 45 of her team's 51 points in the 2008 Class 3A state championship game against Marshall.
But Madden never tried to kid herself. Coming into a program that ended up in last year's Final Four, she thought, "I would just come in and practice and try to build up my strength for when my time comes."
As it turned out, though, she played in all but a handful of games last season and averaged 5.2 points. Two of her best games came in the NCAA Tournament's Memphis Regional, where she scored a combined 15 points and added eight rebounds in upset wins over third-ranked Tennessee and No. 6 Duke.
"That was especially fun for me, because I'm from Arkansas, and it's not that far away (from Memphis, Tenn.)," Madden said. "Most of my family came out and supported me. So going in there and winning against Tennessee and Duke, and in front of my family, it was real exciting to me."
Already expected to take on a larger role as a sophomore, Madden was even inserted into the starting lineup when fellow sophomore Shanay Washington suffered a season-ending knee surgery. But like Quincy Acy for the men's team, Madden seems to be at her best when she comes in off the bench.
"I just try to look at the things that I have to do before I'm coming in," said Madden, who had a team-high five steals in last month's 64-51 win over 25th-ranked Texas Tech. "And then I have to look at why they're coming out and try not to make the same mistakes that they made. I just try to go in and do what I have to do to give the team a little spark."
"She does the little things," said freshman point guard Odyssey Sims. "When we need a defensive stop, she's there. And when we need somebody to get us going on offense, she's there. Just wherever we need her the most, she's going to do it."
While scoring has always come naturally for Madden, she admits that it's taken some work to develop as a defensive stopper.
"When I got here, my defense was terrible," she said. "I didn't really have to play that much defense back in high school. I think I've improved on (my defense) a lot. I know some of the coaches have told me that's the area where I've improved the most. But they said that sometimes it's there and sometimes it's not. I've got to bring it every day."
Especially for Mulkey. If you don't play defense, you'll never see the floor.
"You've got to work in practice, and that takes time to teach them," Mulkey said. "You don't work Monday and take Tuesday and Wednesday off and then come back and work Thursday. They've got to understand that you've got to be consistent with your work habits. Jordan has an unbelievable personality. She's such a happy person, she's fun to be around. But for two hours, give me your serious side."
Oftentimes, Madden brings that personality with her on the floor. Even when she's hounding an opposing player on the defensive end, she's got a big smile etched on her face.
"She is very, very goofy," Sims said of Madden. "She's always laughing at stuff, telling jokes. That's just her personality."
The Lady Bears just hope she's laughing all the way to the Final Four in Indianapolis.
"We've got kids that could be in the starting five at a lot of top programs," Mulkey said, hinting that Madden is one of them. "But they came here for a reason. When it's all said and done, they came here to win a championship, and nobody cares who starts. You want to play, you want to be in the rotation, you want to win a ring. The leading scorer on the team is going to get the same ring that the 15th player on the team's going to get. And when I get to coach players that are unselfish like that, that's how you win championships."
Sic 'em, Bears!!!!