The Bully Pulpit

FRIDAY NIGHT, HIGH on victories over Campbell's Fighting Camels and Eastern Michigan's Eagles, Minnesota's Golden Gophers had a back-slapping, fist-pumping swagger. Last year's Big Ten champs banged, trash-talked, and ran, ran, ran. More importantly, their victims--the Western Carolina Catamounts--played as if Eric Harris were as multifaceted as Bobby Jackson and Antoine Broxsie had the power of Courtney James and John Thomas combined. Even Carolina coach Phil Hopkins was grateful to lose by just 17: "Hell, there's more people in that gym than we have in our whole town and campus combined."

True to form, coach Clem Haskins downplayed the rout, telling the postgame press corps to focus on his team's overall improvement instead of its record. "It's not about winning and losing," he said.

But to Clem's beleaguered ballclub, last week had to be about winning and winning big. Western Carolina was paid $40,000 to be a Williams Arena whipping boy. Campbell and Eastern Michigan were brought in to warm the team up for Nebraska, Cincinnati, and Fresno State. When his team is strong, Haskins uses these easy periods in the schedule to try different defensive looks, juggle offensive lineups, and give young guys more PT. But this season, with his outside shooters plagued with the shakes and an underdeveloped inside game, Haskins is satisfied to get ahead and stay ahead, satisfied with some swagger.

"They didn't write us that check to come up here and be too good," Hopkins said. He was joking. No one laughed.

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