Cougars to meet familiar foe in K.C.

Thursday, March 9, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:41 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

For the eighth straight year, the Columbia College men’s basketball team will be appearing in the NAIA national tournament.

After a season that included 24 wins and a American Midwest Conference co-championship, the Cougars will be playing against Oklahoma City at 6:15 on Feb. 16 at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City in the opening round of the tournament. Oklahoma City, the Sooner Athletic Conference champion, enters the tournament as the seventh-ranked team in the NAIA. As recently as the Feb. 22 rankings, OCU was the No. 3 team in the country.

The match-up between the two teams might also bring back some unpleasant memories for the Cougars. Two seasons ago, Columbia College entered the tournament 32-3 but was without star-guard Khamari Ballard. Without Ballard’s 22.6 points per game, OCU beat the Cougars 81-48.

This time, Columbia College will enter the tournament without any suspensions but will still be challenged. Lorenzo Gordon, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, who averages 23.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, leads Oklahoma City. Besides Gordon and a defense that allows only 70 points per game, OCU also has a winning tradition. Since 1991, Oklahoma City has won four NAIA national championships, the most recent coming in 1996.

CHEERLEADING SAFETY: A national cheerleading safety group is calling for the suspension of certain aerial and towering stunts during this year’s college basketball tournaments in response to a cheerleader’s frightening fall from a 15-foot human pyramid.

The injured cheerleader’s coach on Wednesday criticized the action, which essentially bars cheerleaders from performing the high-flying tricks that many squads have been doing for years, as “devastating” and unnecessary.

Effective immediately, the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators recommended college conferences bar basket tosses and high pyramids without a mat. But cheerleaders would not likely have time to haul the mats around during tournament games, meaning they would have to omit those routines.

While the association has no enforcement power, the NCAA, NAIA and other basketball tournaments require cheerleading teams to conform to its guidelines. And squads are likely to comply, since conferences could kick cheerleading teams out of games for breaking the rules.

“It’d be an unwise move for a coach or others to go against the committee,” Jim Lord, the cheerleading group’s executive director, said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the Missouri Valley Conference barred its cheerleaders from such stunts during its women’s basketball tournament, which begins today.

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