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SEC Notebook

December 11, 2002 Conference Notes No Comments

SEC Notebook

by Rainer Sabin

Future opponents of 25th ranked Mississippi State (5-1) let out a collective moan when they learned that Mario Austin was returning to the hardwood. The junior forward and Wooden Award candidate, who had sat on the bench for the Bulldogs’ first six games, was cleared to play by the NCAA Tuesday. Investigators for the collegiate governing board were looking into Austin’s ninth and tenth grade transcripts and Sumter Co. High School in Ala. to see if he completed the required amount of core classes needed to gain freshman eligibility at the college level.

Apparently, he did, which means opposing SEC teams will not get a reprieve this season when they face the Bulldogs. Austin, who averaged 16.1 points and 7.8 rebounds during the 2001-2002 campaign, will make an immediate impact on a team that has been led by the unheralded backcourt duo of Timmy Bowers (18.2 ppg.) and Derrick Zimmerman (10.7 ppg.), as well as forward Michael Ignerski (12 points, 6.5 rebounds).

Mississippi State, which has been on the precipice of falling out of the Top 25 after losing to Louisiana-Lafayette in its first game, will get its first big test against No. 10 Xavier this Saturday in Madison Square Garden. Austin will face highly touted center David West in his first game since the matter with the NCAA was settled. Welcome back.

Clawing Their Way up the Ladder

No controversy. Just winning. That’s the way Kentucky coach Tubby Smith likes it. The 16th ranked Wildcats are off to a 5-1 start and earned a big 98-81 victory over North Carolina in Chapel Hill last Saturday, as Gerald Fitch tallied 25 points. For his efforts against the Tar Heels, the junior guard was honored as “SEC Player of the Week.” But Fitch and the Wildcats did not rest on their laurels.

Three days after beating up on North Carolina, they routed Tulane 76-60 in New Orleans, as guard Keith Bogans poured in 21 points. Bogans is leading the team in scoring, averaging 18.7 points per game, and has served as a catalyst for the Wildcats, who are each learning and accepting their respective roles-something new for a team that earned the nickname “Team Turmoil” last season.

Bacon Anyone?

Despite a drab 72-60 victory over Louisiana Tech Tuesday night, the Arkansas Razorbacks are off to a miserable start. The Hogs are 2-4 and have lost to non-conference also-rans Oral Roberts and Troy State-the latter of which Arkansas beat by 67 points in 1997. The Razorbacks, which are eight years removed from a national championship, are struggling to find themselves under new coach Stan Heath. The Hogs have been turnover-prone, and their costly mistakes have contributed to close losses against No. 17 Illinois (62-58) and 19th ranked Tulsa (61-60). With games coming up against Sam Houston State and Centenary, it would seem as if Arkansas can even out its record. But, nothing is certain these days in Fayetteville.

Rollin’ Right Along

Six games into the season and the 2002-2003 Alabama Crimson Tide (6-0) has already left its mark. After beating St. Bonaventure 77-68 Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama learned Monday that it moved up to No. 2 in the Associated Press poll-its highest ranking ever. The Crimson Tide, which was led by Erwin Dudley’s 28 points against the Bonnies, will face Bowling Green and Providence in its next two games-both of which will be played with a week of rest for the Tide in between.

Bulldogs Take Bite out of Bears

Georgia (3-3) got back on track after losing three of its first five games. But it wasn’t easy. The Bulldogs defeated California 78-73 in overtime in the John Wooden Classic in Anaheim, Calif., as guard Ezra Williams scored 23 points and buried the go-ahead three-pointer in the extra period. Georgia was able to reverse an early season trend, which saw the Bulldogs lose close games away from home. Each of Georgia’s three losses has come on the road by five points or less. While the Bulldogs were able to reap some satisfaction from Saturday’s victory, the joy was tempered by the news they received from reserve guard Mike Dean, who has decided to leave Georgia and transfer to another school. Dean averaged 2.8 points per game this season.

All’s Well Down on the Plains

It may be early, but the Auburn Tigers are enjoying life near the top of SEC West standings with a 5-1 non-conference record. Since losing to Western Kentucky 89-70 Dec. 1, the Tigers have reeled off three straight wins over mediocre competition-the last of which came against Rutgers last Sunday. The Tigers, which have not scored below 70 points this season, lead the nation in field goal percentage, shooting 56.4 % from the floor on average.

Around the Rest of the SEC

No. 12 Florida (6-2) took care of South Florida Sunday, defeating the Bulls 68-52 at home, as another freshman guard stepped up. This time it was Anthony Roberson, not Matt Walsh, who scored 19 points to lead the way . . . Tennessee (2-1) suffered its first loss of the season, as the Volunteers were defeated by Texas A&M 83-66 in College Station, TX Dec. 4. Tennessee is currently enjoying a 11-day break and will resume play Sunday against Georgia Tech at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Classic . . . Vanderbilt (5-2) lost its second game of the season to No. 6 Indiana 73-56 Monday night in Bloomington. Forward Matt Frieje continued to shine, as he scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Frieje leads the Commodores in scoring, averaging 17.4 points per game . . . South Carolina capped off a bad week last Sunday that started Dec. 5 with a 67-59 loss to Georgetown. The Gamecocks (4-2) dropped their second straight game to border rival North Carolina State 76-64 . . . Ole Miss (3-1) won its third consecutive game Dec. 4 over Austin Peay 74-46 and has not played since. The Rebels’ next game is Saturday against Virginia Commonwealth . . . LSU (4-1) decimated McNeese State 93-72 last Saturday, as JuCo transfer Jaime Lloreda and senior guard Ronald Dupree combined for 55 points.


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