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Conference USA Notebook

December 31, 2002 Conference Notes No Comments



Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

America, say hello to Conference USA

Those critics who questioned C-USA as a major conference took a huge hit Saturday, as two top 15 teams fell by the way side. Kentucky became the first to fall, as the traveled west to face intra-state rival Louisville and its former coach, Rick Pitino. The Cardinals also featured UK-transfer Marvin Stone, playing just his third game of the season since becoming eligible. Stone’s contributions led to Louisville running away from the Wildcats, winning 81-63. The game proved two things about the Cardinals: they are capable of beating the best teams in the country, and they do not need Reece Gaines to be on fire to win. A C-USA player of the year candidate, Gaines finished with just ten points, and for the most part was a non-factor. No matter for Pitino and the Cards as plenty others stepped up their game. Stone finished with sixteen points, leading the team, and added seven rebounds. Ellis Myles provided eleven points and grabbed fourteen huge rebounds. Taquan Dean netted ten points, including two crucial three-pointers. Freshman Francisco Garcia, one of the early surprises for Pitino, finished with twelve points. After trailing by eleven early, the Cardinals finally settled down, and during the second half blew Kentucky out. While the margin of victory is surprising, the win is not. The nation finally saw how good Louisville is, and at worst, is a top 25 team.

However, the other win definitely fit the surprise tag. Illinois marched into the Pyramid owners of an unbeaten record and a top 10 ranking. They left humbled by a 77-74 loss to the Memphis Tigers, a team playing at full strength for the first team all season. The latest addition for Memphis, who proved to be the difference during Saturday’s win, is Chris Massie. Academically ineligible prior to Saturday’s game, Massie scored thirteen points and corralled twelve rebounds. More importantly, Massie controlled the interior, something the Tigers, and particularly Earl Barron, failed to do before Saturday. Massie now provides Memphis with an alternative to their outside game, which carried the team throughout December. The guard play once again sunk an opponent, as Anthony Rice led the charge. Rice finished with a team-high sixteen points, aided by four-of-six shooting from downtown. John Grice also finished with sixteen, including three-of-six shooting from deep. With all of the pieces in place now for Calipari and a big regular season win under his belt; look for Memphis to make a run at the C-USA title.

Big impact 1

Marquette needed a big man to complement Dwayne Wade’s outside game. Transfer Robert Jackson is providing exactly what the Golden Eagles needed. Jackson played his best offensive game of the season against Grambling Saturday, scoring 26 points. While he received headline news for the first time all season with his performance, Jackson is quietly having one of the best seasons in the conference. He is averaging more than seventeen points per game (17.2) and barley less than nine rebounds per contest (8.8). Both averages are good for fifth in the conference. Jackson, however, is also providing the intangible quality of leadership to Marquette. Having played in a power conference like the SEC, Jackson is accustom to playing in big games, a vital difference maker for the Eagles as they head into their lethal February schedule.

Big impact 2

All of South Florida expected the worse with the losses of B.B. Waldon and Altron Jackson. A few optimists though felt Will McDonald could provide the scoring of at least one of the lost duo. However, no one expected the hot streak McDonald is on now. Through his last five games, the senior center is averaging 21 points per game. Last week, McDonald netted 22 and twenty, and also averaged eight and a half rebounds. He is averaging nearly a double-double during his last five games, having grabbed 49 rebounds. Currently the Bulls are 7-3, and McDonald, along with point guard Reggie Kohn, is the reason why. He is currently seventh in both scoring and rebounding, and is battling Marquette’s Jackson as the top big man in C-USA this season.

Charlotte is their name, inconsistency is their game

The 49ers are now ten games into their season. So far this year, Charlotte is lacking consistency, from almost every player and as a team. Their record stands at 5-5 and already the year has been a roller coaster ride. Just last week, the 49ers dropped two, including a heartbreaking 76-74 loss to Colorado. Then they turned back around and were blown out by Louisiana Lafayette, 68-47. Sadly enough, the losses come after a three-game win streak, which included triumphs over the likes of Miami and Southern Illinois. Several players are falling short of their expectations. One of Niners doing so is junior forward Butter Johnson. Expected to be one of Bobby Lutz’s go-to-guys, Johnson has been, simply put, inconsistent. Johnson is averaging 10.4 points per game, but is shooting just 38 percent from the field and just eleven percent behind the arc. While Johnson is capable of big games, he scored 22 against Southern Illinois; he also tends to disappear from time to time. Against Lafayette, he shot just two-of-twelve, and finished with seven points. For Johnson and Charlotte, time is running out to get their act together. Their January schedule is lined up with land mines, starting with their January 4 match at Indiana. Other games include C-USA favorites Louisville, Marquette and Cincinnati. For the 49ers, the inconsistency must end now.

Player of the week

Will McDonald, South Florida

McDonald scored 22 and twenty points respectively during the Bulls two wins last week. During the LIU Brooklyn contest, McDonald earned a double-double, finishing with eleven boards.

Games to watch

Charlotte at Indiana, Saturday at 1 p.m.

The Hoosiers have struggled of late, losing two straight. If Charlotte can defend Indiana’s three-point shot well, they have a chance.

West Virginia at Saint Louis, Saturday at 1 p.m.

The Mountaineers are one of the surprises of the college basketball season. The Billikens could use a big win to propel them into the conference season.

Louisville at Ohio State, Saturday at 2 p.m.

The Buckeyes’ only losses this season have come to Alabama, Pittsburgh, and Duke (No’s. 2, 3, and 1, respectively). Louisville has faced little competition on the road this year.

     

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