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Conference USA Notebook

January 14, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

Early Cinderella stories

Okay, so maybe week one in conference play is just wrapping up, but is it too early to proclaim two surprises in C-USA this season? Well, the proclaiming will begin anyway. To find these two surprises, one must head south. First, cruise to the Magnolia State, or Mississippi for those unknowing about state symbols. Next, skip over to Alabama, home of, well, the band Alabama. The reason for these destinations: the early play of the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles and the UAB Blazers.

The Golden Eagles started the season hot, winning their first five out of the gate. Then, the season’s first stumbling block hit, as the Eagles lost four of their next five. Now Southern Miss is back on the winning track, thanks in part to some home cooking and a last second winner.

Last week the Eagles’ last second win against Murray State was reported as the possible shot to turn the season around. The statement looks to have promise after last week’s events. First, USM started the C-USA season off on the right foot with a 72-64 defeat of TCU. The Eagles won by playing at their pace, instead of the run-and-gun motto of the Horned Frogs. The 64 points is to date the lowest point total of the season for TCU.

Southern Miss though was hardly satisfied with the win. They wanted to show the conference they can hang with anyone in C-USA. Memphis posed the opportunity, and the Eagles seized the chance.

After playing smash mouth basketball earlier in the week, USM proved they could light up the scoreboard as well. After a slow first half, the Eagles exploded for 55 points during the final 20 minutes, ending Memphis’ six-game win streak in blowout fashion, 84-67. With the Tigers favored to win the National Division, the win proved the Eagles’ chance at fighting for the division crown.

The second team wearing a glass slipper so far this year is currently tied with the Eagles atop the National Division standings with a 2-0 record. Who is this mystery team? None other than the squad picked to finish last in the division, the Blazers.

UAB is currently 10-3 after sweeping its two C-USA contests last week. For the Blazers, the question about their early season schedule is the competition. The only three real quality teams they faced this year, they lost against. But there is more to it than just a loss. All three games were close, with UAB unable to make the key plays down the stretch. Also, all three games took place away from Birmingham. The losses include games at UNLV, Mississippi State, and a four-point loss to Richmond.

Last week though, the Blazers showed they can win on the road, going to South Florida and Houston to claim wins. While both the Bulls and Cougars are struggling lately, not enough can be said about winning a road conference game. Never is winning a conference road game easy, let alone two straight.

The Blazers’ early strategy for success: give the ball to Morris Finley. The junior guard continues to torment defenses. Case in point occurred Wednesday at South Florida. Finley went for 26 points, aided by six-of-seven shooting from downtown. While the road becomes bumpier this week for UAB, there is a bright side. They play both games this week at the cozy confines of home.

Houston, we have a problem

It is going from bad to worse for the Cougars. Not only have they not won since December 7th; they have not lost by less than ten points since December 9th. Currently, Houston is 2-10, and Cougar fans must be wondering if they will win another game all season.

For UH it is pretty simple: the offense is not playing well, and the defense is not playing well. In fact, the only one doing anything is super rebounder Louis Truscott. With all the scorers from last season gone, Truscott also took over that role this season. Unfortunately, no other Cougar is following his lead. Not only is Truscott the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, he is second on the team in assists. For the Cougars, it does not get any easier any time soon. They play Memphis this week.

Massie’s big night

Sometimes, a player feels like he can do no wrong and everyone watching or playing the game agrees. These observers can only sit back and enjoy the show. This is called ‘the zone’. Tuesday night, Chris Massie found himself in the zone. Massie went for 34 points and sixteen rebounds, as his Memphis Tigers sank its paws into the Tulane Green Wave Tuesday by the score of 85-73.

Playing just his fifth game since becoming eligible, Massie put on a show, one at which Green Wave head coach Shawn Finney even marveled. “He was a man among boys,” Finney said. “He played a monstrous game. Anytime you come out with 34 points on 23 shots, it says a lot about your offensive production.”

Tulane players reiterated the same sentiments. “We had no answer for him,” said Tulane forward Brandon Brown. “Physically, he’s tough. He was tough emotionally. He was just unstoppable. Not any of our schemes worked.”

Massie is quickly becoming the focal point of an inexperienced but dangerous offensive unit. Massie’s 23 attempts Tuesday was exactly one-third of the team’s attempts. His presence is undoubtedly the reason for Memphis’ current hot-streak.

Players of the week

Greg Johnson and Jasper Johnson, Southern Mississippi – The Johnson & Johnson tandem teamed for 68 points and 22 rebounds during the Eagles two C-USA wins. Currently the two are second and third on the team in scoring.

Games to watch

Louisville at East Carolina, Thursday at 9
The Cardinals right now are the team to beat in the conference. ECU is a tough place to play, just ask Marquette. A Pirate win would put to rest any remaining talk if they are for real.

Southern Mississippi at UAB, Saturday at 7
The season’s early surprises go head-to-head. While the Eagles seem to be the better of the two, it’s hard to rule out any home team this season.

Houston at Saint Louis, Saturday at 7:30
Yeah, one of the teams will win. The bigger questions is, can Louis Truscott out rebound the entire Billiken squad? Saint Louis is the worst rebounding team in C-USA; Truscott needs a challenge on the boards.


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