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February 18, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

Losing in St. Louis, mayhem in Milwaukee

It’s not easy being the No. 2 team in the land. Louisville found this out
the hard way last week, but managed to recover in dramatic fashion. Entering
last week the Cardinals were 18-1, the last one-loss team in Division I and
held a seventeen-game winning streak.

Many basketball experts predicted the win streak to end however. Except none
of them thought the end of the streak would come at the hands of the Saint
Louis Billikens. Coming into Wednesday’s game, the Billikens were 8-12
overall and 2-7 in C-USA, good enough for last place in the American
Division. Yet SLU led by two at the half, 26-24. It appeared a Reece Gaines
three-pointer with less than minutes left during the second half, sending
the Cards to a 57-50 lead, would seal the deal. But the Billikens had a few
cards left up their sleeves, known as the Perry suit.

After back-to-back SLU buckets, Gaines made one free throw with 24 seconds
left. Billiken point guard Marque Perry then drove the lane, made a layup
and was fouled with 13.2 seconds remaining. He made the free throw, then
tipped the Louisville inbound pass as SLU gained control. The ball skipped
back to Perry with about six seconds left. Catching the ball in the corner,
Perry drove straight to the lane and put up a five-foot floater from the
paint. The ball squirmed its way in with just 3.2 seconds remaining and a
last second attempt by Louisville smacked off the backboard. Perry and head
coach Brad Soderberg afterwards expressed the magnitude of the win.

“It’s so big I can’t really explain it,” Perry said. “Coach told us if we’re
real close at the end, you never know what can happen.”

“I would have been happy to beat Hazelwood Central (High School) tonight,
because we really needed a win,” Soderberg said. “I’ll go on record and say
we outworked them.”

Despite losing by just one point while getting outworked, the Cardinals knew
getting outworked by their next opponent would translate into a blowout.
This was because they were facing Marquette, who entered Saturday riding a
ten-game winning streak. The two teams, as expected, battled back and forth
for 40 minutes. And in this heavyweight fight, Gaines and the Cards
delivered the last punch.

With less than fifteen seconds remaining, Marquette trailed by three, 70-67,
and was inbounding the ball underneath their own goal. Travis Diener caught
the inbound pass and nailed a 22-footer to tie the score. Without calling a
timeout, Gaines raced down the court, pulled up from 25 feet straight away
and fired a shot that found nothing but the bottom of the net. Marquette’s
last second attempt fell short, and the celebration began.

“We were on edge because of that loss (at Saint Louis), and we played a
great game,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “If we hadn’t lost that
game, I don’t know if we’d have been able to win here today. We beat a
fabulous team, one of the best in the country.”

Now for Louisville, their tour against C-USA’s best continues this week. The
Cards host National Division leader Memphis Wednesday before traveling to
Cincinnati Saturday.

Slipper fitting for March

Louisville is a lock for the NCAA Tournament. So is Marquette. Cincinnati
still is in good shape, although they are struggling mightily. But then
there is Memphis. The Tigers have been a strange bunch to figure out all
season. They beat Syracuse to start the season, and then lose to Austin
Peay. They knock off then No. 7 Illinois, but lose three of four in
conference play. Now though, it appears the Tigers are solidifying a spot
into the big dance, something they could not accomplish last season.
After two wins last week, Memphis is 16-5 overall and 7-3 in C-USA. Their
first win last week came at the expense of Tulane in last second fashion, as
the Tigers held on for a 58-57 win. Playing on the national stage of ESPN,
Memphis again did not disappoint, this time winning in a hostile
environment. After taking a one-point lead late, the Tigers withstood
several last second chances by the Green Wave to take the last shot,
repeatedly knocking the ball away until time expired.

They followed up the close win with a blowout of UAB, 94-70. A balanced
attack again keyed the Memphis win, as five players scored in double digits.
This time, Antonio Burks led the bunch with 27 points.

This week’s schedule for the Tigers is their toughest one for the rest of
the regular season. After traveling to Louisville, Memphis must travel to
South Florida. If they can escape with a split of these two, the National
Division title is firm within their grasp.

Wheels falling apart

What’s wrong in Cincinnati? Just a few weeks ago the Bearcats were a perfect
6-0 in C-USA and looked primed for a run at an eighth-straight conference
crown. Those dreams appear all but dead now. With a 74-64 loss to Charlotte,
Cincinnati is now 6-4 in conference play, a full three games behind
Louisville. The four-game C-USA losing streak is a first for UC. Even more
threatening is whom they lost to and the way they were beaten. The Niners
entered Saturday’s game with just a 9-12 record and losers of five of their
last seven. Yet they bullied the Bearcats underneath and came away with 24
offensive rebounds, something unheard of by a Cincinnati opponent.

“I’ve never had a team get out-rebounded by sixteen. I’ve never had a team
give the other team 23 possessions more than what we had. They just beat us.
They took it to us. They out-rebounded us,” said head coach Bob Huggins.
For Cincinnati this week, it does not get much easier. Saint Louis comes to
the Shoemaker Center Tuesday, fresh off back-to-back wins last week. Then
Louisville comes back for round two Saturday. The Bearcats can ill afford
many more losses before they go from NCAA shoe-in to bubble watcher.

Double vision

Despite climbing to No. 2 in the rankings, Louisville is still not the
surprise team in the league this season. This honor belongs to the DePaul
Blue Demons. Left for dead at the beginning of the season, DePaul has
managed a 13-8 overall record and a 5-5 mark in C-USA. They defeated UC last
month and nearly won at St. Joseph’s in December.

While Andre Brown receives most of the attention, a player with huge impact
for the Blue Demons this season has been senior Sam Hoskin. A post player
who can shoot the three, Hoskin took his game to another level last week by
recording back-to-back double-doubles. He registered sixteen points and
twelve rebounds during a loss to Marquette Wednesday before totaling
nineteen points and twelve boards during a win against Southern Mississippi.
His presence is one reason DePaul still owns an outside shot at making the
NCAA Tournament just a season removed from finishing 9-19 and 2-14 in
conference play.

Player of the week

Marque Perry, Saint Louis – The senior point guard scored 25 points,
including five during the final 13.2 seconds, to knock off No. 2 Louisville.
He then added 22 as the Billikens defeated East Carolina, 56-42.

Games to watch

DePaul at East Carolina, Tuesday at 8 p.m.

The Blue Demons still have an outside shot of advancing to the Big Dance. If
they are going to make a late season run, this is one game they must win.
Louisville at Cincinnati, Saturday at 4 p.m.

The Bearcats are reeling, having lost four straight conference games. The
Cardinals proved they could win on the road against a quality opponent.
Still, Cincinnati is a tough place to win for an opponent.

Memphis at South Florida, Saturday at 6 p.m.

The Tigers distanced themselves from the National Division field last week.
The Bulls know Memphis must travel to Louisville before this matchup;
meaning USF could easily get back into the race.


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