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C-USA Notebook

February 25, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments



Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

Moving up, moving down, and staying alive

Two huge games last week involved three of the leagues’ elite teams. After
the week’s transgressions, one team is up, one team is down and one team
appeared to save their season.

The team involved in both contests is by coincidence the team on the
downside, Louisville. One of the nation’s hottest teams just one week ago;
the Cardinals dropped two during the week, both to unranked opponents.

Having lost two straight and three out of four, the Cards are now 19-4 and
9-3 in C-USA. They have even dropped out of first place; Marquette is
currently is first with an 11-2 conference mark. For Louisville, the trouble
started Wednesday night when they lost their first home game of the season.
The reason for the rare home loss was because of the league’s hottest team,
the Memphis Tigers.

Memphis took control early on and while falling behind from time to time,
never relinquished momentum and went on to win 80-73. Throughout the entire
second half, the Tigers would build up a six or eight-point lead on
Louisville. The Cardinals would always respond to tie the game or take a
small lead. But the Tigers would come right back to regain their six or
eight-point lead, never allowing the Cards to gain control. Chris Massie
picked up the scoring in the second half and then the usual balanced attack
guided Memphis down the home stretch.

Free throws and three-point shots turned into the difference maker. The
Tigers, one of the worst free throw shooting teams in C-USA, made 5-of-6
free throws during the final 20 seconds to seal the deal. Louisville on the
other hand, died by the three-point shot. They hit just five-of-23 from
downtown. Reece Gaines hit just one-of-nine from deep and the Cardinals
missed their last ten attempts from beyond the arc. All of it added up to
the rare home loss.

Saturday featured an even more rare site than Wednesday night’s loss:
Louisville getting blown out. They lost 101-80 to Cincinnati in a game that
was not as close as the score indicated. While the Shoemaker Center is
always a tough place to play, the Bearcats entered Saturday’s game losers of
five straight conference games. However, UC has found success against the
country’s best, having defeated then No. 5 Oregon by 25 points in December.

Just like the game against the Ducks in December, Cincinnati was aided by a
huge performance by backup shooting guard Tony Bobbitt. He nearly matched
the 29 points he scored in December, as he finished with 25 points during
twenty minutes. His three straight three-pointers to close the first half
gave the Bearcats a fourteen-point lead going into halftime. Cincinnati then
quickly ballooned the lead to more than 30 halfway through the second half.
By this time Rick Pitino had seen enough. Angered by a barrage of fouls
called against his squad, Pitino picked up two quick technicals and was sent
to the locker room early.

Cincinnati shot 42-of-58 from the free throw line, both school records, as
the Cardinals were whistled for 38 fouls.

For both Memphis and Cincinnati, their wins probably secured a spot in the
big dance, barring a complete meltdown by either team. For Louisville, it
possibly lost a shot at a No. 1 seed for March Madness.

When Billikens attack

While Memphis continues to roll, the second hottest team in C-USA is the
Saint Louis Billikens. SLU has notched four straight wins, evening their
overall record to 12-12 and bringing their conference mark to 6-7. While
Saint Louis did knock off Louisville two weeks ago, last week’s two wins
were even more impressive. Wednesday they defeated Cincinnati at the
Shoemaker Center, 58-55, their first win ever at UC’s 14-year old arena.

Marque Perry again led the Billikens in scoring, netting twenty during the
win. SLU took a ten-point lead with two minutes to play and then held on
dearly for the win. Perry missed two-of-four free throws during the final 30
seconds, allowing the Bearcats to take a last-second three-pointer to tie
it, but Leonard Stokes’ shot fell short.

Saturday the Perry show continued, once again in dramatic fashion. The
Billikens knocked off DePaul, 62-61, in Chicago. With the game tied at 60,
the Blue Demons’ Sam Hoskins hit one-of-two free throws with 6.8 seconds
left, giving DePaul a one-point lead. However, Perry calmly sprinted down
the court and made a layup with two seconds remaining. He then stole the
inbound pass to seal the win. Perry finished with nineteen points.

Three-way combo

There are just two weeks remaining in the regular season, yet the mess in
the National Division refuses to clean itself up. After Memphis, there are
three teams remaining in contention for second place and a possible first
round bye in the conference tournament.

After two wins last week, UAB is back in second place with a 7-5 conference
record. However, the Blazers possibly have the smallest chance of finishing
where they are now. Their last four games are against DePaul, at Marquette,
at Cincinnati and against Memphis.

Tulane, who has won six of their last eight C-USA games, is currently one
game back of UAB with a 6-6 conference mark. Trailing the Green Wave by half
a game is South Florida, who is at 6-7. Tulane jumped ahead of the Bulls
with a 68-65 win in New Orleans Wednesday. However, between the two, South
Florida has the easier schedule remaining. A rematch between the two in the
Sunshine state March 5 could likely determine second place in the division.

Invading the nation

A few of C-USA’s best teams are among the leaders in the nation when it
comes to taking the ball, keeping the ball and blowing teams out. UAB
currently leads the nation in steals per game. The Blazers have 286 thefts
during 23 games, averaging out to 12.4 per contest. Four players are
averaging more than one steal per game, while Eric Bush leads the team with
3.3 picks per contest. Bush’s average is first in C-USA and second in the
nation.

As good as UAB is at taking the ball away, Cincinnati is masterful at not
losing it. The Bearcats are third in the nation, behind Butler and
Wisconsin, in fewest turnovers per game. Cincinnati has 246 turnovers this
season during 23 games, just a mere 10.7 per game. Point guard Taron Barker
is a big reason for this as he leads the conference in assist-to-turnover
ration.

Before last week’s games, Louisville ranked second in the nation in scoring
margin. However its two losses, including the 21-point defeat to Cincinnati,
dropped them a bit. Still, the Cardinals possess the sixth-largest scoring
margin averaging in the country at 14.7 points per game.

Player of the week

Dwyane Wade, Marquette – With his performance last week and Reece Gaines’
struggles, Wade appears destined to be this season’s C-USA player of the
year. During the Eagles’ two wins last week, he averaged 21.5 points, eleven
and a half rebounds, five assists, three blocks and one and a half steals
per game.

Games to watch

Marquette at Louisville, Thursday at 8 p.m.

The first match-up lived up to the billing and more. Louisville now is
struggling while Marquette is rolling once again. The winner of this game
has the inside track at the regular season crown.

Tulane at Saint Louis, Saturday at 1 p.m.

These are two of the better teams right now in C-USA. The Billikens are
trying to position themselves better in the conference tournament while the
Green Wave still has hopes of a first round bye.

Cincinnati at Memphis, Saturday at 9 p.m.

This game is one of the most underrated rivalries during the past ten years.
The Tigers are the hottest team in the league. Cincinnati recorded the most
impressive win in a conference game this season. Something has to give.

     

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