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February 27, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

The Morning Dish – Thursday, February 27th, 2003

by Brian Seymour

Wednesday was a good night to be in Hoopville’s Top 25.

Well, unless your school’s name rhymes with Chokelahoma.

Yes, the No. 3 Sooners were the lone casualty among the thirteen Top 25 teams in action last evening, a 67-52 loser at Missouri. The Tigers remained perfect at home (14-0) thanks to a gutsy performance from guard Ricky Clemons, who scored 13 points while playing with a broken left hand.

The game likely clinched an NCAA Tournament bid for Missouri (17-7, 8-5), though one more regular-season win would certainly let Quin Snyder’s team breathe easily on Selection Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Sooners’ dominating performance against Kansas on Sunday — which earned them a share of first place in the Big 12 — was wasted, as the loss dropped them to 19-5 overall and 10-3 in the conference. An eight minute long scoring drought in the first half and 27.3 percent shooting for the game helped do in the Sooners, who were led by Hollis Price’s 16 points.

It wasn’t all wine and roses for the rest of the Top 25 despite their victorious performances. No. 7 Kansas’ 85-45 rout of Texas A&M was marred by the loss of sophomore forward Wayne Simien, who left the game after aggravating a dislocated right shoulder.

Simien only played one minute against the Aggies before having to leave the game, but reports out of the Jayhawk camp are saying that he’ll be able to play in Saturday’s big game against Oklahoma State, though he’ll be playing in pain for the rest of the season. Surgery is apparently in the cards for April.

No. 12 Xavier was pushed to overtime in a 80-78 win over Duquesne, with the Dukes holding the Musketeers All-American candidate David West to one basket in the second half. West finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds for the game. Neither team scored in the game’s final two minutes and 18 seconds of overtime.

Other narrow victors among our Top 25 included — No. 12 Wake Forest (60-56 over Florida State); No. 18 Creighton (63-58 over Southwest Missouri State) and No. 20 Mississippi State (59-55 over Alabama).

Side Dishes

SEC bubbles popping?: The SEC is going to get its share of teams in the NCAA Tournament — that much is certain. Which teams those are going to be is very much in the air however, as three teams which needed victories to improve their credentials all came up short.

Tennessee (15-8) dropped a 80-68 decision to No. 2 Kentucky, though you can hardly fault the Volunteers losing in Lexington to the hottest team in the nation.

The aforementioned Crimson Tide of Alabama also fell to 15-8 after their loss to Mississippi State. The Tide, an anemic 5-7 in league play, aren’t out of the woods in avoiding becoming the first team to be ranked No. 1 at some point during the season and miss the NCAA Tournament since the field was expanded to 64 teams.

And Auburn (18-8. 7-6) posted an ugly 94-63 loss against LSU, which helped its own case for a tournament berth, improving to 16-9 overall and 5-8 in the league. Logic suggests that LSU must win at least two of its remaining three conference games — if not all three — to have a shot.

Non-conference loss crushes UVA: It probably seemed like a good idea at the time — a late season road contest against a Mid-American Conference team, but Virginia (14-12) likely saw its NCAA Tournament hopes ended after a 78-72 loss to Ohio (10-14) in Athens, Ohio. The Bobcats’ Steve Esterkamp scored a career-high 31 points in the school’s first-ever home game against an ACC school.

Memphis stays hot: Don’t look now, but the Tigers are actually in the running for Conference USA’s regular-season conference title and are only one game from clinching the league’s National Division after a 88-64 pasting of TCU. Memphis will be closely watching tonight’s contest between Marquette and Louisville and could move into a tie for the league lead in the loss column if Louisville wins.

WKU wins big Sun Belt contest: No Chris Marcus? No problem for Western Kentucky (20-8, 11-2), which stayed hot, taking a 69-66 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette (20-8, 12-3), giving the Hilltoppers the inside track on the regular-season league crown. WKU has now won eight straight games.

Tonight’s Menu

A HUGE Conference USA contest highlights the night’s action.

• The Conference USA title is on the line when No. 10 Marquette travels to No. 9 Louisville. The Golden Eagles are one game ahead of the Cardinals and could more or less clinch the league title with a win.

• No. 1 Arizona keeps knocking down challengers, but should be challenged with a road contest at No. 24 California. The Golden Bears are 12-1 at home this season.

• Finally, Arizona State could pretty much cement its bid to the NCAA Tournament with an upset win on the road against No. 19 Stanford, also 12-1 at home this season.

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