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March 2, 2003 Columns No Comments

The Morning Dish – Sunday, March 2nd, 2003

by Phil Kasiecki

Last Saturday was supposed to be the day for mid-majors to have their moment in the spotlight, but instead, this one would prove to be it. On a day that had few marquee matchups among the major conferences, four mid-major conferences had showdowns among the top two teams.

The Missouri Valley Conference was supposed to come down to No. 17 Creighton and Southern Illinois, and on Saturday, the two teams met in Carbondale, Illinois, with each team holding a 14-2 record in conference play. Behind 24 points from Kent Williams and 18 from Jermaine Dearman, the Salukis won their 27th straight home game, 70-62 over the Bluejays. The Salukis held Kyle Korver to just 10 points on 3-8 shooting. Southern Illinois (21-5, 15-2 Missouri Valley) is now one game ahead in the standings, and each team has one game left. Creighton falls to 25-4 overall and 14-3 in conference play.

The Horizon League saw its two preseason favorites match up in Indianapolis on Saturday, as Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Butler brought identical 13-2 records into the game. Butler shot nearly 55% from the field and had five players in double figures, but needed a three-pointer by Avery Sheets as time expired for a 76-74 win to clinch the outright Horizon League regular season championship and the top seed in next weekend’s tournament. The Bulldogs (24-4, 14-2 Horizon) led by double figures at times, but the Panthers (22-7, 13-3 Horizon) came back to eventually take the lead before Sheets’ buzzer-beater.

In the Colonial Athletic Association, Virginia Commonwealth went into Wilmington for a big matchup with UNC-Wilmington, though first place was not on the line. Rather, VCU was trying to keep its regular season title hopes alive, but it never had much chance to materialize as the Rams committed 20 turnovers in an 80-63 loss. With the win, UNC-Wilmington (20-6, 14-3 CAA) clinched the regular season league championship and reached 20 wins in the regular season for the first time in the program’s history. Virginia Commonwealth is now 17-9 overall and 12-6 in conference play.

In the last mid-major showdown of the day, it was a state school battle for the top of the Big West as UC-Irvine took a half-game lead into UC-Santa Barbara. UC-Santa Barbara held the visitors to under 30% shooting en route to a 67-51 win, taking over the lead by a half game in the Big West standings. UC-Irvine drops to 17-8 overall and 11-5 in Big West play, while the Gauchos are 14-12 overall and 11-4 in Big West play.

Side Dishes

Grand Exit: It was Senior Day in Lawrence, and the seniors delivered for No. 7 Kansas in their 79-61 win over No. 16 Oklahoma State. Nick Collison had the big game, with 24 points, 16 rebounds and 7 blocks (one short of the school record), while Hinrich added 19 points. The surprise came when Oklahoma State head coach Eddie Sutton walked over to the Kansas bench to embrace the All-Americans as they exited the game with 43 seconds left. The Jayhawks (22-6, 12-2 Big 12) dominated the glass, out-rebounding the Cowbows 50-33 to win despite shooting under 40% and committing 23 turnovers. Oklahoma State falls to 20-7 overall and 9-5 in Big 12 play.

Battle of Texas: It was a close one, but No. 5 Texas came away victorious for the 13th straight time against Texas Tech with a 76-71 victory in Lubbock. Texas Tech dominated in the paint, scoring 44 points inside while allowing just 24, but the Longhorns were 23-27 at the foul line to win a very evenly-played game in many respects. Brandon Mouton scored 20 points to lead four players in double figures for Texas (20-5, 11-3 Big 12), while Will Chavis had 21 and Andre Emmett had 20 for Texas Tech (16-9, 6-8).

Back On Track: After losing three straight, No. 9 Louisville was without its top two rebounders when struggling East Carolina came to Freedom Hall. Reece Gaines continued to be the excellent senior leader, scoring 30 points, but he needed help from freshmen Taquan Dean (17 points) and Francisco Garcia (15) in the Cardinals’ 82-76 win. Louisville (20-5, 9-4 C-USA) forced 23 turnovers while committing just 12 to win despite allowing the Pirates to shoot 49% from the field. Meanwhile, their division rivals clinched the C-USA American Division title, as No. 10 Marquette (22-4, 13-2 C-USA) knocked off Alabama-Birmingham by a score of 98-87 in Milwaukee.

Road Warriors… Not Exactly: Three Top 25 teams were upset victims on the road. Rutgers shot 54% from the field and got 27 points from Jerome Coleman and 18 from freshman Calvin Wooten in knocking off No. 11 Notre Dame (21-7, 9-5 Big East) by a score of 95-82 at the Louis Brown Athletic Center. Arkansas scored the last eight points of the game to knock off No. 20 Mississippi State (18-7, 8-6), 53-51. In Albuquerque, the nation’s leading scorer had a field night at the line, as Ruben Douglas scored 26 of his career-high 39 points at the foul line as New Mexico upset No. 23 Utah (21-5, 9-2 Mountain West) 76-69.

Now In The Lead: No. 18 Illinois took over the top spot in the Big Ten with an 82-79 win at Michigan. In beating the Wolverines for the seventh straight time, the Illini (20-5, 10-4) got 26 points and 7 rebounds from Brian Cook, while Roger Powell added 18 points and came up with big plays in the closing minute.

Champions Out West: No. 1 Arizona beat No. 19 Stanford, 72-69, to clinch the Pacific Ten title for the 10th time in Lute Olson’s 20 year tenure. The Wildcats (23-2, 15-1 Pac Ten) avenged their only loss of the season, as the road team took both games in the season series. Stanford falls to 22-7 and 13-4 in Pac Ten play.

Rivals Work Overtime: Games between Georgetown and No. 14 Syracuse have long been great, and while Saturday’s matchup between the two in the nation’s capital didn’t have the luster it normally does, it was a classic nonetheless. Mike Sweetney filled the stat sheet with 31 points, 19 rebounds, 7 assists and 7 blocks, with one assist coming on a late three-pointer by Gerald Riley that sent the game to overtime. In the extra session, Carmelo Anthony (career highs of 30 points and 15 rebounds) and the Orangemen had too much in coming away with a 93-84 win. The Orangemen are now 21-4 and 11-3 in Big East play, while the Hoyas may not make the Big East Tournament with their 5-9 conference record.

The Prize Is Within Sight: No. 13 Wake Forest moved closer to their first outright ACC title since 1962 with an 80-68 victory over visiting Clemson. Josh Howard led the Demon Deacons (21-4, 11-3 ACC) as he has all season, scoring 29 points.

Surviving: No. 4 Florida set a school record for regular season wins on Saturday, but they needed to survive a late rally by Auburn in its 73-70 road win. The Tigers (18-9, 7-7 SEC) trailed by 14 with 6:28 left, but got within one in the final minute. They aren’t out of the running for an at-large NCAA bid, but a win over Florida (24-4, 12-2 SEC) would have helped greatly.

Atlantic Ten Teams Pull One Out: No. 12 Xavier (22-4, 13-1 Atlantic Ten) blew a 10-point lead and needed a buzzer-beating tip-in by Romain Sato to knock off visiting George Washington, 71-70. Meanwhile, Fordham tried to slow the game down against Dayton, but the Flyers (21-5, 13-2 Atlantic Ten) pulled out a 69-64 home victory in a game that had 15 lead changes.

Georgia Owns Up: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a story on Saturday where Georgia head coach Jim Harrick Sr. admitted that the university passed $300 to Tony Cole. He told the newspaper that the money came from the Dale Brown Foundation, a non-profit foundation which assists needy students, but Brown said in a phone conversation with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap “that is totally invalid.”

Tonight’s Menu:

• Two of the best in the Big East have at it in the Steel City, as No. 21 Connecticut takes on No. 8 Pittsburgh.

• Another Big East team in action has a non-conference matchup, as St. John’s hosts No. 6 Duke at Madison Square Garden.

• No. 22 Georgia welcomes the nation’s hottest team, No. 2 Kentucky.

• No. 15 Maryland heads to Raleigh to take on North Carolina State.

• No. 24 California takes on Arizona State, as the Sun Devils look to improve their NCAA Tournament resume.

• Wisconsin heads to Minnesota in a key Big Ten battle.

• America East has a full day, as the last day of its regular season has a four-game slate highlighted by cross-town rivals Boston University and Northeastern matching up on Huntington Ave, while Maine visits Hartford in a game with conference tournament seeding implications.

That’s all for this Sunday. Enjoy!

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