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March 12, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

The Morning Dish – Wednesday, March 12th, 2003

by Michael Ermitage

It finally happened. Connecticut’s women’s basketball team lost. In a stunning upset, Villanova topped the Huskies, 52-48, in the Big East tournament championship game. The win by Villanova put an end to Connecticut’s 70-game winning streak that stretched to the beginning of last season. The streak included a national championship, but still fell short of the all-time mark of 88 games, set by UCLA from 1971-74.

Upon losing the game, the Huskies calmly went to shake hands with Villanova. Shortly after that, many of them broke into tears. Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma thinks his team will rebound.

”We never said we were perfect,” Auriemma said. ”It’s not after winning that you find out about yourself, it is after losing. We’ll bounce back.”

On the men’s side of the ledger, it is becoming increasingly more nerve-racking to be a major conference bubble team. In the past two days, mid-major heavyweights Gonzaga, Southern Illinois, Butler and Valparaiso have lost in their respective conference tournaments. The latter two dropped championship games Tuesday night. Valparaiso was stunned by IUPUI (Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, for those interested), 66-64. The loss most likely knocked perennial tournament underdog Valpo out of contention for an at-large bid. On the bright side, keep an eye on IUPUI’s coach Ron Hunter. No one will bring more sideline antics and enthusiasm to a tournament game this year.

Butler, who was snubbed from the NCAA tournament last season, was thoroughly outplayed by UW-Milwaukee, 69-52. Much like Gonzaga, the Bulldogs had the unfortunate task of attempting to win the championship game on the other team’s court. With the loss, Butler enters the at-large pool, making life uneasy for other bubble teams. Butler’s resume does not include a win against a Top 25 club, but does have eight wins against RPI Top 100 teams, including fellow bubble-mate St. Louis. Butler’s RPI is in the mid-to-late 30s.

Whether or not Butler is added to the field, the Horizon League will be well-represented with UW-Milwaukee. The Panthers play a frenetic style of basketball that could give a higher-seeded team fits.

Side Dishes

Utah loses Johnson for MWC tournament: Utah’s Britton Johnson has been diagnosed with infectious mononucleosis and will miss the Mountain West conference tournament.

The 6-foot-10 junior, averaging 11.6 points and 6.7 rebounds, will be replaced in tournament, which begins Thursday in Las Vegas, by freshman Richard Chaney.

Team officials hope his spleen will have returned to normal size by Monday, when Johnsen will undergo another set of tests.

Texas Tech investigation: Texas Tech University officials on Tuesday began a probe to find out how confidential records of a former men’s basketball player got out to the public.

The documents were distributed to about 20 people last week at a gathering of Lubbock business leaders who were putting together an advertising campaign to honor men’s coach Bob Knight and women’s coach Marsha Sharp.

The two-page document about Nick Valdez, obtained by the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, details no-shows or late arrivals to practices and workouts going back to last season and lists allegations of student misconduct separate from the basketball program.

Valdez quit the team Feb. 21, four days after he was given a one-game suspension for missing a team breakfast.

Arizona’s Olson calls tourney a waste of time: Lute Olson says the Arizona Wildcats have nothing left to prove. After finishing 17-1 in the Pac-10 regular season, the Wildcats are not all that eager to compete in the Pac-10 tournament.

The tournament had been dormant since 1989 until athletic directors voted to bring it back last season.

“I still dislike it,” Olson said. “We will be there because it is the vote of the conference, and we will try to win it like we did a year ago.”

Tonight’s Menu:

• The so-called big boys start conference tournament action today as Big East and Conference-USA action begin. Several bubble teams will be in action, particularly in C-USA, where DePaul and slipping Cincinnati will be in action today.

• Two more tournament bids will be granted today to the winners of the Big Sky and Northeast conference tournaments. The Big Sky final features a potential first-round Cinderella in Weber State, who takes on Eastern Washington for the title. The Northeast Conference final pits St. Francis (NY) at top-seed Wagner.

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