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Conference USA Notebook

December 24, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

The deep just got deeper

No. 16 Cincinnati was already the deepest team in Conference USA before this weekend. Now, they are even deeper. Florida transfer and the much hyped James White played his first game as a Bearcat Saturday, scoring eight points and handing out two assists during nineteen minutes.

Cincinnati improved to 6-0 with an easy 89-54 win against Middle Tennessee State. The win was a perfect example of how balanced the Bearcats are. Ten players played at least fifteen minutes, yet no one played more than 26 minutes. Nine players scored between seven and fifteen points. Plus, the bench outscored the starters, 45-44.

The Bearcats have yet to play an actual tough opponent, something that will change this week when they face No. 24 Dayton. However, they are simply beating teams up and look to be the team to beat in C-USA.

Losing its grip

Unlike Cincinnati, No. 23 Marquette has been playing some of the top competition in the country. On the road again, this time at No. 20 and archrival Wisconsin, the Golden Eagles again could not hold onto a lead, as the Badgers won 63-59. Marquette had two chances during the final 30 seconds to tie the game, but came up short both times. Trailing by two, Scott Merritt traveled with 22.4 seconds remaining. After Wisconsin hit one-of-two free throws, Scott Novack’s three-point attempt with thirteen seconds remaining went in and out. Travis Diener led the Eagles with nineteen points, while Novack added twelve.

Living up to the hype

Francisco Garcia, only a sophomore and just a first-year starter, was tabbed as the Preseason C-USA Player of the Year by the conference coaches this season. Despite the high expectations of the young Cardinal, and the tragic death of his brother two weeks ago, he his living up to all the hype he has received.

Against Austin Peay at Freedom Hall Saturday, Garcia again led the Cardinals in scoring, finishing with 21 points, as the Cards won 80-63. Garcia’s game though is way more than just scoring. He is first on the team in assists (5.5), third in rebounds (4.5), first in steals (2.3) and second in blocks (1.8). He is playing very similar to last year’s C-USA Player of the Year Dwyane Wade, doing everything possible for his team.

Winning without their star

The UAB Blazers, after losing to Western Michigan 69-62 Monday, knocked off their next two opponents during the week, beating Virginia Commonwealth and Alabama A&M. The question now is the health of Morris Finley. Finley left the game against WMU with a shoulder injury and did not play against either VCU or Alabama A&M. There is no word as to date on when Finley will be back in the lineup. So far though, UAB is 2-0 without him.

The rest of C-USA

Charlotte (6-2)

The 49ers had no games scheduled this past week, allowing the players to focus on finals. However, that does not mean there wasn’t big news for Charlotte. It was announced the Niners’ Jan. 10 home game against C-USA foe East Carolina will be Clay Aiken bobble head night. The former American Idol star is a Charlotte student and will soon receive the new highest honor a pop star or athlete can receive. Up next – at Rhode Island, Dec. 23.

DePaul (5-3)

The Blue Demons dropped their second-straight home game and their only game of the week, losing 93-81 to Toledo Saturday. The Rockets, especially Keith Triplett, were unstoppable during the second half. Toledo scored 58 points during the final 20 minutes, including all of Triplett’s 29 points. The Rockets shot 56.7 percent from the field during the second half and went 19-of-23 from the free throw line. The Blue Demons had no answer on the defensive end and just did not have enough offense to keep up late. Four DePaul players scored in double digits, led by Quemont Greer’s season-high of 20. Up next – at Seton Hall, Dec. 27.

East Carolina (5-1)

The Pirates won their lone game of the week, knocking of Gardner Webb, 76-59, Saturday night. ECU won the game on the glass, out-rebounding the Bulldogs 32-20 while collecting thirteen offensive boards. The starting frontcourt of Derrick Wiley, Gabriel Mikulas and Moussa Badiane dominated, combining for eleven offensive boards, seventeen total boards and 51 points. Point guard Japhet McNeil, the newcomer to ECU’s starting lineup this season, had another solid game for the Pirates, finishing with eight points, three assists and four steals. Up next – against Hampton, Dec. 23.

Houston (3-3)

The Cougars easily had their best week of the season, beating Bethune Cookman 56-45 Wednesday before their biggest win to date, a 79-64 triumph over Washington. Typically, when a team attempts sixteen more shots than its opposition, it’s going to win. That was not the case for the Wildcats Wednesday, as they only shot 31.6 percent in their loss. Houston only took 41 shots, but hit 21 of them and limited Bethune Cookman to only seven free throw attempts. After a season-low four points Wednesday, Andre Owens had his best game of the season against the Huskies, scoring 22 points, dishing out five assists and grabbing six rebounds. Against Houston gave up more shots, twelve this game, but its defense allowed only 36.5 percent shooting, keying the win. Up next – against Chicago St., Dec. 23.

Memphis (5-2)

The Tigers’ lone game this week was a surprisingly hard-fought 89-83 win against Belmont, Wednesday at the Pyramid. Memphis pulled away with an 11-5 run during the final 2:04, led by Rodney Carney’s nine points during that stretch. Carney connected on three field goals during the final two minutes, all three coming off of offensive rebounds. He finished with a double-double, scoring sixteen while collecting eleven boards. Duane Erwin scored a career-high 21 points to lead the Tigers. The Bruins stayed close throughout thanks to seventeen three-pointers. Up next – against Samford, Dec. 22.

USF (4-4)

The Bulls split their games this week, falling on the road to Michigan State, 73-60, before knocking off Florida International, 73-56. Against the Spartans, USF got behind the 8-ball early and could not comeback. Down 42-19 at the half, the Bulls opened up the second half on a 15-1 run, cutting the lead back to single digits. But MSU proved to be too much down the stretch and South Florida never challenged again. The Bulls finally broke their four-game losing streak Saturday by beating the Panthers. USF lead by seventeen at the half and cruised to the win. Terrance Leather had an outstanding week, averaging 21 points and nine rebounds during the Bulls’ two games.

Southern Miss (5-3)

The Golden Eagles continued their early season struggles this week, but still salvaged a split of their games. At home Wednesday, Southern Miss needed overtime to beat Georgia Southern, 95-91, but was handled easily by LSU on the road Saturday, 65-50. Charles Gaines was a man amongst boys against Georgia Southern, exploding for 36 points and eighteen rebounds. Gaines also clinched the win with three free throws during the final few seconds. Against the Tigers, Southern Miss only shot 28.6 percent from the field and managed just sixteen field goals for the game, including no field goals from its frontcourt.

Saint Louis (4-4)

The Billikens finally took a break from playing Top 15 teams, but could only win one out of two against lesser opponents last week. SLU dominated Grambling, 73-35 Wednesday but lost to Southwest Missouri State, 70-59, Saturday. The Billikens were on cruise control against Grambling, led by Izik Ohanon’s career-high 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field. Grambling only managed fifteen field goals from the field and didn’t crack 20 points in either half. Against SMS, the Bears built up a thirteen-point halftime lead and then held on. Reggie Bryant led the Billikens with 22 points.

TCU (3-5)

The Horned Frogs also had the week off to take finals.

Tulane (5-2)

After an eleven-day layoff, the Green Wave lost only its second game of the season Saturday, 66-63 to Southeastern Louisiana. Tulane was done in by SE Louisiana’s 20-of-25 shooting from the free throw line. Once again, the Green Wave’s new big three came up big in the losing effort. Ben Benfield, Quincy Davis and Vytautas Tatarunas each played solid games for Tulane. Benfield scored a game-high eighteen points, Tatarunas finished with seventeen points and a career-high fourteen rebounds, and Davis added ten points. The Green Wave is very close to being undefeated so far, as both of their losses this season have been by three points.

Player of the week

Charles Gaines, Southern Miss – Gaines averaged 25 points and fifteen rebounds for the week, including a ridiculous 36-point, eighteen-rebound performance against Georgia Southern. For the season Gaines is third in C-USA in scoring at 18.5 points per game and first in rebounding at 11.4

Games to watch

No. 16 Cincinnati vs. No. 24 Dayton, Tuesday at 8 p.m.
The Bearcats face their first challenge of the season, as the undefeated Flyers come into town. Dayton beat Cincinnati for the first time in thirteen years last season, so the Bearcats will likely have revenge on their mind.

No. 22 Louisville at No. 1 Kentucky, Saturday at 5 p.m.
The Wildcats second half against Indiana was perhaps the most impressive 20 minutes of basketball played by any college team this season. Last year this game propelled both teams. Luke Whitehead must play big to stop Chuck Hayes and company for the Cardinals to pull off the upset.

Memphis vs. No. 13 Missouri, Saturday at noon
Memphis challenged but could not defeat Illinois a few weeks ago, their only tough opposition all year. Missouri has looked ugly in practically every game this season. On their home court, the Tigers have a good chance at pulling off the upset.


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