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December 24, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

The Morning Dish – Wednesday, December 24th

Illini earn Braggin’ Rights: Early on, it looked like Illinois was going to coast to an easy win in the annual Braggin’ Rights game with Missouri. But Mizzou seniors Arthur Johnson, Rickey Paulding and Travon Bryant were not about to let Illinois beat them four straight years without a fight. So the Tigers started a monstrous comeback from a 21-point deficit. The comeback was completed when a three-pointer by Bryant with 1:29 left tied the score at 67. It seemed though, at that point, that the Tigers relaxed a little. And 7-2 Illini Nick Smith took advantage. Smith had a beautiful assist along the baseline to James Augustine to give Illinois a 69-67 lead. Smith then made a nice defensive play, poking the ball away in the post on the next possession. Illinois was led by Dee Brown’s 18 points, while Missouri was led by Bryant and Paulding, who each scored 19 points. The win was especially big for Illinois because it was playing without star guard Deron Williams. Williams is out until Jan. 7 with a broken jaw.

Cincy makes another statement: There hasn’t been a whole lot of hoopla following around the Cincinnati basketball program thus far this season. Perhaps the “down” year for the Bearcats last year has soured the public and the media on the team. But it is obvious that the Bearcats are one of the elite teams in the nation. On Tuesday night, they proved it once again. Bob Huggins’ crew dominated a ranked Dayton squad, 82-53. The Bearcats were led by Jason Maxiell, who finished with 19 points. But it was a deep bench and relentless pressure that led to the win. Cincinnati has ten players averaging more than ten minutes per game, and they used every single one of them Tuesday night. Using a ferocious press, the Bearcats forced the Flyers into 28 turnovers. The veteran Dayton team seemed flustered and never was mentally in the game. Sean Finn led Dayton with 17 points. The most tell-tale sign that Cincinnati is “back” is that the swagger is back in its step. Prior to the game, Maxiell glanced at the Dayton bench and noticed that Flyer coach Brian Gregory was watching the Bearcats warmup. Maxiell said in a printed story that the coach “looked pale” and that Dayton was scared before the game even started. To add insult to injury, Cincinnati forward James White stood and mugged for the television cameras after a dunk with thirty seconds left in the game. Yep, the swagger is back and it looks like the Bearcats might be a national player again.

Kentucky routs in-state rival: Eastern Kentucky was no match for Kentcuky Tuesday night, as the Wildcats rolled to a 101-72 win. Kentucky was led by Gerald Fitch’s 26 points. Fitch was hitting mostly everything, including five three-pointers. Cliff Hawkins added 16 points for the top-ranked Wildcats. Eastern Kentucky was led by Michael Haney’s 17 points.

Louisville loves the three-point line: It’s no secret that Rick Pitino-coached clubs love to shoot the three-point shot, but Tuesday night was a little ridiculous. The Louisville Cardinals hit 12 three-pointers in its easy 107-56 win over overmatched VMI. The real story was sophomore guard Taquan Dean. Dean hit nine of twelve three-pointers and finished with a career-high 31 points. Dean broke the Louisville three-point record with the performance, making more three-pointers in a game than any other Louisville player in history. An almost equally amazing stat was Louisville’s 34 assists, which also set a school record. No VMI player broke the double-digit point barrier. It appears that the Cardinals are ready for their weekend matchup with Kentucky.

Georgia Tech rolls again: For the 11th straight time this season, Georgia Tech overwhelmed its opponent. There are winning streaks, and then there are winning streaks like the one the Yellow Jackets are on right now. On Tuesday night, Georgia Tech destroyed Marist, 90-40. The win raised the Yellow Jackets’ average winning margin to 26 points – now that’s domination. The last Georgia Tech team to start the season 11-0 was the 1962-63 club. Brandon Ellerbee led Marist with 13 points.

Maryland maintains momentum: The ACC is looking like the best conference in the nation hands down. In addition to the great stories of Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, not to mention North Carolina and Duke, the ACC can also boast of Maryland. The Terrapins continued its recent hot streak with an 85-58 win Tuesday night over NC-Greensboro. The Terrapins were led by Nik Caner-Medley with 19 points. The win was Maryland’s fourth in a row. On a side note, Maryland coach Gary Williams is 100-2 in nonconference home games.

Little Rock star leaves university: Nick Zachery, the leading scorer for Arkansas Little Rock, has decided to leave the university. Zachery, who averages 12 points per game, has had a difficult past six months as both of his grandparents have passed away. The senior guard, who didn’t have a glowing relationship with his coaching staff, has decided that he wants to no longer play at Little Rock but does want to attempt to play professionally. Zachery already has his degree.

Tonight’s Menu

• Well, it’s Christmas Eve, and after all, these guys are just college students. So, everyone in the college basketball world – players, fans, coaches, journalists – will get a well-deserved break tonight as there is absolutely no action. And that’s exactly how it should be. The season resumes December 27th when the marquee matchup will be Louisville and Kentucky.

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